Article by Jeff Wagenheim
It might not seem possible for a large group of 205-pound men to go unnoticed. But as the PFL’s 2021 season gets underway, the light heavyweights are all but invisible.
The promotion will enter the season by unveiling some big-splash additions, most notably a pair of former UFC champions, heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and lightweight Anthony Pettis. There’s also ex-Bellator welterweight champ and UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald, who is No. 9 in ESPN’s 170-pound rankings.
And then there are decorated holdovers Lance Palmer, a two-time PFL season winner at featherweight, and 2019 women’s lightweight champ (and two-time Olympic judo gold medallist) Kayla Harrison, the promotion’s biggest star.
Those names bring attention to five of the PFL’s six weight divisions. But what about light heavyweight?
The 205-pound division also opens the season with a defending champ, Emiliano Sordi, and the 30-year-old from Argentina is coming off a 2019 season in which he won all five of his bouts, every one of them by stoppage, all but one in the first round. That surely would be eye-opening if any eyes were pointed his way. But Sordi simply does not have the name recognition of those other champions and high-profile newcomers.
The reigning light heavyweight champ being a bit of a mystery man is emblematic of the entire field of competitors Sordi will be stacked up against when he opens his season on April 29 at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sordi’s opponent that night will be ex-UFC middleweight Chris Camozzi, one of seven light heavyweights making their PFL debuts this season. That’s seven out of a roster of 10.
It doesn’t take much digging, though, to unearth clues about what to expect. Of the seven PFL newcomers, five have fought in the UFC. Four of those made at least a dozen Octagon appearances. There are no household names, but among the UFC alums is Ultimate Fighter: Brazil winner Cezar Ferreira, whose 15 bouts for the top-tier promotion include wins over title challengers Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos.
Still, there is a good bit of “who is that?” surrounding the 205-pound season.
Sordi celebrated winning the PFL light heavyweight championship and $1 million at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 31, 2019. He’ll finally get back in the cage in 2021 after the PFL postponed its 2020 season. Ryan Loco/PFL
Season favourite: Antonio Carlos Junior
Carlos Junior was a late addition to the fold, signing with the PFL only earlier this month to replace 2019 finalist Jordan Johnson this season. The 31-year-old, who like Ferreira is an Ultimate Fighter: Brazil winner, fought at middleweight in the UFC, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Brad Tavares in January. That put Carlos Junior on a three-fight losing streak, but with eight of his 10 victories coming by submission, he’s shown he can be a killer on the ground. So let’s ride with the two-time jiu-jitsu world championships gold medallist.
The leading contender: Emiliano Sordi
Gotta show the defending champion some love, especially considering that run of quick finishes he produced on his way to pocketing the $1 million prize in 2019. The 30-year-old from Argentina gets tested right out of the gate, being matched with Camozzi. If Sordi finishes him, he could be on his way to transforming this season of new signees into the same old championship story.
Fight to watch on opening night: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Tom Lawlor
If nothing else, it will be fun to see if “Filthy Tom” has a fresh impersonation in his repertoire. During his UFC days, he would show up for weigh-ins or even walk-outs disguised as anyone from Conor McGregor to Dan Severn. Lawlor has not competed in MMA since 2018 and hasn’t won since 2015, though, so let’s see whether he still can make himself look like a high-level fighter.
Light heavyweight division at a glance
Antonio Carlos Junior
Height: 6-2 | Reach: 79
Career record: 10-5, 1 NC | ; PFL record: 0-0
Height:6-3 | Reach:78
Career record: 25-14 | PFL record:0-0
Height: 6-1 | Reach: 75
Career record:6-1 | PFL record: 0-0
Height: 6-3 | Reach: 75.5
Career record: 9-1 | PFL record: 0-0
Height: 6-4 | Reach: 79
Career record: 11-1 | PFL record: 0-0
How to watch the PFL fights
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