Palmer, Schulte launch bids to repeat as PFL champs with dominant wins

MMA

The 2019 featherweight season of the Professional Fighters League started much like last year’s season finished: with Lance Palmer getting his hand raised.

The defending $1 million champion at 145 pounds defeated Alex Gilpin by unanimous decision in the main event of PFL 2 on Thursday night in Uniondale, N.Y. Palmer dominated most of the way with his wrestling, though Gilpin hung tough until the end.

“I’m not super happy with it, but he’s a tough opponent,” Palmer said after earning 30-27 scores from all three judges. “There’s a reason he was 12-1 before this fight. I felt like I controlled the whole fight. … Getting the win, I was OK with, but I wanted to get the finish, too.”

The victory earns Palmer 3 points in the PFL’s featherweight division. “The Party” is the first PFL fighter to reach six wins in the promotion. He is 18-3 overall and undefeated in the PFL.

Thursday’s event featured the start of the competition in both the featherweight and lightweight divisions. The defending 155-pound champion, Natan Schulte, also won his fight.

In the featherweight standings, Palmer is behind Movlid Khaibulaev and Luis Rafael Laurentino, both of whom won by first-round finishes Thursday, which earned them 3 additional bonus points, giving them 6 total points. Andre Harrison, last year’s runnerup, and Gadzhi Rabadanov both won by decision for 3 points apiece. The top eight fighters in each men’s division earn a playoff berth.

Palmer landed the most significant blow of the night in the first round, a left hook that dropped Gilpin hard. Palmer followed Gilpin to the ground, got his back and the maneuvered into mount. But Gilpin was able to survive.

In the second round, Palmer got an early takedown and controlled things from top position. Gilpin was able to shake loose late, though, and actually landed a slam on Palmer as the round was coming to an end. The third was much like the second, with Palmer getting a takedown and riding things out from the top.

Palmer has won seven in a row, including that $1 million championship victory over Harrison in December. The Ohio native is one of the favorites to win the 2019 season. The 32-year-old recently changed camps, moving to Frankie Edgar‘s team in New Jersey. He said he expects his performances to improve.

“It’s only gonna get better as the season goes on working with all these high-level guys,” Palmer said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Gilpin (12-2), who gets no points from the loss, had won seven straight. The 27-year-old Wisconsin native was coming off a second-round submission win over J.R. Coughran on Dana White’s Contender Series last August.

In other fights:

Lightweight: Natan Schulte def. Bao Yincang via first-round submission (6 points)

Superior grappling from Schulte would be no surprise to anyone who watched PFL’s first season.

The Brazilian fighter imposed his will on the ground quickly in his first fight of the new PFL campaign, eventually submitting Bao with a rear-naked choke at 3:03 of the first round. Schulte earns 6 points with the opening-round finish, an excellent start as he attempts to win two straight PFL lightweight seasons.

After losing early striking exchanges, Schulte took Bao down, passed into mount, got Bao’s back and then applied the choke. The fine ground work was part of the formula that earned him four PFL victories in 2018, and that clearly has not changed.

“New Year, new season,” Schulte said. “Time to put in the same hard work to make this trek back to another million.”

Schulte (16-3-1) beat Rashid Magomedov in the PFL’s 2018 $1 million lightweight championship fight in December. The 27-year-old, who trains out American Top Team, was one of the under-the-radar stars the first PFL season produced. He was won six straight overall.

Bao (13-8) has lost two straight, four of five, and will move on with 0 points in this PFL season.

Lightweight: Chris Wade def. Nate Andrews via unanimous decision (3 points)

The decision went his way this time. But it probably was not the kind of performance Wade wanted.

“The Long Island Killer” defeated Andrews in a back-and-forth, scramble-heavy battle by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) in front of his hometown fans.

Last October in the 2018 PFL playoffs, Wade was not happy with how the judges had scored his fight with eventual season champion Natan Schulte. This time, Wade said he had a feeling he won before the scorecards were read.

“That was a different kind of fight, with me scoring the takedowns this time,” Wade said. “That’s why I felt like I had it.”

Still, Wade expected better. The UFC veteran and decorated wrestler said he thought he’d be able to take down Andrews against the cage with trips and throws fairly easily, but “he surprised me.” Andrews initiated many scrambles and achieved some very dangerous positions, including right at the third-round bell when he was moving for an armbar.

