What we learned — and were surprised by — at PFL 2

MMA

The Professional Fighters League kicked off two of its deepest 2019 divisions — lightweight and featherweight — on Thursday night. And things did not disappoint. Natan Schulte and Lance Palmer, the defending champions at 155 and 145 pounds, respectively, both started off with victories. Movlid Khaibulaev pulled off the fastest knockout in PFL history (10 seconds). And there were four first-round finishes in 10 fights.

There was much to take in from PFL 2, so here are some thoughts on the night’s big questions.

Is featherweight a two-horse race again between Palmer and Andre Harrison?

Maybe not. Palmer, who took home the $1 million check last season, and Harrison, who finished as runnerup, are actually behind in the standings after the first night of 145-pound competition. Khaibulaev landed one of the most violent jumping-knee knockouts you’ll ever see, taking out Damon Jackson in just 10 seconds — the fastest KO in PFL history. That first-round finish earned him 6 points. And Luis Rafael Laurentino also got 6 points by starching Jeremy Kennedy with a head-kick KO in the first round.

Palmer and Harrison both won by decision, earning them 3 points.

Neither of them looked spectacular, but that’s OK. A PFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. With their wrestling ability — and sheer skill in getting the fight to where they want it — those two guys are still the favorites on paper to be there at the end. But you can’t count out those aforementioned names and their incredible finishes, either.

Who impressed you most in the lightweight division?

Let’s get this part out of the way quickly: Schulte is still one of the best fighters in the world who has yet to really penetrate the consciousness of fans. The Brazilian won the $1 million PFL championship in 2018, but it still feels like he’s unheralded as he tries to defend that throne this year.

Schulte won via first-round submission over Bao Yincang and looked excellent. He’s the favorite to win again, no doubt.

However, the most impressive performance in the 155-pound division Thursday was by Akhmed Aliev in his PFL debut. Oh, man, that guy is good. The speed of the overhand right that he used to take Carlao Silva off his feet was uncanny. And then his machine-gun combinations to finish the job were downright frightening. Power and precision. The Russian “Butcher” is one to watch this season.

Which fighter who lost at PFL 2 shouldn’t be counted out?

Loik Radzhabov. No fighter looked better Thursday night in a losing performance, especially given the competition: Rashid Magomedov. Radzhabov was beaten by Magomedov for most of the three rounds, but he kept the pressure on throughout and was very effective at times. It’s clear he has solid wrestling, decent striking and a willingness to get hit and keep coming.

Magomedov, the UFC veteran and 2018 PFL lightweight runnerup, had his hands full with the Tajikistan native. The crowd on Long Island was even getting behind Radzhabov, chanting “Loik! Loik!” He’s going to surprise people this season.

What was the biggest surprise of the night?

Laurentino. Kennedy was as much as a -450 favorite to beat the Brazilian. Kennedy came in 13-1, including a 3-1 mark in the UFC. His lone UFC loss? Alexander Volkanovski, who figures to fight for the UFC featherweight title before the year is up. Kennedy’s contract expired in 2018 and, for whatever reason, the UFC decided not to bring him back. So, the Canadian went and won twice in Brave CF before coming to PFL for this season.

He was supposed to be — and still could be — a force in the 145-pound season. But Laurentino had other plans Thursday night. He caught Kennedy in an exchange with a quick-as-a-whip left head kick, then finished with a flurry on the ground. Afterward, Kennedy was so out of it, he was trying to put referee Yves Lavigne in a leg lock, thinking the fight was still going. That was scary stuff.

Laurentino pulled off the big upset and seems to have the explosiveness and power to make things interesting moving forward.

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