It’s a big Saturday night in sports this week, but not everybody will be tuned into CBS Sports for this year’s Final Four live from Houston. While college basketball‘s brightest stars take one more step toward One Shining Moment, featherweights and light heavyweights in MMA take that first step toward a $1 million (USD) prize later on this year.
That"s right, ladies and gentlemen. Hold onto your hats and get excited, because MMA"s league is back for its fifth season. The 2023 PFL regular season begins on Saturday evening with PFL 1. This week, competitors at 145 lbs. and 205 lbs. do battle in an effort to accumulate points in the standings to become the Final Four in the Cage later on this summer.
Live coverage of PFL 1 begins Saturday at 6 pm ET/ 3 pm, PT from The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, where the first half of the regular season originates from these next three weeks, on ESPN+ inside the United States. Main card action immediately follows the XFL on ESPN at 9 pm ET/ 6 pm PT.
TV Note: The XFL game between the visiting DC Defenders and homestanding Orlando Guardians may run long on ESPN. Be advised that ESPN+ will stream the entirety of the PFL event.
Featherweight Champion Loughnane Begins Defense of Title vs. Moraes in PFL 1 Main Event Saturday
All told, PFL 1 features 11 fights, barring any late postponements between now and Saturday. Highlighting the evening"s activities is a featherweight showdown in the PFL 1 main event.
Defending PFL Featherweight Champion (and UFC veteran) Brendan Loughnane (26-4 MMA, 0-0 PFL 2023, no points in the standings) will begin his quest to repeat as titleholder when he faces Marlon Moraes (23-11-1 MMA, 0-0 PFL 2023, no points in the standings), a UFC alum himself.
All PFL fights through the semifinals are three rounds at five minutes per round.
PFL 1 Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds
Heading into the PFL 1 main event on Saturday night, champion Brendan Loughnane stands as the taller gladiator at 5-foot-9, compared to the 5-foot-6 frame of Marlon Moraes. The former owns a five-inch reach advantage (71 inches to 66 inches) over the latter, who has a one-inch leg reach advantage (38 inches to 37 inches.)
As per the oddsmakers, Brendan Loughnane is installed as a -450 favorite, with Marlon Moraes countering as a +350 underdog. If you plan to bet on any of the fights happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.
Loughnane Considers Himself a Household Name in the PFL
Champion Brendan Loughnane enters the new season having posted a record of 4-1 over his last five fights. Currently, he"s on a four-fight winning streak.
On Black Friday last year, he took the 2022 PFL Featherweight Championship with a fourth-round knockout (straight right followed by punches and knee strikes) over challenger Bubba Jenkins (19-6 MMA, 2-1 2022 PFL) in PFL 10. In the aftermath of his windfall, Loughnane bought a house in Las Vegas which includes Wi-fi.
Recently, Loughnane and ESPN"s Marc Raimondi discussed the champion"s aspirations to repeat, along with other topics. Given recent happenings outside of the cage in the PFL, Loughnane deems himself a household name heading into this season.
“Kayla (Harrison"s) not doing the tournament, (Anthony) Pettis is not doing the tournament, Rory (MacDonald,) (Fabricio) Werdum," he said. “All of these guys took a backseat now. They need somebody to show up. I"m here. This will be my 11th PFL fight now, nine wins, one loss. I"ve been around this promotion for a long time. We"ve grown together. I was their first English fighter, they have a whole European scene. I love fighting for the PFL."
Marlon Moraes Looking To Stop Five-Fight Losing Streak
In the other corner, Marlon Moraes has gone 0-5 over his last five fights between the UFC and the PFL. His current skid is the longest losing streak of his MMA career. Prior to this streak, Moraes hadn"t lost more than two contests in succession, which happened in two separate instances.
Back in November on championship night, he was on the receiving end of a third-round knockout (overhand right followed by ground and pound strikes) from Sheymon Moraes (15-6 MMA, 2-1 PFL 2022) during a showcase fight.
Moraes, who came out of retirement for the 2023 PFL season, was recently interviewed by Curtis Calhoun of MMANews.com. Even though he"s dropped five in a row, Moraes feels rejuvenated by joining the PFL roster.
“It"s a pleasure," Moraes said of fighting Brendan Loughnane. “I"ve been with them (the PFL) since the beginning (as the World Series of Fighting), and I had my shot at the UFC. Coming back to them and being treated this way and facing a high-caliber opponent in the first event, it"s amazing, man. I"m very happy. I"m excited. I"m putting it all on the line and there"s not a better opportunity I could ask for."
This is a man who delayed his retirement. Will his decision pay off with $1 million later this year? It starts with the PFL 1 main event.
Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction
Stylistically, the PFL 1 main event looks to favor Marlon Moraes. Although both Moraes and Brendan Loughnane are strikers, Moraes owns black belts in both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay-Thai.
Loughnane Can End the Fight Inside the First Round
Two years ago, Brendan Loughnane opened up the 2021 PFL season with a contest against the unrelated Sheymon Moraes. In a twist, the designation of the bout as the featured undercard contest was decided by a viewer vote online ahead of the card.
During the first round, Loughnane quickly went to work as he and Moraes exchanged blows. Loughnane expertly mixed up his strikes, peppering Moraes with a variety of kicks and jabs. This pace continued throughout the fight.
About two minutes into the bout, he scored a right-handed punch while keeping up with his gameplan against Moraes. Upon Moraes going into the clinch with Loughnane, the latter punched his way out, wobbling Moraes with a right hook.
The end was near, as Loughnane continued his onslaught with a left-handed punch to sit Moraes down. Even though Moraes got back up to his feet, Loughnane was going in for the exclamation point, unloading with a right hand and a punch to the body, punctuated by a left-handed shot to end the contest.
If Brendan Loughnane comes out like a house on fire in the PFL 1 main event, he"ll start the new season with six points in the standings next to his name.
Marlon Moraes Has Devastating Knees
In the other corner, don"t discount Marlon Moraes" ability to land the knee. Aljamain Sterling found this out firsthand in December of 2017 in Fresno, CA. Moraes, then the No. 7 contender at 145 lbs. in the UFC, started out by landing a quick two-punch combination on Sterling.
Moraes blocked a kick from Sterling to knock him down, ordering him to get back up. At this point, the two men stalked one another, with Sterling landing a leg kick.
It would be the only highlight that Sterling would have for the rest of the fight. Moraes pieced him up with a punch to the head, followed up by a flurry of ground and pound strikes. At that point, Sterling attempted to submit Moraes, but the latter wisely spun out of it.
Upon a restart after a separation of the two fighters, Moraes landed a vicious knee to the body to knock Sterling out cold. If Moraes" knees are on-point, he"ll find himself in first place at featherweight after the PFL 1 main event on Saturday night.
Even though this is the first fight of two in the regular season for Loughnane and Moraes, expect it to be an entertaining bout on Saturday. On a weekend when the UFC is dark, these two fighters will shine under ESPN"s bright lights in the PFL 1 main event.
Prediction: Brendan Loughnane by Unanimous Decision.
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