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UFC great Anthony Pettis leads star-studded season

Natan Schulte already knew former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis would be among the obstacles standing between him and a third consecutive Pro Fighters League (PFL) championship. Now, the whole 155-pound roster for the 2021 PFL season is laid bare.

PFL announced the full 10-main lightweight field on Tuesday morning, as well as nine of the 10 competitors in reigning two-time champion Lance Palmer’s featherweight class.

Pettis (24-10, 18 finishes), who left the octagon in December to sign with PFL, will compete for the ’s $1 million prize. Joining him and Schulte (20-3-1, 13 finishes) on the lightweight roster are Akhmed Aliev, Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Clay Collard, Johnny Case, Marcin Held, Joilton Lutterbach, Mikhail Odintsov and Loik Radzhabov.

At featherweight, Palmer (22-3, nine finishes) is joined by Tyler Diamond, Bubba Jenkins, Movlid Khaybulaev, Brendan Loughnane, Sheymon Moraes, Jason Soares and Jo Sungbin. Two slots remain to be announced, according to PFL.

Natan Schulte on Aug. 2, 2018
Natan Schulte on Aug. 2, 2018

Pettis, along with 2020 heavyweight signee Fabricio Werdum, is poised to become the first former UFC champion to compete in a PFL season. He won that UFC title from Benson Henderson in August 2013, defending it once before losing it to Rafael dos Anjos in March 2015. His announced move to his new promotional home came just days after earning a unanimous decision victory over Alex Morono at welterweight in his final octagon bout, his second win in a row.

Schulte is unbeaten (9-0-1) in 10 PFL bouts. Radzhabov (13-2-1, 10 finishes) — the 2019 runner-up — Aliev (19-6, 11 finishes) and Case (27-7-1, 23 finishes) all have previous experience competing in PFL. Aubin-Mercier (11-5, nine finishes), a 12-fight UFC vet who left the octagon to compete in the 2020 season that eventually was canceled to the coronavirus pandemic, will make his debut after a nearly two-year layoff. Collard (18-8, 13 finishes), another UFC vet, returns to MMA after making waves in the boxing world with a surprising 5-1 run in the ring in 2020. UFC and Bellator veteran Held (26-7, 18 finishes), as well as Lutterbach (34-8, 24 finishes) and Odintsov (18-2, 10 finishes) also are slated to make their promotional debuts.

Palmer, who last year on social media expressed frustration with a lack of activity to the canceled season, returns to the cage on an 11-fight win streak that dates back to November 2017. Although he has faced some opponents several times over the past four years, the 2021 featherweight roster consists of all fresh faces.

Moraes (11-4, five finishes), who four times from 2014 through 2016 competed with PFL when it was known as World Series of Fighting, won two of five UFC bouts but lost the most recent two in 2019. Diamond’s (11-1, seven finishes) only loss came three years ago with the UFC, after competing on the 27th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Like Diamond, Jo (9-1, nine finishes) is a one-time UFC vet who lost his only fight, in 2019. Loughnane (19-3, 12 finishes) and Khaybulaev (15-0-1, eight finishes) are unbeaten under the PFL banner, each competing for the promotion two years ago. Jenkins competed 11 times for Bellator between 2013 and 2016. Soares (14-0, 12 finishes) is the lone man in the 145-pound to have won all of his pro bouts.

The upcoming PFL season is scheduled to begin on April 23, with the full season planned to take place in a “bubble” format at the same location, the details of which have yet to be announced.

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