“Damn, he’s a tough guy,” Wade said. “I had him in trouble a couple of times. I thought I’d be able to put him away a lot easier. Damn, he was game. I’ve gotta give it to him.”

Wade came out very aggressively in the first round, landing in the striking before ever going for a takedown. After an Andrews head kick landed, Wade did end up getting a takedown toward the end of the round. In the second round, Wade got Andrews down more quickly, but Andrews was able to scramble toward the end of the five minutes and end up on top.

The New York native nearly had a rear-naked choke finish — and a bonus point for the finish — in the third round, but again Andrews was able to avoid the submission and counter by taking Wade’s back and nearly getting a late armbar.

Wade (15-5) has won four of five, going back to his final UFC fight in 2017, a win over Frankie Perez. The 31-year-old figures to again be a tough out in the lightweight season.

Andrews (15-2) had won nine straight. The 35-year-old Rhode Island native was making his PFL debut out of the CES MMA promotion in New England. He has 0 points.

Featherweight: Andre Harrison def. Peter Petties via unanimous decision (3 points)

“The Bull” is back on track.

Harrison grinded out Petties to win a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27), earning himself 3 points. The dominant wrestler was never in trouble and completely dominated Pettes, a flashy striker, from bell to bell. The PFL’s 2018 featherweight runnerup nearly had two chokes in the closing seconds, which would have earned Harrison a bonus point for a third-round finish, but Petties fought them off.

“It’s definitely good to start the season off with a win, but there’s definitely more I could have done in there,” Harrison said afterward. … “I would definitely loved to have gotten the finish, but too little, too late, I guess.”

Harrison got takedowns early in the first and second rounds and never let Petties back up. The only time Petties was really in the fight — and not on his back — was at the start of the third, when he defended two Harrison takedowns and landed several solid combinations. Harrison took him down, though, when Petties went for a flying knee.

Harrison (21-1) lost to Lance Palmer in the $1 million championship fight in December. That was the first loss of the New York native’s career. Harrison, 31, is a former World Series of Fighting and Titan FC featherweight champ. He’s solidly one of the favorites in the 145-pound season.

“Here’s your quote,” Harrison said. “I’m going to win this whole damn thing.”

Petties (8-5) had his two-fight winning streak snapped. The 28-year-old Maryland native was making his PFL debut, and he’ll move on this season with 0 points.

Lightweight: Akhmet Aliev def. Carlao Silva via first-round KO (6 points)

We might have an early favorite in the PFL’s 2019 lightweight season.

Aliev snuffed out Silva with aplomb in the first round. Aliev landed a monstrous overhand right that dropped Silva, landed a left as Silva was getting up and then a machine-gun-like combination. The TKO stoppage came at 2:24, and Aliev walks away with 6 points.

Aliev (18-4) has won eight in a row overall, including victories over UFC veterans Diego Brandao and Efrain Escudero. The Russia native was coming off a spinning wheel kick knockout of Magomedsaygid Alibekov under the Fight Nights Global banner in February 2018. Aliev, 29, was making his PFL and United States debut.

Silva (11-2) came in on a five-fight winning streak. The 26-year-old Brazilian was making his PFL debut coming out of the Shooto promotion in his home country. With the defeat, he earns no points.

Lightweight: Islam Mamedov def. Ylies Djiroun via split decision (3 points)

The PFL’s 2019 lightweight roster should beware of Mamedov’s clinch.

Mamedov suffocated Djiroun by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) to earn 3 points in his first fight of this season. In each round, when Mamedov was able to wrap his arms around Djiroun, he was able to get him down and hold firm in top position.

Djiroun had some moments, including a guillotine attempt in the second and some solid leg kicks to Mamedov’s lead leg throughout. But Mamedov’s workmanlike performance, grinding Djiroun down, is what got the job done. Even when Djiroun had the tight guillotine, Mamedov was able to escape, get into a high mount and go for an armbar.

The third round was very much like the rest, with Mamedov getting a body lock and driving Djiroun down to the canvas. That will be a heck of a weapon for the Dagestan native as the season wears on.

Mamedov (17-2) won twice in last year’s lightweight division until an illness knocked him out of the playoffs. Overall, he has won 16 in a row. Mamedov, 29, is the last man to beat Natan Schulte, PFL’s defending lightweight champion.

