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PFL championship night fight-by-fight preview

Kayla Harrison defeated Bobbi Jo Dalziel by first-round

Kayla Harrison defeated Bobbi Jo Dalziel by first-round submission in the PFL women's lightweight semifinals on Oct. 11, 2019. Credit: PFL/Ryan Loco

The Professional Fighters League hosts its championship night on New Year's Eve at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Six fighters will be crowned champions and earn a $1 million prize. 

Below is a look at who will challenge for the titles and seven-figure paychecks, along with the alternate fighters, in order, should one of the scheduled fighters not make weight or otherwise be deemed unable to compete. Per PFL rules, the highest-seeded losing semifinalist "who is fit and able to compete" will be the alternate.

Featherweight championship: Lance Palmer vs. Alex Gilpin

Palmer (21-3) is the defending PFL featherweight champion/millionaire and has ripped through his competition thus far, losing just one round on one judge's scorecard in his four fights. He was scheduled to face Daniel Pineda, but Pineda recently failed a drug test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and will not be allowed to fight on New Year's Eve.

With Pineda unable to compete, Alex Gilpin takes his place. Gilpin faced Palmer once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. He lost both by unanimous decision. In between, he beat Freddy Assuncao and Andre Harrison via technical submission.  Pineda joined the PFL regular season as a replacement fighter for the second set of fights, but that was canceled when his opponent failed to make weight. Pineda won his two playoff fights in October to make the final.

Alternate: Jeremy Kennedy.

Lightweight championship: Natan Schulte vs. Loik Radzhabov

Schulte (19-3-1) also is a defending PFL champion. He submitted three of his four opponents en route to a second straight championship appearance. Radzhabov (13-1-1) won a split decision to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. He then fought Islam Mamedov to a draw in the quarterfinals and advanced on a tiebreaker when all three judges picked him as having the better overall performance in the two-round bout. Radzhabov then beat Chris Wade by decision to reach the final.

Alternate: Wade

Women's lightweight championship: Kayla Harrison vs. Larissa Pacheco

Harrison (6-0) has the least experience in mixed martial arts, but she has emerged as one of the faces of the PFL in 2019 given her background as a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo for the United States. Only two of her six fights have lasted longer than one round. Pacheco (13-3) lost to Harrison by unanimous decision last May, then won by submission over Bobbi Jo Dalziel in the regular season and took a unanimous decision over veteran and top-seeded Sarah Kaufman in the semifinals.

Alternates: Kaufman.

Welterweight championship: Ray Cooper III vs. David Michaud

Cooper (19-7-1) was a finalist last season, and he returns to the last night of this season after a second-round knockout of Chris Curtis in the semifinals. He is 1-1-1 in his last three fights. Michaud's PFL season started off on the wrong side of a 17-second knockout by leg kick. But Michaud (18-5) worked his way back to take out top-seeded Glaico Franca in the semifinals.

Alternates: Franca (has Dec. 18 hearing with NSAC as well), Curtis.

Light heavyweight championship: Emiliano Sordi vs. Jordan Johnson

Sordi (21-8) has been the breakout star of PFL's second season with four finishes. The 28-year-old from Argentina stopped three of his opponents in the first round (two by knockout) and needed a second round to score the TKO against last year's runner-up Vinny Magalhaes. Johnson (12-1-1) was considered a favorite in the light heavyweight division given a 10-0 start to his career, including 4-0 in the UFC. Johnson lost his season opener by decision, but he worked his way back to the championship round after decisioning Rashid Yusupov in the semifinals. 

Alternates: Bozigit Ataev.

Heavyweight championship: Ali Isaev vs. Jared Rosholt

Isaev (8-0) won his first three PFL fights by unanimous decision, then beat top-seeded Denis Goltsov by TKO with one second left in their semifinal bout. Rosholt (20-7) opened his PFL second season with a first-round TKO loss to Goltsov, making three losses in the past four fights. But he found his way back to win three straight, including a first-round TKO of Muhammed DeReese in the quarterfinals.

Alternates: Goltsov.

New York Sports