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Lightweight has been widely considered the best division in mixed martial arts. The Professional Fighters League 155-pound division is no different. The organization’s field is loaded with talent and will compete over a two-fight regular season and a three-round playoff tournament with the ultimate winner winning a million dollars.
The field consists of three of the 2018 semifinalists, two Eagles MMA standouts, two Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans, a fighter with a 100% finishing rate, an undefeated prospect, and exciting fighters from Brazil, China and France.
The lightweights will battle in their opening round matchups this Thursday at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. We are going to take a deep look at each fighter’s skills and experience to determine who should be considered the favorites and rank everyone before the competition starts.
UFC veteran Ronys Torres was set to compete in the division but unfortunately, he was deemed medically unfit to compete the day before his scheduled bout. As writing of this article, a replacement was not announced. He had won 23 out of his last 25 bouts and would have been ranked fairly high on this list.
11. Nate Andrews
Nate Andrews is not the worst lightweight in the field. He is simply ranked last for one reason — journalistic integrity. Andrews and I are from the same hometown and have known each other since we were both in elementary school. I have a duty to not be biased but I obviously want the best for a friend. The most reasonable thing to do is to place him last and let the readers decide where he should be properly ranked.
Andrews has amassed an 15-1 professional record with all of his wins coming by way of stoppage. The southpaw is a tall and lengthy striker, who uses his long-range kicks and punches to pick apart his foe from distance. He’s prone to be drawn into the pocket due to his confidence in his chin where he welcomes a brawl. The Riverside, Rhode Island, native loves spinning attacks and step in knees, though he doesn’t possess enough power to end bouts with one punch.
Wrestling might be the Achilles heel for the Classic Entertainment & Sports MMA champion, but his submission skills is the keystone of his game. The “Snake” uses his long arms to sink in submissions. His finishing ability and incredible heart has led him to pull off some come from behind submissions.
The Tri-Force MMA team member has been criticized by many as padding his record with low level competition. Now is the time for the 35-year-old to show if he really is one of the best lightweights in the world.
10. Yincang Bao
When the PFL announced the fighters that would be competition during the second season of the promotion, the selection of Yincang Bao was a headscratcher. The 25-year-old has a mediocre 12-6-1 record and has dropped three out of his last four bouts. He appeared out of place in such a loaded division.
However, when you dig deeper, you understand why the decision makers for the PFL has added the “Mircrowave” to the season. Besides the fact that it is a smart move to add a fighter from a huge market like China, Bao will greatly entertain the crowd.
The youngest competitor in the field is a non-stop action fighter. He fights like a wild man. From the second the referee tells him to go, Bao is going to work. The Chinese fighter invites a brawl though he often leaves his chin straight up in the air with no head movement, drops his hands and doesn’t possesses fight ending power. “Microwave” is not a very good wrestler and doesn’t threaten much in the submission game.
Bao is not much of a technician but will be fun to watch due to his incredible heart and toughness. It will be extremely unlikely that he ends up the champion on New Year’s Eve but will be a joy watching him attempting to do so.
Ylies Dijoun joins the PFL red hot. Though he is a relatively unknown fighter, the Frenchman is riding a 12-fight winning streak and has a lot of momentum heading into the competition.
The 27-year-old fighter has shown great improvements during this stretch of victories specially in his striking. The youngster often used to duck his head and just swing wildly at his opponent, but he is now a much more poised striker. That said, he has a long way to go to be consider a good striker. He is often flat footed and has slow hand speed but he often finds a home for his straight left hand and has hard snap on his kicks. His step-in knees are also a dangerous weapon.
The former Contenders East Anglia lightweight champion makes his gameplan known before his fights as “Tupek” wants to get the fight on the ground. He isn’t an elite wrestler like several other of the fighters in the division, but he does have a nice ability to get the fight to the canvas. He is good at timing entries in the center of the cage or from body locks in the clinch. He doesn’t strive much in the takedown defense department though.
Dijoun’s secret weapon is his guillotine choke. He has the ability to sink the fight ending choke from almost any situation, though he is susceptible at losing dominant position in past fights by jumping at the opportunity to get it.
The Frenchman is making a big leap up in competition. His lack of big fight experience makes him one of the largest longshots in the division.
