PFL 2021 #5: Regular Season Preview

We head back to the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey this Thursday night for the fifth PFL event of the season. There’s spaces up for grabs in the playoffs which will give everyone on the card the incentive to be on top of their game. It’s the turn of the Welterweights and the Light Heavyweights this time around.

The Welterweights

Rory MacDonald (22-6-1) vs Gleison Tibau (34-15)

MacDonald got off to a flying start in his PFL debut in April, winning via submission in the first round. It’s a UFC veteran standing across the cage this time. Gleison Tibau is in a win or go home scenario after losing a decision in his debut. Tibau is as hard as nails so MacDonald will have his work cut out if he wants to get some bonus points. MacDonald is the stronger of the two on the feet. They’re both good wrestlers, with MacDonald’s BJJ a bit more MMA friendly. MacDonald is rightfully the favourite, don’t count Tibau out though.

Ray Cooper III (21-7-1) vs Nikolay Aleksakhin (26-5)

Cooper won a quick submission in his last fight. He is a fighter with a real finishing instinct. His wrestling is very strong and when he takes you down, he’ll do damage. He’s got the power to end it on the feet and has nasty ground and pound. Aleksakhin’s last fight ended in a no contest after an eye poke. He is very much a “kill or be killed” style of fighter. He’s going to meet Cooper in the centre of the cage and throw down. This fight has all the ingredients to be fight of the night.

João Zeferino (25-9) vs Jason Ponet (20-13-1)

Zeferino is a submission specialist and trains under Renzo Gracie. He is a veteran on the WSOF/PFL scene and is on a four fight win streak. He carries a double threat in that he’s got a great leg lock game and is also capable of ending it standing. Ponet is a kick-boxer. If he is able to impose his game on the fight, we’ll be in for some beautiful combinations. His downfall is his takedown defence. He’ll need to keep the distance and keep Zeferino off him as Zeferino will want the fight on the floor. Knees up the middle could be a good option here.

Magomed Magomedkerimov (27-5) vs Curtis Millender (18-7)

Magomedkerimov didn’t compete in the first round. He won the tournament in 2018 and was set to compete in the 2019 final before pulling out with an injury. As the name may suggest, he’s a dominant wrestler and sambo competitor. He wants this fight on the deck and to try and work in his submissions. He does have a functional striking game and has punching power. Millender’s key to victory is his kickboxing. The big fear here is his takedown defence. If he can’t keep the distance, his night may be over quickly.

Sadibou Sy (8-5-2) vs Alexey Kunchenko (20-2)

Sy was the recipient of an Aleksakhin eye poke in April, leading to a no contest. He is a flashy kick-boxer who will be going all out for a knockout here. In good news for the viewer, opponent Kunchenko is a Muay Thai fighter who is likely to want this fight to stay on the feet. He uses his kicks to set up finishes with his punches. He wasn’t able to show his best form in his UFC run. This should be a lot of fun.

The Light Heavyweights

Emiliano Sordi (23-8) vs Dan Spohn (18-8)

Sordi went to a rare decision last time out, winning against Camozzi. He is a striker with fierce stopping power. Spohn is likely to meet him in the centre and trade big shots. We’re not likely to be here for a long time. Both men will be hunting for an early finish. 

Cezar Ferreira (14-8) vs Chris Camozzi (25-15)

Ferreira had a highlight reel knockout in his previous contest. He looks a different animal up at 205. He has the grappling skills to go along with his striking threat. Camozzi is a kick-boxer by trade nowadays, however he is strong pretty much all round. This fight is a bit unpredictable and could end up anywhere. 

Antônio Carlos Júnior (11-5) vs Vinny Magalhães (19-12)

Carlos Júnior made easy work of Tom Lawler in the season opener. He is a BJJ whizz and an expert in taking your back. Magalhães pulled out of his fight in April. He is also a strong BJJ player, including winning the 2011 ADCC championship over Fabrizio Werdum. His submission execution has been way more varied than his opponent’s in his MMA fights, proving to be a threat from all angles.

Marthin Hamlet Nielsen (7-1) vs Cory Hendricks (7-3)

Hamlet Nielsen’s wrestling looked fantastic in his last bout, using it to secure a second round submission win. He can also mix it up on the feet, using his striking to disguise his takedowns. Hendricks was a contestant on TUF 23. This is his PFL debut. He has found most of his success in his submission game, however his striking has been improving. This is a well matched fight.

Tom Lawlor (10-8) vs Jordan Young (11-1)

Fan favourite “Filthy” Tom Lawlor is in desperate need of a win here. He has an amateur wrestling background . He hasn’t been very active in the last few years having transitioned into professional wrestling. Jordan Young had a string of opponents fall out in the first round, so had to wait until now for his debut. He is a submission expert with a big box of tricks. If you leave a neck or a limb in play, Young is likely going to snatch it.

PFL 2021 #5 is live on Thursday night from 22:30 and is available on ESPN and ESPN+ in the USA, on MMA TV (PPV) in the U.K. and on YouTube / Eir Sport (on delay) in Ireland.

Seán Denny is a Dublin man who writes mostly on the European scene, with a keen interest in the Irish, UK and Polish scenes in particular. Follow me on Twitter at @DennyRants.