The Professional Fighters League returns on April 23 with its third season. Over the weeks and months that follow, the company will host its 2021 regular season, which features featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight competition on the men’s side and lightweight competition on the women’s side.
The 2021 season airs on ESPN2 and ESPN+ and aims to give fighters a chance to win a $1 million grand prize.
As the season approaches, Combat Press will preview each division. Let’s look at lightweight, where Natan Schulte seeks to repeat as the champion.
The Favorite: Anthony Pettis
It’s doubtful that anyone who has examined this year’s lightweight roster considers there to be a different favorite. The former UFC champion is not only the biggest star in the field, but he’s clearly the top guy. Even at the time of his departure from the UFC, Pettis was still fighting the best the company had to offer. He’s also the biggest test for the multiple-time PFL tournament winner Schulte, who has run roughshod over the competition these last few years. Will Pettis be the new king of the PFL? Only time will tell, but many signs point to yes.
The Dark Horse: Clay Collard
Collard has recently made a splash in pro boxing, where he’s played the spoiler in multiple fights and built himself a nice little niche on undercard bouts of solid boxing cards. Now, he takes back to the cage in a hunt for a million dollars. He’s tough as nails and never quits, meaning it’s hard to put him away and dangerous until the final bell rings. With the right match-ups, Collard could go further than people imagine. That said, he gets baptized by fire when he fights Pettis at the season’s first event.
The Longshot: Joilton Santos
The lightweight division might be the strongest field that the PFL will present this year, so picking a long shot is tough. Santos is the choice, though. He’s had a busy schedule, but he has lost only twice since 2018. That said, he’s fought against low-level regional talent. The two losses he had in this time came via a knockout to current UFC fighter Dricus du Plessis and a decision to little-known Daniil Prikaza. The best victory he posted came against UFC vet Craig White, who lost both of his Octagon appearances. The Brazilian gets the privilege of fighting late replacement Raush Manfio, though, as Olivier Aubin-Mercier had to drop out of their planned fight.
The Finals Prediction: Pettis vs. Schulte
The defending champ and the division’s biggest star are the two men that the PFL definitely want for the finals. Given their skill sets, it’s a great possibility. Schulte is a tough match-up for anybody, and he has shown in his past performances that he can take on the best the PFL has to offer. While there are some spoilers amongst the ranks, this seems to be the clear favorite pairing for the finals.
PFL 2021 #1 Fight Picks
Anthony Pettis vs. Clay Collard
Natan Schulte vs. Marcin Held
Raush Manfio vs. Joilton Santos
Akhmed Aliev vs. Mikhail Odintsov
Loik Radzhabov vs. Alex Martinez
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