3 Reasons to Watch PFL Challenger Series Week 1

Two months removed from crowning its latest set of divisional champions, the Professional Fighters League on Friday returns to the mixed martial arts stage with the second season of its PFL Challenger Series at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. There, eight prospective competitors will seek potential spots on the Professional Fighters League roster in 2023 and beyond.

Here are three reasons to watch Week 1 of the PFL Challenger Series:

1. A Potential ‘Hulk’ Smash

Multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Lucas Barbosa, 30, will step into the cage for the first time in more than a decade when he meets Itso Babulaidze in the featured welterweight slot. One of the most decorated submission grapplers of all-time, Barbosa now trains under Andre Galvao at Atos Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego. “Hulk” has not competed as a mixed martial artist since he put away Tiago Sena with punches in the first round of their Aug. 11, 2012 encounter under the Roraima Show Fight banner in Brazil. Babulaidze, meanwhile, made his organizational debut at PFL 7 in August, when the New York-based Georgian punched out onetime Olympic wrestler Mahmoud Sebie Fawzy and improved to 2-0.

2. Ascending Talents

Intriguing prospects will look to take the next steps in their development when Eric Alequin squares off with Thad Jean at 170 pounds. The 32-year-old Alequin has raced out to a 7-0 start to his career. The Kill Cliff Fight Club standout last competed on March 17, when he claimed the vacant Cage Fury Fighting Championships welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Hugh Pulley in their CFFC 106 co-feature. Jean, meanwhile, has made successful stops in Combate Global, the Legacy Fighting Alliance and CES MMA. The undefeated 24-year-old trains under former Shooto Brazil and Titan Fighting Championship titleholder Gesias Cavalcante in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Jean improved to 4-0 as a pro at Combate Global “Romero vs. Ayala,” where he was awarded a unanimous verdict over Georgie Medina in their three-round battle on Sept. 30.

3. Proving Grounds

Jozef Wittner gets the chance to show what he can do outside of his European MMA bubble when he makes his stateside debut opposite Zach Juusola in a featured welterweight attraction. The 29-year-old Slovakian has procured 11 of his 16 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission—nine of them inside one round—and enters the cage on the strength of a four-fight winning streak. Wittner last appeared at a Real Fight Arena show on Oct. 8, when he needed just 22 seconds to punch out Chris Astley. It was the fastest finish of his 18-fight career. Juusola, 35, has lost six of his past seven bouts but has nearly 13 years of experience upon which to draw. The Minnesota Fight Factory product last competed under the Eagle Fighting Championship flag, as he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against American Top Team’s Handesson Ferreira in a three-round pairing on March 11.
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