Djiroun (16-5) came in on an 11-fight winning streak. The 27-year-old France native was making his PFL debut after a run on the European regional circuit. He’ll move on this season with 0 points.

Lightweight: Rashid Magomedov def. Loik Radzhabov via unanimous decision (3 points)

It might put him behind initially in the standings, but Magomedov put together a tactical performance against a very game opponent.

Magomedov, the PFL 2018 lightweight runnerup, defeated Radzhabov by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) to earn 3 points. Radzhabov pushed the pressure throughout, but Magomedov was the matador, evading shots and landing counters as he angled out.

In the first round, Magomedov dropped Radzhabov with a check left hook, the most significant strike of the fight from either man. The Dagestani boxer mixed in some beautiful trip takedowns in the second, as well as spinning kicks and lead question mark kicks. Radzhabov might have been the aggressor, but Magomedov was the more effective fighter. That held in the third, when Magomedov sealed things with a big takedown with 30 seconds to go.

Magomedov (23-3-1) fell to Natan Schulte in the PFL lightweight $1 million championship fight in December. “Gorets” has now won four of five. Magomedov, 35, is a veteran of the UFC and has beaten the likes of Gilbert Burns and Anthony Rocco Martin.

Radzhabov (11-1) was making his PFL debut. The 28-year-old Tajikistan native, who trains out of Germany, had finished four of his five previous bouts.

Featherweight: Luis Rafael Laurentino def. Jeremy Kennedy via first-round TKO (6 points)

How hard did Laurentino hit Kennedy? Kennedy was so rocked that he was attempting to leg lock referee Yves Lavigne in the aftermath.

Laurentino landed a counter left head kick on Kennedy, then abruptly finished with a quick flurry on the ground for a TKO 23 seconds into the fight. Laurentino earns 6 points with the first-round stoppage.

Laurentino (34-1), who was making his PFL debut, has won three straight. The Brazilian fighter, as much as a 3-to-1 underdog coming in, was last fighting on the Brazilian and European regional circuit. Laurentino, 26, has 29 stoppage victories.

Kennedy (13-2) had a two-fight winning streak snapped. The Canadian’s last loss came to elite featherweight Alexander Volkanovski last year in the UFC. Kennedy, 26, fought twice for Brave CF after not having his contract renewed by the UFC. He’ll head into his second PFL fight with 0 points.

Featherweight: Movlid Khaibulaev def. Damon Jackson by first-round KO (6 points)

Welcome to PFL, Movlid Khaybulaev.

The undefeated Dagestan native knocked out Jackson with a flying knee just 10 seconds into their bout to earn 6 points. It was the fastest knockout in PFL history and one of the most violent knockouts of the early season — a potential Knockout of the Year contender in all of mixed martial arts.

Khaybulaev (14-0) was making his United States debut and is the only unbeaten featherweight in the PFL this season. “Killer” previously fought with Fight Nights in Russia and ONE Championship. Khaybulaev, 28, seems like an early favorite to win the 145-pound division.

Jackson (16-3-1, 1 NC) had won five straight coming in and is a former LFA interim featherweight champion. “The Leech” fought in the UFC from 2014 to 2016. Jackson, 30, was making his PFL debut and will go into his second fight with no points.

Featherweight: Gadzhi Rabadanov def. Steven Siler via unanimous decision (3 points)

Rabadanov outgrappled a man who had made his bones by outgrappling opponents in PFL’s 2018 season.

The Russian fighter took down Siler in all three rounds and excelled with his top control, leading to a unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27). Rabadanov earns 3 points in his PFL debut.

Siler, the PFL’s 2018 featherweight finalist, had his moments on the ground, including a close guillotine at the second-round bell. And he was probably the better striker. But Rabadanov’s wrestling and top game were just too much throughout.

Rabadanov nearly had a rear-naked choke in the third, but Siler reversed and tried a guillotine choke of his own. It was to avail — Rabadanov ended the fight on top, much like he was for the majority of the bout.

Rabadanov (12-3-2) has won four straight overall, the previous three coming in Russia’s Fight Nights promotion. The 26-year-old St. Petersburg native was competing in the United States for the first time.

Siler (32-19-1) was coming off a loss to Lance Palmer in the PFL featherweight final in December. The UFC veteran went 3-0-1 in 2018 in the PFL before the Palmer loss. Siler, 32, will go into his second PFL 2019 fight with no points.

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