The 2023 PFL Regular Season comes to a close on Friday, Jun. 23, as the lightweight and welterweight playoff rosters will be set. Headlining the event is defending 2022 PFL lightweight champion Olivier Aubin-Mercier, as he takes on new prospect Anthony Romero. Aubin-Mercier joined the PFL in 2021 after an up-and-down run with the UFC, and he hasn’t looked back since. The “Canadian Gangster” has won an incredible seven fights in a row and will look to stamp his ticket to the playoffs by making it eight straight. His opponent Romero has a big hill to climb, as he makes his official PFL debut against perhaps the toughest opponent he could have drawn. Romero is a veteran of LFA and also has a victory on Dana White’s Contender Series.
The co-main event features the returning champion in the welterweight division, Sadibou Sy. In the current standings, Sy’s second-round finish in his first fight of the 2023 regular season places him fourth in the playoff standings. With only four men making the playoffs, he will need to pick up a win, and perhaps a finish, if he is going to give himself a chance to repeat as champion. Shane Mitchell is Sy’s opponent this week, and, even with a win, it will be hard for him to find his way into the playoffs. Mitchell stumbled out of the gate in his PFL debut earlier this year, when he dropped a unanimous decision to Nayib Lopez. Whether it vaults him into the playoffs or not, a win over Sy would be a major statement and would announce Mitchell as a force to be reckoned with in the PFL for seasons to come.
The preliminary card airs live on ESPN+ starting at 5:30 p.m. ET, followed by the main card on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Let’s take a look at the preview and predictions.
There is a log jam at the top of the lightweight divisional standings; can Olivier Aubin-Mercier pick up an early finish and separate himself from the pack?
With all due respect to Anthony Romero, who had a great performance in the PFL Challenger Series, he is going to get absolutely run through by Olivier Aubin-Mercier. The step-up in competition is going to be too much for the 26-year-old Canadian. He is taking on one of the best fighters to come out of the Great White North in recent years, and it is his first official fight in the promotion.
The move to the PFL was a great thing for Aubin-Mercier. He was a middle-of-the-pack lightweight in the UFC, but he is now a big fish in the smaller PFL pond. He is also an absolutely huge lightweight and has a significant size advantage over just about every opponent he faces off against in the PFL’s Smart Cage. With his stellar cardio and wrestling-heavy style, he is a little more prone to going deeper into fights or winning decisions, but that won’t be the case this week. He will run right through the PFL sophomore and snatch an arm-triangle choke either late in the first round or early in the second round.
Sadibou Sy looks to continue his five-fight winning streak as he heads into the 2023 playoffs; can he make it six in a row and get past Shane Mitchell?
Yes. Sadibou Sy will probably do it in tremendous fashion and score an early knockout. A win should put him in the playoffs, though the road to the championship will be significantly tougher than it was in 2022. Also in his division are two Russian behemoths in Magomed Magomedkerimov and Magomed Umalatov. Magomedkerimov is a former champion who is a grizzled veteran that missed out on the 2022 season. Umalatov sits undefeated at 13-0 and has been a wrecking ball throughout his career.
With all three of these welterweight stalwarts on the card, the playoff standings will be set, but, regardless of the actual standings, any of these three men could walk away with the 2023 title. Sy and Magomedkerimov have the championship experience under their belts, but Umalatov has looked seemingly unbeatable, as he racked up knockout after knockout. The welterweight division will be the most fun to watch play out over the rest of the 2023 season.
Shane Burgos and Yamato Nishikawa both dropped their 2023 debut; which fighter is able to get his hand raised when they clash on the main card?
Shane Burgos was once a top prospect in the UFC, and he ended his run with two straight wins before leaving to join the PFL. Things didn’t go so well for him in his debut, but that was his debut at lightweight against the 2022 champion. Burgos will look much better this time out at 155 pounds.
For Yamato Nishikawa, the change to the PFL from Shooto will prove to be a tougher transition over the long term. He rattled off ten wins in a row in the promotion before coming over to the PFL. He came up short against veteran Clay Collard, and this will be another tough matchup for him. Burgos will have to avoid the power of Nishikawa, but his somewhat unorthodox footwork will allow him to stay out of danger. He will outpoint his Japanese counterpart over 15 minutes en route to his first victory with the PFL.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
The lightweight clash on the preliminary card between Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio. Not only are these two both former champions, they also happen to be best friends. They both also have losses on their resumes against defending champion Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Add onto that that both men are on the fringe of making the playoffs, and there is a lot on the line in this matchup. The friendship will have to be put aside for one night, and only one of these two pals will be moving forward into the 2023 playoffs.
Main Card (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
LW: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Anthony Romero
WW: Sadibou Sy vs. Shane Mitchell
LW: Shane Burgos vs. Yamato Nishikawa
WW: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. David Zawada
WW: Magomed Umalatov vs. Nayib Lopez
LW: Clay Collard vs. Stevie Ray
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Carlos Leal vs. Dilano Taylor
LW: Natan Schulte vs. Raush Manfio
LW: Alex Martinez vs. Bruno Miranda
WW: Jarrah Hussein Al-Silawi vs. Solomon Renfro
FW: Brahyan Zurcher vs. Mike Bardsley
LW: Abdullah Al-Qahtani vs. Lamar Brown
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