Breaking down the opening night for Kayla Harrison, Ray Cooper, Anthony Pettis and more


The third and final opening night of the PFL 2022 season is here, and the main card features some of biggest stars in the league.

Kayla Harrison and the women’s lightweight division step into the cage on Friday (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+). Harrison, who re-signed with the PFL in the offseason, main events the fight night and hopes to be on her way to securing a third straight $1 million-dollar check in 2022. However, a new competitor has joined Harrison’s division, which will definitely add to the drama. Julia Budd is a former Bellator featherweight champion who boasts a 16-3 record with the losses coming against three very familiar names: Cris Cyborg, Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey. Budd opens up her season against PFL veteran Genah Fabian.

For two other MMA standouts, redemption is the goal. Welterweight Rory MacDonald and lightweight Anthony Pettis failed to reach expectations in 2021 and the pressure will be on to live up to the hype in 2022. Defending welterweight champion Ray Cooper III and Magomed Magomedkerimov faced off for PFL gold last season and are among the favorites to get back to the finals again this year. Their journeys to that moment begins this week.

ESPN betting analyst Ian Parker breaks down each fight.


Kayla Harrison vs Marina Mokhnatkina

The queen has returned to her kingdom. Harrison, enjoying the benefits of her new contract, will look to continue where she left off. On opening night, it really doesn’t come down to if Kayla is going to win, it is more about how. I have nothing against the skill and toughness of Mokhnatkina, who does own prior wins in Bellator and the PFL, but Harrison is just a different level of athlete and she continues to show it.

I expect this fight to end in typical Harrison fashion: inside Round 1 by either submission or TKO.

Prediction: Harrison by TKO.

Ray Cooper III vs Carlos Leal

Reigning champion Cooper will be looking for a repeat performance as he welcomes Challenger Series and LFA vet Leal to the PFL. After fighting two times in three months on the PFL Challenger Series, Leal did not earn the contract, but found a way into the league as a late replacement.

Leal is a tough fighter, but taking on Cooper in his first fight of the season is an uphill battle I do not believe he will be able to climb. Cooper will be the better striker, and if need be he can use his wrestling background if the fight gets a little messy.

Cooper is the favorite to win the league again and all starts with getting the win on Friday.

Prediction: Cooper inside the distance.

Anthony Pettis vs Myles Price

“Showtime” Pettis returns in 2022 in hopes to right the wrong from last season. After falling short against Clay Collard and Raush Manfio in his two regular season matchups, Pettis looks to be in incredible shape heading into his first fight.

His opponent hasn’t exactly been active. This will be Price’s first fight in three years, and drawing Pettis as his first opponent is a tall task. Pettis will be the better fighter wherever the fight goes and as long as he doesn’t find himself in a brawl like sequence, his precise striking and footwork should be able to get him his first victory in the PFL.

Prediction: Pettis.

Brett Cooper vs Rory MacDonald

After falling short at the hands of season 2 winner Ray Cooper, the “Red King” will look for redemption as he takes on Brett Cooper. Cooper is an experienced fighter, and is a tough matchup for anyone that steps in the cage. He carries a ton of power, has good takedown defense and has a good chin.

MacDonald needs to control the pace and the narrative of the fight. He can’t allow Cooper to turn this into a slug fest. I expect Rory to use his striking to set up his takedowns and control Cooper on the ground for the majority of the fight.

Prediction: MacDonald.

Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Joao Zeferino

Zeferino possibly drew the worst stylistic matchup for him in the first fight of the regular season. Magomedkerimov is just so good everywhere, and rarely makes mistakes. For Zeferino to win, he needs to land a Ray Cooper type of punch.

Magomedkerimov is going to control this fight wherever it goes. After what happened last season, a shocking loss in the finals, I believe Magomedkerimov has learned his lesson and will no longer allow a repeat of the Hail Mary punch that Cooper landed after winning in every aspect of the fight until that point.

Magomedkerimov gets it done here.

Prediction: Magomedkerimov.

Julia Budd vs Genah Fabian

Julia Budd will get a chance to show the world that she is still the one who will give Harrison her biggest challenge. However, in order for her to even get to that point, she has to get through the very talented striker in Fabian.

While Budd underperformed in her last fight, Fabian continued to get better throughout last season until running into Harrison — which is not a surprise. For Budd, she has to get this fight to the ground or she is going to get picked apart by Fabian on the feet.

As I look at the betting value for this bout, I am going to take a flier here on Fabian. I think Budd’s best days are behind her.

Prediction: Fabian.

Larissa Pacheco vs Zamzagul Fayzallanova

Pacheco, the only women to go all three rounds with Harrison, will be looking to get another crack at the champ. She’s the heavy favorite in this fight and rightfully so. I can’t see this fight going in a variety of ways. Look for Pacheco to win this fight early by TKO.

Prediction: Pacheco by TKO.

Jarrah Al-Silawi vs Gleison Tibau

PFL Challenger Series contract winner Jarrah Al-Silawi will be looking to make an impact in the league as he takes on seasoned veteran Tibau. This is a great matchup for Al-Silawi as Tibau, although very tough, is very predictable. Al-SIlawi’s speed and striking will benefit from that.

I don’t think Al-Silawi will be able to finish Tibau as not many have, but this will be a great win for him in his PFL debut.

Prediction: Al-Silawi.

Nikolay Aleksakhin vs Sadibou Sy

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Todd Gurley describes his fandom for Sadibou Sy and the PFL and explains how excited he was to watch Sy fight live for the first time after catching one of his fights on TV.

Sy and Aleksakhin will look to settle the score in a rematch from last season that ended in a no contest. This will be a fun fight between two very talented strikers.

I like Aleksakhin in this bout as I believe he will be able to close the distance and get the better of the striking. If necessary he can take the fight to the ground. If Sy can’t control the fight from a distance, then he will fall short in this fight, but we’ve all seen just how impactful his kicks can be.

Prediction: Aleksakhin.

Olena Kolesnyk vs Abigail Montes

In a betting perspective, this fight for me is underdog or pass. Montes won a tough fight against Claressa Shields last season, but now she takes on someone with more experience and who has fought higher level competition.

If Montes can’t put Kolesnyk on her back then she will lose on the feet. I am going to take a flier here on Kolesnyk as the underdog.

Montes should not be a 2-1 favorite here and Kolesnyk can win this fight if it stays on the feet.

Prediction: Kolesnyk.

Martina Jindrova vs Vanessa Melo

Jindrova will be making her PFL debut after winning a contract on the Challenger Series. She takes on UFC veteran Vanessa Melo in her first fight of the season. I like Jindrova here; I believe she is the better striker and can put on a pace that can overwhelm Melo.

Melo went 1-3 in her run with the UFC with her last fight a decision victory over Sarah Moras last January.

Prediction: Jindrova.



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