Rory MacDonald (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

PFL 2021 2: Regular Season Preview and Predictions

Just three years after the World Series of Fighting rebranded to the Professional Fighters League, streaming services like ESPN+ and the $1 million prize for a tournament victory have made a promotion that was often looked over by hardcore followers of the sport more palatable. The PFL is now back with its 2021 season, and the second show of the year is set for Thursday, April 29.

PFL President Ray Sefo’s “little engine that could” has served as the home for superstars like Justin Gaethje, David Branch, Jon Fitch and Marlon Moraes. North America is in good hands in regards to the growth of the sport. However, the additions of Fabricio Werdum and Rory MacDonald to the roster for the 2021 campaign also help. MacDonald makes his promotional debut this week.

You can make an argument that MacDonald was never the same fighter after his war with Robbie Lawler for the UFC welterweight title in the co-headliner of UFC 189. However, at the age of 31, MacDonald still has plenty of fight in him. Since parting ways with the UFC in 2015, he has compiled a 3-2-1 record in Bellator, where four of those fights were for the welterweight title.


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MacDonald was able to choke out Paul Daley in the second round of his Bellator debut and followed that performance with an even more impressive showing against Douglas Lima to capture the 170-pound title at Bellator 192. The Canadian scrapper is now set to headline the second PFL event of the year against a seasoned Curtis Millender, whose 22-fight career has seen him suit up for the UFC, the Legacy Fighting Alliance and, most recently, Bellator MMA.

While Millender is approaching his mid-30s, the speed he possesses is still something to be reckoned with and will serve as a good test for MacDonald to open up the 2021 season after the 2020 schedule was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The headlining affair between MacDonald and Millender caps off a night of welterweight and light-heavyweight action that also features defending PFL champs Ray Cooper III and Emiliano Sordi.

The Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., serves as the backdrop for the event. The five-fight preliminary card can be seen on ESPN+ beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET. The four-fight main card follows on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET.

Defending champions Ray Cooper III and Emiliano Sordi are on this card, but they are overshadowed by UFC and Bellator veteran Rory MacDonald, who makes his promotional debut. Will all three of these men get started on the right foot in 2021?

Cooper and Sordi will be able to get wins against their respective opponents. MacDonald’s fight against Curtis Millender, on the other hand, is a sneaky one.

As displayed in his fight against Moses Murrietta at Bellator 238, Millender isn’t someone who packs a lot of volume in regards to his striking. He’s a lot more selective, which will require some patience on the part of MacDonald. Millender is also a stellar grappler. If MacDonald tries to take the fight to the ground like he did against Douglas Lima in their second meeting, he’d be playing right into his opponent’s wheelhouse.

Cooper’s opponent, Jason Ponet, fights for the first time since 2019 and hasn’t fought someone with a bigger profile than Cooper. The greatest thing Ponet accomplished was winning a samurai sword instead of a championship belt for his victory over lightweight Tommy Hayden at Full Metal Dojo 15.

Since serving as a huge underdog ahead of his bouts against Ryan Spann in Dana White’s Contender Series two years ago and Borzigit Agaev, Sordi is arguably the favorite for the 205-pound title. The results of both of these fights were first-round TKO finishes, but Sordi has always rebounded in a big way after losses. He avenged his loss to Agaev with two first-round finishes of his rival and made quick work of Jordan Johnson with a ground-and-pound first-round stoppage in 2019. Sordi is on a five-fight winning streak and has a 100 percent finishing rate among his 22 victories. However, we should expect to see this end when he is forced to go the distance to secure his victory over 34-year-old UFC veteran Chris Camozzi.

The PFL’s seasons often deliver stunning finishes and surprise performances. Who shines unexpectedly at the second show of the 2021 season?

Nick Roehrick, who had his first professional MMA fight later in life than most. He defeated Luis Cortez in 2013 for Rocky Mountain MMA when he was already 25 years old. Roehrick punches very hard and has good footwork that bails him out of trouble.

During his eight-year career in which he has fought 10 times, the Orlando, Fla., product only lost once. The setback came at The Ultimate Fighter 25 finale to Jared Cannonier in the third round via TKO due to elbows. Cannonier has since moved on to become the No. 4-ranked middleweight in the UFC among the likes of Robert Whittaker, Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori.

Roehrick started out as a heavyweight before settling into the light-heavyweight division. It has been over a year since he’s been in the cage. He defeated Waylon Quotskuyva at Combat Night Pro 18 despite being overweight by three pounds. Now, he draws UFC veteran Cezar Ferreira. A victory here will turn heads.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Vinny Magalhães and Jordan Young.

Magalhães has lost three of his last four fights via finish. Young is hoping to use the Brazilian as a stepping stone to advance in the light-heavyweight standings. The 26-year-old Young trains at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., and is coming off the first loss of his professional career against Julius Anglickas at Bellator 233 two years ago.

The fight IQ that Young possesses currently is far beyond that of those whose fight careers are longer than his own. This is more than enough reason to be excited about what the future has in store for Young. The only weakness he has shown so far is not knowing when to display a sense of urgency when he is down a round or caught in a corner.

Young’s attack is already very polished and mature, as evidenced when he fought Joel Bauman at Bellator 224. He smartly prevented Bauman from unleashing shots from top control by holding onto his neck to prevent posturing up. He didn’t receive much damage as a result, which allowed him to ultimately get the finish with a triangle choke later in the first round.

In the loss to Anglickas, Young was in the unfamiliar role of being the reactor as opposed to the aggressor. Oftentimes, he was put up against the cage, where he just stood still to present a punching bag target for Anglickas. While the fight was ultimately ruled in favor of Young via unanimous decision, Anglickas didn’t even look tired or break a sweat.

FIGHT PICKS
Fight Pick
Main Card (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET)
WW: Rory MacDonald vs. Curtis Millender Millender
WW: Ray Cooper III vs. Jason Ponet Cooper
WW: Gleison Tibau vs. João Zeferino Tibau
LHW: Emiliano Sordi vs. Chris Camozzi Sordi
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET)
LHW: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Tom Lawlor Junior
LHW: Vinny Magalhães vs. Jordan Young Young
LHW: Cezar Ferreira vs. Nick Roehrick Roehrick
WW: Sadibou Sy vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin Sy
LHW: Dan Spohn vs. Marthin Hamlet Hamlet