Bellator Dominates PFL in First Big Event Featuring Merged Promotions

February 26, 2024
2 months

Renan Ferreira should have his new heavyweight superfight championship belt personally shined by the Professional Fighters League’s top brass every night. If Ferreira hadn’t scored a 21-second win to give the PFL a win in the heavyweight main event, it would have been a rough night for the promotion.

MMAfighting latest updates show that Bellator’s fighters won five of the six fights on the main card in Saudi Arabia. While several fighters had to pull out on both sides, this fight night was an important first step for the wedding between PFL and Bellator. Holding fights between champions in different promotions had a fresh look to things.

While all of the Bellator fighters are now with the PFL, they had a chance to honor their organization’s brand. Bellator’s champions represented themselves well. The challenge for the PFL will be building off this event’s momentum to grab a larger market share in the MMA landscape.

Ferreira Gives Heavyweight Division a Path Forward

Ferreira’s win was necessary for the PFL’s pride. But the 6-foot-8 Brazilian’s win also helped chart a course for the future of the heavyweight division. Former UFC champion Francis Ngannou was seated cage side, and it was announced before the fight that Ngannou would make his PFL debut against the winner of Ferreira’s fight with Ryan Bader.

Bader, a former two-division Bellator champion, looked out of his depth against Ferreira. When Ferreira hit Bader the first time, Bader crumbled to the canvas. Ferreira followed up with several hard shots to bring an early stoppage to the fight.

Bader, 40, had a three-fight winning streak snapped with the loss. 

Eblen Nearly Sees Undefeated Record Slip Away

Johnny Eblen had been touted as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters outside of the UFC for the past few years. But the Bellator middleweight champion was reminded Saturday that challengers are always lurking. Eblen needed help keeping up with Impa Kasanganay Saturday night.

Kasanganay was one of the surprise winners in the PFL last season. He returned from being a UFC washout to earn the light heavyweight championship. What made Kasanganay effective against Eblen was his strong striking.

Kasanganay scored a knockdown in the second round, with more than a few people thinking he could pull off the upset. However, Eblen was able to rally in the third round and keep Kasanganay from gathering any momentum.

Eblen was chosen as the winner in a narrow split decision. While Eblen was excited to move to 4-0, he learned a valuable lesson about respecting all challengers.

Jason Jackson Impresses With Finish

One of the most significant blows to the PFL was when two-time welterweight champion Magomed Magomedkerimov had to pull out due to an injury. The PFL then went with another of its former champions, Ray Cooper III, to step in on a month’s notice. While Cooper has found his fair share of success in the past, taking on Bellator welterweight champion Jason Jackson won’t be on his highlights reel.

Jackson’s power shone through, and he picked up a knockout 23 seconds into the second round. It was a nice moment for Jackson, who had yet to defend his championship belt.

Extra Pounds Don’t Slow Nemkov

A lot remains to be settled about how the PFL will structure its divisions moving forward. But Russian fighter and former Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadmi Nemkov may want to keep the extra pounds he packed. Nemkov bumped up to heavyweight to participate in this card.

Fighting against former PFL Heavyweight Tournament winner Bruno Cappelozza showed that Nemkov didn’t lose much going up a weight class. Nemkov still appeared to be nimble on his feet and packed plenty of power in his punches. Nemkov was able to wrap up a submission win and position himself as a possible heavyweight contender, according to MMA news sites.

Romero Grinds Out Win over Santos

Yoel Romero looks fantastic for being 46 years old. While it is puzzling that Romero never really applied the wrestling skills that took him to the Olympics as a member of the Cuban team, he is still a physical specimen who can hit hard. Fighting against big-hitter and former UFC fighter Thiago Santos, neither man could find a way to put the other down.

Romero did find a way to generate enough power in his shots to win a decision, according to MMA news websites.

McKee Makes Quick Work of Collard

Bellator featherweight champion AJ McKee didn’t wait long to challenge former PFL runnerup Clay Collard on the ground. While Collard is known for his excellent striking and incredible cardio, McKee didn’t give him a chance to use either. McKee dragged him to the mat in the first round and was able to force an armbar submission just 70 seconds into the fight.

Shields Survives Disaster

Former two-time Olympic gold medalist and world champion boxer Claressa Shields was considered an extensive get by the PFL a few years ago. Her dominance in the MMA world has never come close to what she has been able to do in boxing. Shields and her opponent, Kelsey DeSantis, became the first women to fight in Saudi Arabia.

They represented their gender well. DeSantis, who is now 1-3 as a professional fighter, was nearly able to submit Shields at the end of the first round. While DeSantis got beat up on her feet, she could absorb the punishment and forced the fight to the scorecards. Shields escaped with a split-decision win.

Shields is now 2-1 in her MMA career and still has much to prove in the cage if she will challenge for a title. Here’s a look at the rest of the fights not mentioned above:

  • Featherweight, Aaron Pico win by TKO (punches) over Henry Corrales, Round 1 4:53
  • Lightweight, Biaggio Ali Walsh win by decision over Emmanuel Palacio, 30-27 (x3)
  • Featherweight, Abdullah Al-Qahtani win by TKO (punches and kicks) over Edukondala Rao, Round 3 0:23
  • Amateur flyweight, Malik Basahel win by decision over Vinicius Pereira, 30-27(x2) 29-28

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By Dean McHugh.