PFL season preview: Best matchups, potential fights and title predictions

Following a busy year for the promotion, the PFL returns for its 2024 regular season next week (April 4, 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+/ESPN2).

After acquiring Bellator MMA just days before the 2023 Championship finals, PFL got to work making big changes across both promotions during the PFL offseason. As a result of those adjustments, plenty will look different in the upcoming season.

The biggest addition may be the newly formed women’s flyweight division, which replaces last season’s women’s featherweight division. With the new weight class, there are plenty of new faces to keep an eye on, including Bellator 125-pound title holder Liz Carmouche, former UFC title challenger Taila Santos and rising prospect Dakota Ditcheva.

Former Bellator lightweight champion Patricky “Pitbull” Freire and former light heavyweight champ Phil Davis will also compete in the 2024 PFL regular season.

Here are the best matchups we could see this season and early picks to win each division title.

Best matchups on the books

Lightweight: Clay Collard vs. Patricky Freire

Collard and Freire are must-see TV every time they compete. Both are action fighters who constantly push forward, which always makes for an entertaining fight. This bout will increase the stock of the winning fighter, as both are coming off a loss in their respective organization. “Pitbull”, the former Bellator lightweight champ, will make his PFL debut in this matchup. Collard, one of the PFL’s biggest stars, has likely become used to welcoming new fighters to the promotion. In 2022, he gave Jeremey Stephens a warm PFL welcome by handing him a unanimous decision loss. And Collard did the same last year against Yamato Nishikawa. Will he make it three in a row?

Light heavyweight: Robert Wilkinson vs Phil Davis

Wilkinson returns to the PFL regular season after sitting out in 2023 following a suspension due to a failed drug test. The 2022 light heavyweight champion was the standout fighter of that season and capitalized by winning his first MMA title. He kicks off the upcoming season against a veteran with a strong wrestling background in Davis.

Davis will surely look to test Wilkinson’s takedown defense. On the other hand, Wilkinson will lean on his knockout power.

Best matchups we could see this season

Women’s flyweight: Dakota Ditcheva vs. Liz Carmouche

This is the best matchup the PFL could make to showcase the talent within his new women’s division. Carmouche, the reigning Bellator champ, has been on a dominant run since signing with Bellator in 2020. Not only is she winning fights, but she is finishing opponents consistently. Carmouche enters this season as the fighter to beat at flyweight. Expect her to get to the finals without a problem. Ditcheva is very talented, she might be the brightest prospect in the division regardless of organization.

Light heavyweight: Robert Wilkinson vs. Impa Kasanganay

Not only is this the best fight the PFL could make at 205 pounds, but it’s one of the best fights that could be booked in the promotion across any division. Wilkinson and Kasanganay, the 2023 season champ, have completely different fighting styles but they both bring the action every time. Against Johnny Eblen, Kasanganay showed he can compete with one of the best wrestlers in MMA. The only question is whether he can handle the striking and power of Wilkinson.

Early title predictions

Heavyweight: Denis Goltsov

2023 PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira stated that he will not enter the 2024 season, as a lucrative payday to face Francis Ngannou looms large. That leaves Goltsov as the most well-rounded fighter in the heavyweight division. With his dominant wrestling and vast experience, it’s hard to see anyone stopping him. Keep on eye on Linton Vassell, as he’ll make his PFL debut after being ranked No. 1 in Bellator’s heavyweight rankings.

Wild card: Bruno Cappelozza

Light heavyweight: Robert Wilkinson

Wilkinson has not competed since the 2022 season, but if he can return to form, he’s the guy to beat at light heavyweight this year. Outside of Antonio Carlos Jr., it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to bully the former champ physically. Carlos, the 2021 light heavyweight champion, has also missed time in the cage. After starting the 2022 regular season with back-back-to-back wins, he missed the rest of the season due to injury. This will be his first time competing since 2022. Sadibou Sy, the 2022 welterweight champion, has moved up and is fighting at light heavyweight this season.

Wild card: Antonio Carlos Jr.

Welterweight: Magomed Umalatov

From his powerful striking to his dominant wrestling, Umalatov has all the pieces to win the welterweight title this season. However, his gas tank is questionable and he has had visa issues in the past. If he solves those problems, this should be his year. There will be some steep competition for Umalatov though, as former Bellator contenders Logan Storley and Neiman Gracie will compete in the PFL this year. Storley has won four of his last five fights, including victories over Gracie and Michael “Venom” Page.

Wild card: Neiman Gracie

Lightweight: Clay Collard

Collard has shown that he has trouble against bigger grapplers like Olivier Aubin-Mercier and AJ McKee. Lucky for him, this season doesn’t have anyone who can take him down and hold him there. He will likely have to take on many new opponents though. This division is loaded with fighters coming from Bellator — there will be more former Bellator fighters than PFL fighters from last year competing at lightweight this season. One name to monitor is Brent Primus. His last fight against Usman Nurmagomedov for the Bellator lightweight title at Bellator 300. That bout was ruled a no contest after Nurmagomedov tested positive for a banned substance.

Wild card: Mads Burnell

Featherweight: Brendan Loughnane

Loughnane is the best striker in the division. I believe his loss to Jesus Pinedo, last year’s champion, was because he underestimated his opponent. If Loughnane takes every opponent as seriously this season as he did when he won the title in 2022, it will be hard to stop him from claiming the division title once again. He will have to go through former runners up Gabriel Braga (2023) and Bubba Jenkins (2022), though. And Adam Borics, who comes over from Bellator. He has not fought since 2022, but his last bout was against Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for the Bellator featherweight title.

Wild card: Adam Borics

Women’s flyweight: Dakota Ditcheva

Ditcheva has the best striking in the division. Potentially taking on veterans like Carmouche and Santos will be a big step up in competition for her, but if Ditcheva can keep the fight standing, she can compete with anyone at 125 pounds. Santos could also present problems for the division. Though she is on a two-fight losing skid, one of those losses was a razor-thin split decision loss in a UFC title fight against Valentina Shevchenko. If Santos can return to her 2022 form in a new promotion, she’s a legit threat to win the first PFL women’s flyweight belt.

Wild card: Taila Santos

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