Top Reasons to Catch PFL 4

Valentin Moldavsky looks to have been recalibrated—a troubling development for the rest of the Professional Fighters League heavyweight division.

The two-time World Sambo Championships gold medalist will rematch Linton Vassell for a second time in the PFL 4 headliner this Thursday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. They have faced one another on two previous occasions, with Moldavsky outdueling the Brit to a unanimous decision at Bellator 218 in March 2019 and Vassell answering with a first-round knockout at Bellator 292 some four years later. Now, they meet for a third time, with undeniably high stakes in play. Moldavsky, 32, sits atop the 2024 heavyweight standings after he buried Ante Delija with knees and punches a little more than two minutes into their PFL 1 pairing. It was the Russian’s first first-round finish in almost eight years. On the other side of the equation, Vassell finds himself on the rebound following a third-round technical knockout loss to Denis Goltsov in his April 4 promotional debut. The setback snapped a five-fight winning streak for the 41-year-old Kill Cliff Fight Club representative. A potent finisher with a proven track record, Vassell has secured 18 of his 23 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

In addition to the Moldavsky-Vassell trilogy, here are four other reasons to catch PFL 4:

Chance Encounter

Opportunity knocks for Chelsea Hackett, and loudly so. The 24-year-old former muay thai world champion confronts undefeated Manchester Top Team prospect Dakota Ditcheva in the three-round women’s flyweight co-main event. A prohibitive underdog in the minds of most, Hackett enters the cage on the heels of an armbar-induced submission loss to Jena Bishop in April. The defeat was her first since she succumbed to punches from Victoria Leonardo on Week 10 of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2020. Ditcheva, meanwhile, has cemented herself as one of the sport’s true blue-chip talents and steps back into the spotlight with a perfect 11-0 record in tow. She last fought at PFL 1, where she cut down Lisa Maudlin with a knee to the body and follow-up punches a little less then four minutes into their confrontation.

A Potential Mulligan

Kana Watanabe can right one of the few wrongs on her resume when she squares off with reigning Bellator MMA champion Liz Carmouche in their three-round rematch at 125 pounds. Carmouche needed just 35 seconds to dispatch the Japanese judoka with punches at Bellator 261 in June 2021. It remains the only stoppage loss of Watanabe’s career. The 35-year-old Tokyo native owns a 3-1 record since her ill-fated clash with Carmouche, a contentious split decision defeat to Ilima-Lei Macfarlane the only misstep. Watanabe made her organizational debut at PFL 1, where she outpointed Shanna Young to a three-round unanimous decision. On the opposite side of the ledger, Carmouche has pieced together a personal-best eight-fight winning streak since she exited the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2019. She last suited up in April, when she was awarded a unanimous verdict over Juliana Velasquez.

Still in the Hunt

A PFL championship continues to elude Denis Goltsov. In the midst of his latest campaign, the 34-year-old sambo practitioner locks horns with Thiago Santos in a heavyweight showcase and attempts to close in on yet another playoff berth. Goltsov has won 14 of his past 17 bouts and flexed his resilience in April, when he rebounded from a stoppage loss to Renan Ferreira in the 2023 PFL heavyweight final with a third-round technical knockout of the aforementioned Vassell. A former Absolute Championship Akhmat titleholder, he boasts 27 finishes among his 33 professional victories. Santos, meanwhile, fills in on short notice for Sergey Bilostenniy. The Brazilian peaked with a near-upset of Jon Jones at UFC 239, but in seven outings since, he has hit the skids to the tune of a 1-5 record with one no contest. Santos has not posted a win in nearly 1,000 days.

Already Acclimated

Best known for her back-and-forth encounter with Valentina Shevchenko in 2022, Taila Santos seems to be putting her best foot forward in the PFL. The 30-year-old Brazilian toes the line against the forenamed Bishop, as their 125-pound scrap helps buoy the undercard. Santos shot to the top of the women’s lightweight standings in her April 4 promotional debut, where she discarded Ilara Joanne with a rear-naked choke and nailed down the 13th first-round finish of her career. All three of her professional defeats—Shevchenko, Blanchfield and Mara Romero Borella were the perpetrators—went the distance. The unbeaten Bishop, a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, now blocks her path. She carries a 7-0 record into the match, having submitted her last two opponents with armbars inside the first round. Bishop, 38, trains out of Alliance Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego.

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