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PFL Challenger Series 1 Main Event Breakdown

There isn’t much going on in the sport of MMA this weekend, but that doesn’t mean the sport is taking the weekend off entirely. Friday, the eyes of the MMA world will be on Universal Orlando as the road to this year’s PFL Championship begins with PFL Challenger Series 1.

As previously stated, the PFL Challenger Series works like Contender Series, albeit with a key difference: Each of the first seven weeks will focus on a particular weight class. A second-chance night will be held in week eight on March 17. In addition, each week, a celebrity panel of judges will help determine which fighter secures a guaranteed contract in the new PFL season.

You"ll have a say in the matter, too. Live voting will take place on Twitter every Friday night for the next eight weeks. This week, the welterweights get their chance to impress the judges in PFL Challenger Series 1 and the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event.

Barbosa, Babulaidze Meet in PFL Challenger Series 1

To cap off Friday"s card (9 pm ET/ 6 pm PT, Fubo Sports Network), it"ll be a return to the MMA cage more than 10 years in the making. Lucas Barbosa (2-1 MMA) will make his first appearance in an MMA fight since Aug. 11, 2012 when he takes on undefeated Itso Babulaidze (2-0 MMA).

All Challenger Series bouts are treated like regular season and semifinal competition, so the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event will be a maximum of three rounds at five minutes per round to close the show.

PFL Challenger Series 1 Main Event Fighter Breakdown and Betting Odds

Going into the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event on Friday night, both competitors stand level in height at 5-foot-11. Babulaidze owns a 73-inch reach and 41-inch leg reach advantage. Barbosa"s reach information was not available online at press time.

As it stands currently, the oddsmakers have Lucas Barbosa installed as a -190 favorite, with Itso Babulaidze countering as a +165 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

Lucas Barbosa Coming Off 10-Year MMA Layoff

Lucas Barbosa enters the main event on Friday night having gone 2-1 in his young MMA career, but he hasn"t fought in the sport since Aug. 11, 2012. That night, he scored a first-round TKO against Tiago Sena (0-2 MMA) in a rematch of a fight from the previous April, when he submitted Sena by rear-naked choke.

While he"s kept himself busy over the last decade by competing in grappling events, Barbosa has been booked for a return fight in MMA four times, all of which were scrubbed without a single punch being thrown. Two of those fights were scheduled to have taken place last season on the Challenger Series.

Barbosa was slated to have appeared on the Feb. 25, 2022 Challenger Series program against Troy Green (6-1 MMA), but the latter was forced to withdraw from the card due to injury. A planned fight against Thomas Oswald (3-0 MMA) was also scrubbed from the event.

In August of last year, Barbosa was prepared to fight against Elmar Umarov (4-1 MMA), an alum of the LFA, in a showcase fight during PFL 7, yet the latter was deemed medically unfit to compete that night, with a Nov. 4 fight pitting Barbosa with Freddy Sandoval (5-8-1 MMA) getting called off due to the former sustaining an injury.

With the weigh-ins having taken place earlier Thursday and Barbosa making weight without incident, he will make his return on Friday, but can he come away with a win?

Itso Babulaidze Rides Undefeated Record Into PFL Challenger Series 1 Main Event

In the other corner, Itso Babulaidze, an alumnus of Cage Fury Fighting Championships, has gone undefeated so far in his professional MMA career. Dating back to amateur competition, he"s posted a 3-2 record over his last five fights.

Most recently, he stopped Mahmoud Fawzy Sebie inside the first round with an uppercut during PFL 7. After the fight, he spoke on his win.

“Pretty much everything went the way we planned," Babulaidze said through his translator. “In the beginning, it took me a second to adjust to a big crowd. I was a little bit nervous, but then again, we stuck to the original gameplan. Everything went great. I"m very happy about this victory. Definitely, I"m happy."

Babulaidze has had a taste of the PFL last year. Will he be able to parlay his appearance in the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event into a contract with the promotion? Watch and find out.

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event looks to favor Lucas Barbosa, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, compared to Itso Babulaidze"s background as a jiu-jitsu fighter. As we"ve said several times before, the first takedown of the fight could be the only takedown.

Whatever you do, don"t blink.

Watch For Barbosa"s Grappling

Given Barbosa"s status as a BJJ black belt, it"s obvious that he"d try to grapple his way to a victory against Babulaidze in the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event. His ground game was on full display against William Tackett during Fight 2 Win in the fall of 2020.

From the command to fight, Barbosa was quick to defend Tackett"s attacks, including a wrist-lock about a minute in. Barbosa executed a slam to stifle the effort. He had Tackett wrapped up in a bodylock, enabling him to accumulate some ride time.

As the match progressed, Barbosa switched to head and arm control to force his knee across and complete a pass. Throughout the match, Barbosa showed himself to be the better grappler. Whatever defensive effort that Tackett might have had, Barbosa shut him down.

Even though he didn"t finish Tackett, Barbosa"s efforts were enough to secure the victory by decision. When Lucas Barbosa takes his opponent down, it"s his world, so if he"s able to turn the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event into a grappling match, he"ll be the winner.

Babulaidze is Lethal With Punches

In the other corner Itso Babulaidze has one-punch power, something that Sebie found out firsthand last summer in PFL 7. Although the fight was scheduled for three rounds. Babulaidze needed less than one to finish the job.

Sebie began with a head kick, causing Babulaidze to slip, but he quickly returned fire by landing a right-handed punch. Sebie"s defensive instincts kicked in, resulting in a takedown.

While Sebie attempted an arm-triangle submission, Babulaidze reversed position and took top mount. This gave him the opening he needed to take control of the fight.

With under a minute left in the round and Sebie"s leg badly compromised, Babulaidze unloaded with a right-handed uppercut. A flurry of ground and pound shots ended the match.

If he lands one punch, Babulaidze can win the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event.

Final Thoughts

Even though both the UFC and Bellator MMA are both dark this weekend, you"ll still have an entertaining fight to watch. Expect both combatants in the PFL Challenger Series 1 main event to bring everything they have in the tank to the cage.

Prediction: Lucas Barbosa by Unanimous Decision.

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