Kayla Harrison (PFL)

PFL 2019 4: Regular Season Preview and Predictions

The fourth edition in the 2019 season of the Professional Fighters League features the second outings of the season for the lightweight ladies and welterweight men.

Kayla Harrison and Sarah Kaufman lead the pack of eight lightweight ladies following victories in their first fights of the season. Roberta Samad and Bobbi-Jo Dalziel also enter this event on the heels of important wins, while Larissa Pacheco, Morgan Frier, Genah Fabian and Moriel Charneski are still in search of their first win of 2019.

The welterweight men return 11 fighters out of the 12-man field from the season’s first event. Magomed Magomedkerimov, Ray Cooper III, Sadibou Sy, Glaico França, Chris Curtis and Handesson Fereira head the way following victories at the season opener. Meanwhile, Bojan Velickovic, Andre Fialho, Zane Kamaka, John Howard and David Michaud are left to pick up the pieces after suffering defeat at the show. They’ll be joined by João Zeferino in his season debut as a replacement for Gamzat Khiramagomedov.


The fourth PFL show takes place on July 11 at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., which will also serve as the home to the fifth and sixth shows of the regular season. The action kicks off with five fights on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET before switching to ESPN2 for the remaining bouts at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Do Kayla Harrison and Sarah Kaufman still deserve to be considered the favorites in the women’s lightweight bracket following their first outings of the season?


Kaufman was able to soundly defeat Morgan Frier via a first-round arm-triangle choke. The UFC veteran and former Invicta champion will likely face tougher challenges in this season, including current foe Roberta Samad, but she’s far and away the most proven member of this field and did nothing to change that in her first bout of the season. Samad won her fight against Moriel Charneski, but it was an underwhelming performance. Her struggles there signal that she might be another overmatched adversary for the Canadian Kaufman.

Harrison couldn’t finish Larissa Pacheco in her season opener, but she still largely dominated the fight outside of a few nervous moments. Outside of Kaufman and Bobbi-Jo Dalziel, nobody in this group flashed any signals that they’ll be able to upset the former Olympian. Harrison draws the aforementioned Frier at this event, and the only real question is whether she can dismantle the Gladiator Challenge veteran in quicker fashion than Kaufman was able to do.

At this point, third place in the running, regardless of the current point standings, has to be Dalziel. She’s been strong since her return from a lengthy absence from the sport. She stands to be the most difficult opponent — outside of each other, anyhow — for either Kaufman or Harrison. The Canadian’s assignment is to overcome the aforementioned Pacheco. This could be the most competitive fight of the night on the women’s side of the board. Dalziel had to work hard to beat Genah Fabian, and she’ll have another tough night with Pacheco, albeit she should emerge with the win.

João Zeferino makes his first appearance of the 2019 season as a replacement for Gamzat Khiramagomedov. The Brazilian qualified for the 2018 postseason, but he was unable to compete. Will he have an immediate impact in his return?

Zeferino couldn’t find any success in the UFC, where he went an embarrassing 0-2, but he started to find his footing in the PFL’s predecessor, the World Series of Fighting, and carried it over into the PFL, where his first season ended prematurely when he bowed out of the playoffs. Prior to his exit, the Brazilian had scored a first-round TKO of Paul Bradley and a third-round submission of Yuri Villefort. He was to meet Bojan Velickovic before a knee injury removed him from the mix.

There’s good news and bad news for Zeferino entering his 2019 debut. The good news is that he gets a chance at redemption against the aforementioned Velickovic. If he wins — and more so if he dominates — the Brazilian will be able to boast about how he could have gone all the way in 2018. The bad news is that he faces a tougher overall field than he had to contend with last year. Villefort and Bradley are nowhere to be found, but Magomed Magomedkerimov and Ray Cooper III return, plus Chris Curtis joins and Sadibou Sy looks like he could take a huge leap forward.

Velickovic hasn’t looked great for the last few years, and he already performed poorly against Handesson Fereira this season. The Serbian has been fighting at the highest levels for much of this stretch, but he’s lost several fights to opponents who are only slightly better than Zeferino. So, Zeferino should get started on the right foot here. He might need a finish to make it into the postseason, though.

