The first card of the PFL season was released on Jan. 16 for their upcoming 2022 season and Mike Alvarado’s fight with Khalil Rountree II is a highlight in more ways than one. The implications from this bout have far-reaching ramifications that will shape not only welterweight history, but maybe even UFC history as well.
8 a.m. ET
ESPN’s Ian Parker
With some new faces and returning standouts, the Professional Fighters League kicks off its season on Wednesday night (6 ET on ESPN+). In the main event, lightweight Clay Collard will welcome Jeremy Stephens to the promotion.
This week’s fights will feature eight lightweights and ten light heavyweights, with reigning lightweight champion Raush Manfio taking on top prospect Don Madge and light heavyweight champion Antonio Carlos Jr. kicking off his season against Delan Monte.
Ian Parker, an ESPN betting expert, breaks down some of the most interesting bouts and makes predictions.
Jeremy Stephens has a fresh chance with the PFL this spring after 34 bouts in the UFC. Bob DeChiara is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
The matchup between Collard and Stephens is a must-see. Stephens is well-known as a fighter who is always up for a battle and isn’t afraid to take a hard hit in exchange for one. With a million dollars on the line, this may be Stephens’ only chance to work for a large corporation.
In this fight, I anticipate Stephens to come out swinging early, although the PFL did him no favors aesthetically. Instead of giving Stephens a brawler, he gets Collard, a well-rounded mixed martial artist with excellent striking technique. Collard is expected to throw a lot of strikes and take Stephens apart over the course of three rounds. Collard should be able to win this match if he keeps away from Stephens’ overhand right.
Collard is my prediction.
Last season, Manfio defeated Anthony Pettis, Clay Collard, and Loik Radzhabov in upset victories. In each of the three bouts, Manfio let his fists fly and won by decision. However, none of his opponents troubled him with takedowns early or at all in any of those bouts.
Each of them opted to support Manfio and let him counter-strike his way to victory. Madge, on the other hand, will not adopt the same approach. Madge will utilize his hitting to take the battle to the ground, where he will have the upper hand. Despite the fact that Manfio is the reigning champion, Madge has more opportunities to win and will pull off the surprise.
Madge is my pick.
Carlos will meet Monte, a former training buddy and a promising young fighter. Monte is a competent fighter who is well-suited to the PFL format since he is constantly looking for the knockout. For his first battle of the regular season, he received the worst possible opponent. “Shoeface” is much superior than Monte in every way.
Carlos’ experience is another element in this bout. He’s battled higher-level competition in numerous organizations and should dodge Monte’s strength early in the fight, then take the fight to the ground to win.
Carlos is my pick.
Schulte will take against Aubin-Mercier in a judo chess match after missing the playoffs last season. The striking of Aubin-Mercier, on the other hand, will be the difference.
As the season continued, Aubin-stand-up Mercier’s routine changed. He developed into a more technical boxer who fired a lot of punches. Aubin-striking Mercier’s and physicality will lead to a win against Schulte if he can put pressure on him and command the tempo.
Aubin-Mercier is my pick.
Emiliano Sordi won the PFL Season 1 championship and finished second last year. He will face Cory Hendricks in the first game of the 2022 season. PFL/Ryan Loco
Sordi will be trying to rebound against Hendricks and go back in the victory column after falling short of the million-dollar prize last season. Sordi will use his striking early against Hendricks, and he should be able to dominate if he can remain off his back and not let his cardio wane in the middle rounds.
Sordi is my pick.
In one of the night’s most mismatched battles, Hamlet returns to the PFL for another attempt at the million-dollar prize. Hamlett should be able to push forward and take Aukstuolis down fast, then dominate on the ground. There aren’t many people in the PFL who can handle Hamlet’s power and skill set, and I don’t think Aukstuolis will be the one to solve him.
Hamlet, in my opinion.
In what should be an intriguing battle, Wilkinson will welcome challenger series star Souto to the PFL. That said, I don’t see Wilkinson winning this unless he can catch Souto early. Souto is on a nine-fight winning run and is a meticulous and powerful striker on the feet. He also possesses strong Brazilian jiu-jitsu defense.
Souto, in my opinion.