8. Ramsey Nijem
Ramsey Nijem has seen better days, as he has fallen short in three out of his last four appearances. The veteran of two “The Ultimate Fighter” shows hopes the 2019 PFL season will be his chance to turn things around.
The Palestinian American is the tallest fighter in the lightweight field. He’s an aggressive striker, who charges towards his foe winging punches trying to overwhelm them with volume. His best strike might be his stiff jab or his front kick. The UFC veteran does his best work when he is the person moving forward instead of backing up. His chin is a big question mark as he has been knocked out and rocked in several recent matches.
The Pit Elevated Fight Team member is a former Utah Valley University wrestler and is relentless in his takedowns. The 31-year-old loves a battle in the trenches, where he can grind from the top position. While he is a decorated wrestler, he has been taken down by lesser accomplished grapplers in the past. His aggressive style has caused him to lose position while searching for the fight-ending submission.
It is a bit of an uphill climb for Nijem to be successful in the field, but due to his major fight experience, he shouldn’t be overlooked.
Carlos Eduardo Silva Fonseca is one of the youngest fighters on the entire PFL roster. The highly touted 25-year-old has an impressive 11-1 record and is the Shooto Brazil lightweight champion. He enters the competition riding a five-fight winning streak.
“Carlao” is a tall lightweight, who uses his length well. He works from the outside, where he likes to switch stances and uses an unorthodox style. The Brazilian carries his hands low and throws his strikes from his hips. The counterstriker has great vision and uses feints to open up areas to attacks. He’s growing into his power but lacks bone-crushing power. The Nova Uniao Kimura product throws in occasional takedowns to simply keep his opponent guessing.
Fonseca is a very confident fight, who is borderline cocky. He loves to showboat and will occasionally dance or perform the Ali shuffle during bouts. The youngster better be careful not being overconfident as he is now part of a loaded division and not the Brazilian regional circuit that he is used to.
Loik Radzhabov is the only lightweight in the season with an undefeated record. The fighter from Tajikstan, who now fights out of Germany, is a perfect 11-0. He is a stocky lightweight, who used to fight at welterweight.
“Jaguar Paw” is a pressure striker, who looks to back up his foe to the fence with his constant forward movement. The former German MMA Championship welterweight champ constantly throws power shots with his best strike being his overhand right. The undefeated fighter also loves spinning attacks but makes the mistake of dropping his hands.
Radzhabov’s bread and butter is his wrestling. He gets good penetration on his entries and clean takedowns from the clinch. The PFL debutant constantly works to advance to a better- positions while striking in the transition. His ground and pound is ferocious. Radzhabov also possesses a strong submission game with Anaconda and North/South chokes being his specialty.
The Tajikstan born fighter is taking a big step up in competition by joining the PFL field. While he isn’t a popular name in the field, he should be watched closely as he has dominated everyone he has faced so far.
5. Chris Wade
Chris Wade was so close to reaching the finals of the 2018 PFL lightweight champion but instead dropped a controversial decision to the eventual champion, Natan Schulte in the semifinals. The UFC veteran is set out to make sure he doesn’t face the same fate again and is the one that takes home the million-dollar prize instead.
The Long Island native, who gets to fight in front of his own home crowd in the opening regular season matchup, is a very underrated striker. The southpaw has a granite chin and has a great slip and rip boxing game from the pocket. He is very athletic, who has a full arsenal of kicks to the body and head at his disposal, though he struggles to check kicks that come at him. The 31-year-old prefers to play the role of the bull with his constant forward pressure, instead of having to play the Matador, who must circle and counterstrike.
Wade is a former Division III and NJCAA All-American wrestler. He has an innate sense of timing on his entries, while also getting takedowns in close distance with his body locks. The Long Island MMA product is great at attaining the dominant position in a scramble. The excellent grappler has five submission wins on his record.
The road to the finals will be even tougher than last year due to a more competitive division, but Wade has the tools and experience to make him one of the favorites to reign victorious.
Rashid Magomedov came so close to winning the PFL championship in season 1. The Russian went a full 25 minutes with Natan Schulte in a back and forth battle. When the fight concluded it was anybody’s guess who was going to get their hand raised. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old, he ended up on the wrong side of the judge’s decision.