Chris Curtis put up a workman-like performance in his 2019 debut against Andre Fialho. Is he capable of grinding away at Magomed Magomedkerimov in the same way?

There is a big difference between Andre Fialho, Curtis’ first opponent of the season, and Magomedkerimov. Fialho can be a threat in the opening minute or two of a contest, but he can also be lulled into a slower fight that works to the favor of a more refined striker like Curtis. Magomedkerimov is a dominant Russian who hasn’t lost in more than four years.

In his time with the PFL, Magomedkerimov has defeated Bojan Velickovic twice; submitted Herman Terrado, Ray Cooper III and John Howard; decisioned Pavel Kusch; and taken home a 2018 championship. He’s a top fighter hitting his stride.

Curtis hasn’t been too shabby either, but he’s hardly put up those accolades. Instead, he just squeaked by Matt Dwyer in a regional show to open 2019 and then stopped Fialho. His 2018 campaign came under the CES and Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series banners, where he turned in respective victories to defend his belt and to try to impress the UFC’s famous president for a UFC contract. The latter obviously did not happen.

Curtis could work his boxing again to edge Magomedkerimov, but it won’t be easy. The 29-year-old Russian is far more vulnerable to submissions, and that’s not really Curtis’ area of expertise. The CES veteran will have to make his counterpart hesitant enough to play a conservative offensive game. If Curtis can’t do this, he’s likely to fall victim to the combination of Magomedkerimov’s submission attack and competent stand-up game, something Fialho lacked.

Sadibou Sy stole the show at the first PFL event of the season when he knocked out David Michaud in just 17 seconds. Is this the Swede’s year to shine?

Stunning knockouts are great, but they can often overshadow flaws in a fighter’s overall game. Sy has a very modest 8-4-1 mark overall, which is nowhere near prospect status. He dropped Michaud, a good-but-not-great fighter who washed out of the UFC with a 1-2 promotional record and has had trouble gaining a foothold in any promotion since then, including the Legacy Fighting Alliance, Titan Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA.

Even if Sy had posted the highlight-reel finish against Magomed Magomedkerimov or Ray Cooper III, there would still be plenty of doubt as to whether he could follow it up with another similar showing. There’s some evidence to back him up, coming in the form of an additional five knockout victories that include a 41-second head-kick finish of sub-.500 fighter David Round and a stoppage in just over two minutes of Caio Magalhães during the 2018 season. Perhaps more significant is that Sy spent much of his career in middleweight waters, so the move to welterweight might increase his power.

Sy gets an excellent opportunity to go two-for-two in the knockout realm when he meets Glaico França on Thursday night. Whereas Sy has moved down in weight, França has moved up from the lightweight division. This could work to the Swede’s benefit. However, França is a pretty strong fighter overall. He went the distance against both James Vick and Gregor Gillespie in the UFC after wrapping up a solid showing with a lightweight tournament win on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4.

França was the beneficiary of a favorable first fight of the season against Gamzat Khiramagomedov, so it’s difficult to gauge his performance at his new division. He dominated an outclassed opponent, rather than a true peer and fellow UFC veteran. The Brazilian won’t find it as easy here, but his resume from TUF and the UFC is enough to suggest that he should overcome Sy.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Chris Curtis Magomedkerimov
Women’s LW: Kayla Harrison vs. Morgan Frier Harrison
Women’s LW: Sarah Kaufman vs. Roberta Samad Kaufman
WW: Ray Cooper III vs. John Howard Cooper III
WW: Andre Fialho vs. Zane Kamaka Fialho
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Sadibou Sy vs. Glaico França França
WW: Handesson Ferreira vs. David Michaud Ferreira
Women’s LW: Bobbi-Jo Dalziel vs. Larissa Pacheco Dalziel
Women’s LW: Genah Fabian vs. Moriel Charneski Fabian
WW: João Zeferino vs. Bojan Velickovic Zeferino