Upset, upset, upset.
Underdogs cashed in three of the four main card fights Friday at 2021 PFL 1 against three of the promotion’s most notable names.
First, it was seasoned MMA veteran Bubba Jenkins, who pulled off an improbable unanimous decision victory over two-time featherweight champion Lance Palmer in the main card opener.
Two fights later, two-time lightweight champion Natan Schulte added a loss to his resume for the first time since 2017 when he was defeated via unanimous decision by former Bellator and UFC fighter Marcin Held.
“Next time, you can’t expect that I will only go to the ground and try to finish the fight on the ground,” Held said at the post-fight news conference. “I can punch. I can win in the striking. I can win on the ground. I’m a complete MMA fighter. I hope I showed that I’m one of the best fighters in this division here in PFL.”
The main event continued the theme when 2020 breakthrough boxing star Clay Collard spoiled the promotional debut of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Collard pummeled Pettis in the first two rounds before he survived a late onslaught to notch the unanimous decision win.
“Those are the kind of guys we’ve been chasing since we started this,” Collard said at the post-fight news conference. “He was a (WEC) champion and a UFC champion. It’s a dream come true. To get a win over a guy like that, I think says a lot in this division. I think it made a statement and that’s what I came here to do is make a statement and let everybody know. This is my coming-out party.”
The celebration is warranted, but only transpires for so long. In the PFL format, victories aren’t measured by momentum, buzz, or card placement. Despite the three wins being high-magnitude victories over big names, the points remain the same. PFL is perhaps the most open field in mixed martial arts. A single loss is a big blow, but the defeated aren’t damned.
“(Brendan Loughnane) was awarded six points tonight,” PFL senior vice president of corporate communications Loren Mack said at the post-fight news conference. “He is the man to beat in this division now (with) six points. The rest of the points that were allocated were three points for the winners, for everybody that won tonight, and zero points for everybody else. The opportunities are still there for the fighters who lost to advance and get to the playoffs, but their backs are against the wall.”
The format makes PFL unique in the MMA space. Not only does it, in theory, play into fighters’ aggression and urgency, but it also winds into the psyche of the competitors having to fight the same opponents multiple times. For example, Jenkins expects Palmer to come back with a vengeance for a rematch that in his estimation is very likely.
“(Palmer) being a two-time champion and such a formidable opponent and such a great athlete for the last five or six years associated with these people and associated with this organization,” Jenkins said at the post-fight news conference. “We figured that after we take this dub, he was going to come back and we’d see him later in the tournament. We knew that after the dub, he’s going to have some people to come back for.”
The promotion returns Friday, April 29 with 2021 PFL 2, which features the welterweight and light heavyweight divisions. The card is headlined by former UFC welterweight title challenger and former Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald as he takes on Curtis Millender.