This weekend sees the UFC and PFL return to our screens with a pair of events that feature a host of must-see featherweight matchups.
Here are the four key matchups to follow to ensure you get your featherweight fill this weekend…
Brendan Loughnane vs. Movlid Khaybulaev
One of the most fascinating clashes of the weekend sees British featherweight Brendan Loughnane look to continue his surge toward his first major MMA title. But standing in his way is an undefeated Russian with a penchant for the spectacular.
Movlid Khaybulaev owns the definitive viral moment in PFL history, with his flying-knee knockout of Damon Jackson securing his place in PFL highlight reels for years to come.
But, despite Khaybulaev’s undefeated record on paper, Loughnane has been quick to highlight the fact that the Russian’s ‘0’ is only intact due to a loss being scratched from his record, and that it was a knockout loss, too.
Khaybulaev’s KO defeat to Daniel Pineda was wiped from the record books after Pineda failed a anti-doping test, meaning the Russian officially heads into Friday night’s bout as an undefeated fighter.
But Loughnane, whose bullish confidence has been backed up by a pair of outstanding performances in the PFL so far this season, has seen all he needs to see to have the belief that he can not only defeat Khaybulaev, he can do it inside the distance.
With both men proven finishers with well-rounded skillsets, the matchup should deliver something pretty special in Hollywood, Florida.
Chris Wade vs. Bubba Jenkins
The PFL’s welterweight division has been one of their most interesting of the 2021 season, and while strikers Loughnane and Khaybulaev will go toe to toe in one 145-pound semi-final, two noted wrestlers will battle it out in the other.
Chris Wade is as seasoned as they come, and has reached the PFL Playoffs three times in his career. He’s a former UFC fighter who went 5-2 in the promotion, and has never been finished in his 25-fight MMA career.
He’ll take on former Brave CF champion Bubba Jenkins, whose wrestling prowess marked him out as a likely contender from the moment his name was announced as part of the PFL’s featherweight lineup.
The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion has looked dominant so far this season as he has dominated the action en route to back-to-back decision victories.
On paper, it’s a battle of wrestlers, but often when we see two wrestlers going head to head, the action turns into a striking matchup. Whether the fight stays on the feet or goes to the mat, it looks all set to be a back-and-forth war between two of the grittiest operators in the PFL.
Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze
Saturday night’s main event at UFC on ESPN 30 looks all set to deliver a stand-up clash between two of the most spectacular strikers in the UFC’s featherweight division.
Chikadze is fast making his name as one of the most dangerous technical strikers making his way up the featherweight ranks in the UFC.
Chikadze has an overall career record of 13-2, and is undefeated since joining the UFC. His last two appearances saw him deliver his best two performances, with first-round finishes of Jamey Simmons and Cub Swanson both earning him ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses from the UFC bosses.
Now, after dispatching one seasoned veteran in Swanson, Chikadze has been tasked with the job of defeating another experienced opponent, in the form of Brazil’s Barboza.
Barboza is a veteran of 31 pro fights, with 25 of them taking place on the big stage in the UFC octagon. After spending most of his time as one of the most dangerous strikers in the lightweight division, the Brazilian opted to move down to 145 pounds in search of a clearer run at a UFC title.
He lost his division debut via split-decision to contender Dan Ige, but looked superb in wins against Makwan Amirkhani and Shane Burgos, with the latter serving up one of the best fights of 2021 so far, at UFC 262.
Now Barboza will face Chikadze in a battle of elite strikers in a bout that looks sure to entertain.
Jamall Emmers vs. Pat Sabatini
The other featherweight bout to keep your eyes on takes place during the preliminary card of UFC on ESPN 30, as Jamall Emmers faces off against Pat Sabatini in a battle of relative newcomers to the UFC’s 145-pound division.
Emmers’ first appearance in the UFC was a tough one as he battled to a split-decision defeat against Saturday night’s headliner Chikadze at UFC 248. But his performance was one full of positives, and he took those learnings into his second appearance, where he picked up his first UFC win with a unanimous decision win against Vince Cachero in August 2020. Now, after a year away, Emmers is back and looking to build a win streak on the big stage.
He’ll take on Sabatini, a two-time CFFC featherweight champion who arrived in the UFC earlier this year and defeated Canadian grappler Tristan Connelly via unanimous decision at UFC 261 to score a win on his octagon debut.
The Pennsylvania native is a submission specialist, with 10 of his 14 career wins coming via that method, and he’ll be looking to add to his list of submission victims in the UFC, starting with Emmers this weekend.
Also set for action at 145 pounds: Anthony Dizy vs. Jesse Stim, Jason Knight vs. Bobby Moffett, Alejandro Flores vs. Carl Deaton III (all at PFL 9)
Photo credit: PFL MMA