The PFL begins its 2021 season on Friday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey, closing the show with “Showtime.”
Former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis makes his PFL debut in the main event at Ocean Casino Resort, taking on a fighter who built his own name in two sports, Clay Collard, a former UFC fighter who took up pro boxing and went on a five-fight win streak in the boxing ring in 2020.
Their meeting headlines a 10-fight card featuring lightweights and featherweights, with each division represented by a two-time defending season champion. Lightweight Natan Schulte takes on PFL newcomer Marcin Held, a veteran of the UFC and Bellator, and Lance Palmer begins his featherweight season against former collegiate wrestling rival Bubba Jenkins.
The card begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and continues on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET.
The PFL, which runs its seasons more like traditional sports than other MMA organizations (including standings and playoffs), is returning after a one-year hiatus. The 2021 season is the organization’s third, following 2018 and 2019, as the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pettis, who is 34 years old and fights out of his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, won the UFC title in 2013 and reigned until 2015. He owns two victories apiece over lightweight stalwart Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and former UFC champ Benson Henderson, and also defeated Charles Oliveira, who next month will go for the UFC belt.
Pettis and Collard are among 14 fighters making their PFL debuts on Friday.
Featherweight: Jo Sungbin (9-1, 0-0 PFL) vs. Tyler Diamond (11-1, 0-0 PFL)
Fight in progress…
Lightweight: Alexander Martinez (3 points) def. Loik Radzhabov (0 points) by split decision
Martinez spent much of the fight on his back, taken down seven times by Radzhabov. But Martinez was the aggressor, landing punches and locking in submission attempts, and that was enough for him to get the nod from two of the three judges to remain undefeated.
Radzhabov (13-3-1, 2-3-1 PFL), a lightweight finalist in the PFL’s 2019 season, had the early grappling advantage, getting two takedowns before the first round was halfway through. But the 30-year-old from Tajikistan did little with the positional advantage, as Martinez (8-0, 1-0 PFL) defended well on the ground. Then Martinez reversed position, got on top and advanced to full mount.
When the fight was standing and being contested from striking range, Martinez had a clear advantage. But the fight mostly took place in clinches against the cage and on the canvas, and even there, the 26-year-old, who was born in Paraguay and fights out of Canada, always seemed able to stay out of trouble. He also remained fresher to the final horn.
One judge gave Martinez a 30-27 scorecard and the other two were split, each scoring the fight 29-28.
How to watch the fights
Watch the main card on ESPN2. Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access.
Also: Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV schedule
Watch the prelims on ESPN+. Get ESPN+ here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every PFL card.
Still to come…
Lightweight: Anthony Pettis (24-10, 0-0 PFL) vs. Clay Collard (18-8, 1 NC; 0-0 PFL)
Lightweight: Natan Schulte (20-3-1, 9-0-1 PFL) vs. Marcin Held (26-7, 0-0 PFL)
Featherweight: Movlid Khaybulaev (15-0-1, 1-1 PFL) vs. Lazar Stojadinovic (14-7, 0-0 PFL)
Featherweight: Lance Palmer (22-3, 10-0 PFL) vs. Bubba Jenkins (14-4, 0-0 PFL)
Featherweight: Brendan Loughnane (19-3, 0-0 PFL) vs. Sheymon Moraes (11-4, 0-0 PFL)
Lightweight: Joilton Lutterbach (34-8, 1 NC; 0-0 PFL) vs. Raush Manfio (11-3, 0-0 PFL)
Lightweight: Akhmed Aliev (19-6, 2-2 PFL) vs. Mikhail Odintsov (18-2, 0-0 PFL)
Featherweight: Chris Wade (17-6, 5-3 PFL) vs. Anthony Dizy (13-3, 0-0 PFL)
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