2023 PFL World Championships: Can OAM win back-to-back titles?

The PFL concludes the 2023 season with the PFL World Championships at The Anthem in Washington on Friday night (8 p.m. on ESPN+ PPV, 5 p.m. on ESPN+). The event will crown the promotion’s fifth group of champions since its debut in 2018.

In the main event last year’s lightweight champion, Olivier Aubin-Mercier, looks to become the third fighter in the promotion’s history to win back-to-back titles as he takes on Clay Collard. OAM has not lost a fight since making his PFL debut in 2021. His last two wins came via knockout against Anthony Romero and Bruno Miranda, respectively.

In the co-main event, Renan Ferreira, a heavyweight semifinalist in last year’s playoffs, gets his first shot at an oversized $1 million check as he faces Denis Goltsov. This is Goltsov’s first appearance in a PFL championship as well. Ferreira has won his last two fights by first-round knockout. Goltsov won each of his fights this season via first-round finish (two knockouts, one submission). And last season’s women’s lightweight champ Larissa Pacheco goes head-to-head with Marina Mokhnatkina for the women’s featherweight belt.

Also on the card, former women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison makes her much-anticipated return to the cage to face Aspen Ladd. Ladd opted to take the fight on short notice after the PFL announced that Julia Budd, Harrison’s original opponent “refused to fulfill her contractual obligation.” And Derek Brunson, who recently joined the PFL after spending over a decade competing in the UFC, makes his debut against Ray Cooper III.

Here’s the best bets on the fight card, starting with the six championship matchups.


2023 PFL Championship matchups

Lightweight championship: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Clay Collard

Collard has continually proven that his fights are must-see TV. Now, he finally gets to do it in a five-round title fight. In order to pull off the upset, Collard needs to push the pace and consistently land strikes to the body of Aubin-Mercier. Doing so will prevent Aubin-Mercier from being able to wrestle or clinch to slow the fight down. On the other hand, OAM appears to be in the best form of his MMA career. In order to retain his title, Aubin-Mercier has to slow Collard down. He needs to put Collard on his back and hold him there, which is no easy task. I expect this fight to go all five rounds due to the durability of both men, however, I don’t mind taking a shot on the underdog Collard here as his style and pressure could throw Aubin-Mercier off his game.

Best bet: Collard to win (+205), over 3.5 rounds.


Heavyweight championship: Denis Goltsov vs. Renan Ferreira

Since the start of the season, my pick to win the heavyweight title has been Goltsov, and that isn’t changing going into the finals. Goltsov has been flawless all season and I believe he has the style to take out the dangerous striker in Ferreira. There is no question that Ferreira has unbelievable athleticism and carries knockout power, but once he gets taken down, he looks like a fish out of water. That won’t bode well for him against Goltsov. Look for Goltsov to take him down as early and then use his ground game to get the win.

Best bet: Goltsov to win inside the distance.


Women’s featherweight championship: Larissa Pacheco vs. Marina Mokhnatkina

Pacheco can become the first women’s two-division champ in PFL history with a win over Mokhnatkina. Mokhnatkina has good judo and takedown defense, but her striking is nowhere near the level of Pacheco. And as we’ve seen in past fights, Mokhnatkina gets hit a lot in order for her to secure a takedown. Against a fighter with the power of Pacheco, even taking one punch on the chin can end the night and I think that is exactly what will happen here. Pacheco is the real deal, I would put her against anyone in the world at 135 or 145 pounds.

Best bet: Pacheco to win inside the distance.


Welterweight championship: Sadibou Sy vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov

Magomedkerimov won by unanimous decision in the last matchup between these two, and it wouldn’t shock me if they fought to the same result again. Magomedkerimov is extremely well-rounded, but his advantage in this fight is on the ground. He could hold his own on the feet, but there’s no reason to take that risk against a strong kickboxer in Sy. Look for Magomedkerimov to use his striking to set up his takedowns throughout five rounds. Taking the over on rounds in this fight makes plenty of sense, but at the current odds Magomedkerimov is the play.

Best bet: Magomedkerimov to win (-170).


Light heavyweight championship: Josh Silveira vs. Impa Kasanganay

Currently, Kasanganay is the betting favorite in this fight and I just don’t agree. I think the oddsmakers are overvaluing his recent first-round knockout win over Marthin Hamlet, compared to the body of work that Silveira has built this season. There is no question Kasanganay is a good fighter with terrific striking, but if the fight hits the ground he is at a major deficit. On top of that, I think these fighters are nearly even in the striking department, but the wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu heavily favor Silveira and I think that is ultimately where the fight ends up.

Best bet: Silviera to win (+155).


Men’s featherweight championship: Gabriel Braga vs. Jesus Pinedo

Pinedo is the Cinderella story of the 2023 PFL season. After losing his first fight to Braga, he went on to beat last year’s champion Brendan Loughnane by first-round knockout to earn a spot in the playoffs. Then he beat top-seeded Bubba Jenkins by second-round knockout in the playoffs to make the finals. However, I think that unbelievable run comes to a halt against Braga. Braga has already fought Pinedo, so he knows what to look for and has done it with success. Expect Braga to use leg kicks early to slow down Pinedo’s aggressive style and then utilize his wrestling, if needed. This fight is flying under the radar, I wouldn’t be shocked if it ends up as fight of the night.

Best bet: Braga to win (-120).


Best bets on the rest of the card

Women’s catchweight: Kayla Harrison vs. Aspen Ladd

Give Ladd a ton of credit for stepping up on short notice and taking this fight. But let’s be honest, it’s going to be a bad night for her. Harrison is one of the best female fighters on the planet, and she is light years ahead of Ladd in every aspect of the fight game. Look for Harrison to land a left cross early then go right into a takedown and takeover from there. This fight won’t last long, Harrison should be able to get the finish however she wants.

Best bet: Harrison to win by KO/TKO.


Middleweight: Ray Cooper III vs. Derek Brunson

Someone is going to be put to sleep before the final bell rings. Cooper, who normally fights at 170 pounds, has struggled with his weight cuts, but that won’t be a problem in this matchup. Brunson is a strong wrestler with great knockout power, but he tends to gas out in the second or third round. If he can’t get it done in Round 1. Look for Cooper to defend and shut down the wrestling of Brunson and eventually get the knockout.

Best bet: Cooper to win (-210).

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