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PFL 2018 Championship fight card preview

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PFL’s inaugural venture comes to a close with all of their titles on the line, along with Judo icon Kayla Harrison in a showcase bout.

2018 was an interesting year for Professional Fighters League, considering that there was a lot of intrigue as to who would be involved and how their tournament format would be implemented. Now, there were some hiccups and oddball moments as is expected of any organization or event. Yet for the greater part, the events and fights delivered — there was plenty of amazing action, career-elevating performances, and lots of heart on display.

So while the ruleset and scoring system weren’t exactly perfect, it could never have expected to be. It was at least consistent and well-implemented, with great fights throughout and the cream rising to the top, as it should have. There were tons of free fights to watch online via their Facebook partnership, and the events had a fluid pace that was great for home viewers.

Now that the breakneck pace has come to a halt, the finale is upon us with every title on the line. Two-time Judo Olympian Kayla Harrison is also on the card, looking to make a statement, as the card takes place from the heart of New York City on New Year’s Eve.

As a reminder, all bouts are five rounds each with the exception of Harrison/Charneski.

Right at the top, it’s the welterweight title on the line as Magomed Magomedkerimov (22-5) faces Ray Cooper III (17-5), undoubtedly the most pleasant and spectacular surprise of the year. After one of the biggest upsets of the year in any organization against Jake Shields, he planted a dynamite left hand to pour on the pressure against Pavel Kusch for a TKO victory. For his follow-up, he ruined Jake Shields yet again, solidifying his arrival in the major MMA space and led to a fight against Brazil’s Handesson Ferreira, whom he had lost to by decision on his final regional fight prior to joining PFL. Well, Cooper decided he had some soul-snatching to do when the opportunity for revenge came about. Now his path is cleared for the finals against a very tough Russian fighter that’s good everywhere and has great patience and use of range striking. A friend and training partner of UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, he defeated UFC vet Bojan Velickovic by decision, then later by TKO, handing Bojan his first stoppage loss. From the regionals to ACB, Magomedkerimov has blossomed into a mature fighter that’s ready for big challenges, and both bright prospects are on a collision course here.

Josh Copeland (18-5, 1 draw) didn’t have much success in his UFC run, but is making the most of his time after that with more refinement in his standup game and better use of his wrestling. Copeland punched his ticket by literally punching Alex Nicholson so hard his cornrows went sideways. Now he deals with versatile former Bellator fighter Philipe Lins, who had a savage finish over UFC vet Jared Rosholt, preceded by a submission win over Caio Alencar and a brutal TKO over the aforementioned Nicolson.

Former M-1 champ and UFC fighter Vinny Magalhães (18-9) has put on some marvelous grappling performances (and a TKO over Brandon Halsey) to sail through the light heavyweight division and now faces hard-hitting UFC vet Sean O’Connell (20-10). Seriously, just look at this guy go. It’s vicious. O’Connell still has solid boxing skills and veteran patience, leading to devastating results. Despite a setback against Bozigit Ataev, he’s had workmanlike performances and even done quite well doing commentary for PFL.

Kayla Harrison (2-0) looks to put on another display of her overall skills when she faces Texas native Moriel Charneski (3-4). Former UFC fighter Rashid Magomedov (22-2, 1 draw) notched his first finish since 2014 against fellow UFC vet Thiago Tavares, leading to a showdown against another fighter finding his footing in PFL, Natan Schulte (14-3, 1 draw). Schulte has had three wins and one draw against Johnny Case in his PFL run this year.

Former World Series of Fighting champion and Team Alpha Male rep Lance Palmer (16-3) brings his wrestleboxer approach against former UFC fighter Steven Siler (32-17, 1 draw), who has made his PFL run a joyride full of aggressive submission attempts. This will be a rematch of their fight in 2017, which Palmer won by decision.

Finally, Louis Taylor has had some impressive success with his striking style and funky athleticism. His striking has only gotten better with a hard kickboxing style and consistent output, coupled with his takedown defense and scrambles. He’ll open the card against Abusupiyan Magomedov (22-3, 1 draw), who had a flawless debut against battle-tested Danilo Villefort, finishing him in short order. His sneaky left hand allowed him to seal the deal against Anderson Goncalves in the regular season, and increasing his profile in the middleweight ranks. This one should be fireworks, and might have been the smartest choice to open the card.

Full card is as follows, with weigh-in results included — all fighters successfully made weight:

Ray Cooper III (169.4) vs Magomed Magomedkerimov (169.8) - Welterweight

Josh Copeland (257) vs Philipe Lins (234.8) - Heavyweight

Vinny Magalhães (204.2) vs Sean O’Connell (204.2) - Light Heavyweight

Kayla Harrison (155.2) vs Moriel Charneski (155) - Lightweight

Natan Schulte (154) vs Rashid Magomedov (154) - Lightweight

Steven Siler (144.8) vs Lance Palmer (144.4) - Featherweight

Louis Taylor (183.6) vs Abusupiyan Magomedov (184) - Middleweight

The PFL finals take place live from the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, starting at 7:00 PM ET. The entire card will be televised on NBC Sports Network.