The road to the playoffs continues this Friday for the Professional Fighters League, as most fighters will make their second walk to the Smart Cage of the 2023 season. Featured this week will be the heavyweight and women’s featherweight divisions with a pair of reigning champions showcased in the main and co-main events.
Capping off the night will be 2022 champion Ante Delija, as he meets UFC veteran Maurice Greene. Delija was slated to face Yorgan De Castro in April, but the bout was scrapped. Greene, however, picked up his first win under the PFL banner with a standing TKO due to punches over Marcelo Nunes.
In the co-main event, last year’s lightweight champion Larissa Pacheco looks to continue her hot streak as she takes on Amanda Leibrock. Pacheco soundly defeated former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd in her 2023 debut after shocking the world by defeating Kayla Harrison in the 2022 championship. Standing in Pacheco’s way is Leibrock, who also got off to a hot start by landing a vicious head kick to knock out Martina Jindrova in the first round of her last fight. A win over Pacheco would be a huge statement for Leibrock and would buoy her confidence as she rides into the 2023 playoffs.
The PFL 5: 2023 Regular Season preliminary card airs live on ESPN+ starting at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the main card on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET.
Ante Delija and Maurice Greene both started 2023 with knockout victories; which heavyweight comes away with a victory in the main event?
Ante Delija will add another six points to his season total and notch a first-round finish over Maurice Greene. He is going to quickly show that he is better everywhere the fight goes, and he will dominate Greene on the feet and the mat all within five minutes. Delija is the class of the 2023 heavyweight roster, and, even outside of the UFC, Greene is really just another guy.
After this performance, Delija will be firmly in the driver’s seat as the number-one seed heading into the playoffs. With the current heavyweight roster, there isn’t much of a roadblock for Delija on his way to claiming the 2023 championship. Greene may be able to sneak into the playoffs on the strength of his first performance, but, even if he makes it the rematch with Delija, it will be inevitable, and the result will be the same. The two men just aren’t on the same level.
Larissa Pacheco followed up her surprise 2022 championship win by defeating Julia Budd; does her hot streak continue against Amanda Leibrock?
Yes. Momentum is an incredible thing. After defeating Kayla Harrison, Pacheco’s self-confidence was buoyed, and that allowed her skill set to improve as well. The self belief will continue to carry her through this matchup.
Amanda Leibrock is no slouch but she’s also not on the same level as Harrison, or even Julia Budd. She looked phenomenal in her last bout against Martina Jindrova, but she’s facing the best woman in the bracket this year. Despite being in her own prime, she won’t be able to slow down a charging Pacheco. Leibrock makes this fight close for a while, but Pacheco takes over in the latter half of the fight and wins a decision to tally another three points as she storms into the playoffs.
Biaggio Ali Walsh makes his professional debut this week; can he keep the momentum he built as an amateur going?
Probably, but I’m not sold on the long-term success of this prospect. He’s got the name and the pedigree, as the grandson of Muhammad Ali – and maybe I’m unfairly biased against him, because I grew up idolizing Joe Frazier – but he’s too raw right now as a fighter to predict any long-term success. The PFL knows that he could eventually become a major draw, so I expect them to bring him along slowly, and he should win his pro debut. But, don’t expect him to be chasing down a title in the near future.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
With PFL’s pacing you could probably fall asleep between each fight. But, as far as matchups go, one to try and stay awake for is the women’s featherweight matchup between Julia Budd and Martina Jindrova. They have losses to the fighters in the co-main event, and are both in need, not only of a win, but a stoppage to try and backdoor their way into the playoffs. That should make for an exciting clash.
Main Card (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Ante Delija vs. Maurice Greene
Women’s FW: Larissa Pacheco vs. Amanda Leibrock
LW: Biaggio Ali Walsh vs. Travell Miller
Women’s FW: Aspen Ladd vs. Karolina Sobek
HW: Renan Ferreira vs. Matheus Scheffel
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
HW: Denis Goltsov vs. Yorgan De Castro
FW: Marina Mokhnatkina vs. Evelyn Martins
HW: Danilo Marques vs. Marcelo Nunes
FW: Julia Budd vs. Martina Jindrova
FW: Olena Kolesnyk vs. Yoko Higashi
HW: Patrick Brady vs. Jordan Heiderman
HW: Isaiah Pinson vs. Denzel Freeman
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