The PFL returns to action for the first time in 2022 after crowning champions in six divisions back in Oct. 2021. They kick off the 2022 season on Wednesday, Apr. 20, in the men’s lightweight and light heavyweight divisions with the champions from both of those divisions in action.
Light heavyweight champion Antonio Carlos Jr. steps into the cage and will look to extend his unbeaten streak to five as he takes on promotional newcomer Delan Monte. Monte sports an 8-1 record and joins the PFL after a long and successful run on the Brazilian circuit.
2021 lightweight champion Raush Manfio also kicks off his 2022 season and squares off against veteran Don Madge. Manfio has won four straight contests and has notched seven wins in his last eight fights. Madge is also on an extended hot streak and has not tasted defeat since 2015, winning seven straight fights since then.
The main event strangely doesn’t feature one of the promotion’s 2021 champions, and, instead, will be the PFL debut of longtime UFC vet Jeremy Stephens. Stephens meets Clay Collard, another former UFC fighter who lost to the aforementioned Manfio in 2021, but won his other two 2021 contests inside the PFL.
The 2022 PFL season kicks off on Wednesday, Apr. 20 and will be held inside the Esports Stadium in Arlington, TX. The action kicks off at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and will continue on ESPN starting at 9 p.m. ET. Let’s take a look at the preview and predictions.
Jeremy Stephens makes his PFL debut in a lightweight bout against Clay Collard; how does the longtime Alliance MMA stalwart fare under the PFL banner?
Jeremy Stephens did not end his long tenure with the UFC on a high note. He hasn’t won a fight since 2018, and, of his last six fights, the only one that didn’t end in a loss was a no-contest after he got poked in the eye by Yair Rodriguez. When you add in that Stephens missed weight by almost five pounds in his loss to Calvin Kattar, it makes sense why the UFC cut ties with the “Lil Heathen.” This fight with Clay Collard will be quite the litmus test for Stephens to see if he’s got anything left in the tank.
One of the biggest red flags that a fighter is shop-worn, for lack of a better term, is his inability to be offensive. When a fighter stops throwing punches, and seemingly can’t pull the trigger, it is often time for them to hang up the gloves. To date, this hasn’t been the case for Stephens. His last loss came just a minute into his fight with Mateusz Gamrot when he got caught by a kimura. Prior to that was the fight with Kattar, which had no shortage of strikes thrown and landed by both men before Kattar picked up a second-round knockout win.
This will be a good fight for Stephens, he will have an opponent willing to stand and trade, and the Iowa-born brawler will get an opportunity to show that, while he may be past his prime, he isn’t washed up and still has some exciting fights left before it is time for him to retire. Expect a late finish from Stephens after both men exchange relatively heavy punishment for the first seven or eight minutes of the contest.
2021 lightweight champion Raush Manfio takes on a streaking Don Madge; does Manfio hand Madge his first loss since 2015?
This might be going out on a limb, but, in my opinion, Raush Manfio is the best lightweight outside of the UFC right now. He certainly doesn’t get the shine of some former UFC stars who have gone onto other promotions, or even longtime Bellator products like their current champion Patricky “Pitbull” Freire. However, the 30-year-old Brazilian has won his last four fights since taking a three-year hiatus from 2018 to 2021. Manfio has spoken about his frustration that, as a champion, he isn’t headlining this card, and, frankly, he’s right. His fight against Don Madge should be the main event, but, regardless of its placement on the card, this will be a tremendous performance by Manfio.
Manfio has won all four of his recent fights by decision but he will start 2022 with a knockout victory over Don Madge. That’s hardly a knock on Madge, who is a heck of a fighter in his own right. This will be a real coming out party for Raush Manfio and at the end of this fight many more fans will be on board with my notion that Manfio is the best lightweight outside the UFC today.
Antonio Carlos Jr. won the 2021 light heavyweight tournament; does he defeat promotional newcomer Delan Monte?
Yes. This is a fight that Antonio Carlos Jr. will win, and he will win convincingly. Admittedly, I have not seen many of Delan Monte’s previous fights from the Brazilian regional circuit, but, from what I have seen, he won’t be able to put up a ton of resistance against “Shoe Face.” Carlos Jr. is another fighter who has found success after leaving, or being released, from the UFC. He is also entering his prime at age 32 where his physical maturity is at its peak. And he has a plethora of experience under his belt, so he can lean on the craftiness of a veteran if he gets into trouble. He won’t find himself in much trouble in his 2022 debut.
Carlos Jr. will get the fight to the canvas early on, and, once engaged in a grappling contest, he will dominate Monte. Don’t expect this fight to get out of the first round before Antonio Carlos Jr. locks in a rear-naked choke and picks up a submission victory.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Simeon Powell vs. Clinton Williams. Powell earned his place inside the PFL by picking up a unanimous decision victory on the PFL Challenger Series just a few weeks ago. That was the first time he had gone the distance in his career, notching two knockouts and two submission wins previously. He takes on a journeyman in Clinton Williams who is just 2-3 over his last five contests. This will be an exciting fight, but, after a bit of early success for Williams, it will be Powell who takes over and picks up his fifth career stoppage victory.
Main Card (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
LW: Clay Collard vs. Jeremy Stephens
LW: Raush Manfio vs. Don Madge
LHW: Antonio Carlos Jr. vs. Delan Monte
LHW: Natan Schulte vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
LHW: Emiliano Sordi vs. Cory Hendricks
LW: Alexander Martinez vs. Stevie Ray
LHW: Marthin Hamlet vs. Teodoras Aukstuolis
LHW: Omari Akhmedov vs. Viktor Pesta
LHW: Robert Wilkinson vs. Bruce Souto
LHW: Simeon Powell vs. Clinton Williams
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