The UFC veteran, who compiled an impressive 5-1 record with the organization, has all the tools to win the sophomore season. The Dagestan fighter is a high-volume polished striker, who loves to pick apart his opponents from distance. He uses his jab to gauge distance and then explodes with powerful strikes when he finds it. He mixes in punches and kicks in his combinations. His front kick and body punches are two of his most dangerous tools, though his kicks to the head and body are pretty good too. He is crafty defensively with slick head movement and an ability to roll away from his opponent’s power strikes.
The American Top Team export is a good wrestler, but he usually uses it to keep the fight on his feet, where he does his best work. The biggest reason why he likely lost the finals was he began to slow deep in the fight, while Schulte continued to build momentum.
With the Russian coming to the age where most fighters showing significant declines, the 2019 season might be his last chance to capture a major title. With wins over the likes of Anthony Rocco Martin, Gilbert Burns and Bobby Green, he has shown he has the ability to be one of the best lightweights around.
When the PFL kicked off their inaugural season, Natan Schulte was not expected to become the eventual winner, but that is exactly what happened. The Brazilian showed great improvements and won himself one million dollars.
The American Top Team member is a well-rounded fighter who fights at an insane pace. He loves to march down his opponent with constant pressure. He mixes in a great variety of strikes including kicks and his powerful left hook. His constant forward movement means he’s going to take a lot of damage. This is because he lacks head movement and instead favors to stand directly in front of his foe and block attacks by covering up behind his hands and forearms.
“Russo” has great takedowns due to his judo background. Throws, trips and foot sweeps are all part of Schulte’s arsenal. The 27-year-old does a good job at battering his fellow unarmed combatant from the clinch with dirty boxing. The champion is a strong grappler with six wins coming by way of submission.
Schulte will have his hands full trying to repeat as champion in such a stacked division, but his cardio, toughness, and heart make him one of the favorites. He is determined to show that his victory was no fluke.
One of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s main training partners, Islam Mamedov has shown during his career that he has the skills to be one of the best lightweights on the planet. The Dagestan fighter has won 15 fights in a row including a submission win over 2018 season champion, Natan Schulte. He reached the semi-finals last year but was forced to withdraw from the competition due to an illness after winning his quarterfinal bout.
The Eagles MMA export is a technical boxer that works behind a stinging jab, powerful right hand and chopping kicks. He has excellent head movement, which sets him up for his counterstrikes and his elite level wrestling.
His takedown entries are fast from distance and almost impossible to stop from the clinch. Once he gets his opponent to the canvas, he stays attached to them like a leech. He cuts through his adversary’s guard like a knife through warm butter and then punishes them with relentless strikes. When a submission becomes available, he usually finds it. His six wins by armbar submission has led to him being given the moniker “Armbar Assassin” by play-by-play commentator Todd Harris.
Mamedov’s first match will be held while he is fasting during Ramadan, which could drain his energy level, though his amazing ground game makes him one of the favorite to win the competition.
1. Akhmed Aliev
Eagles MMA fighters enter the season as the top two picks on this list as Akhmed Aliev sits one spot above his teammate. “The Butcher” gave up his Fights Night Global belt to join the PFL with the hopes of cashing a hefty check at the end. The 29-year-old has won seven contests in a row including back to back wins over Ultimate Fighter winners, Efrain Escudero and Diego Brandao.
The Russian fighter is a technically savvy striker. The Khabib Nurmagomedov training partner throws fast pin point accurate strikes with serious power. “The Butcher” has elusive footwork that helps him constantly cut angles allowing him to find openings. He works the body well and has great head movement making him hard to hit. His best tools might be his kicks. He loves spinning attacks. His highlight reel spinning wheel kick knockout of Magomedsaygid Alibekov was one of the best knockouts of 2018.
He’s a strong wrestler, though he hardly ever looks for a takedown. When he gets them, they are usually from the clinch, where he likes exciting judo throws. Once the fight hits the ground, he is a strong grappler that passes the guard easily and batters his foes with terrorizing ground and pound strikes.
Aliev is a bit of a slow starter which might be a major issue in the two round only quarterfinal matchups. If he can find a way to get off to a faster start, the well-rounded Russian will be a very stiff test for the rest of the division.