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PFL 1 preview: Lots of UFC vets set for heavyweight, featherweight tournaments

Professional Fighters League kicks off their season with a surprisingly deep debut card.

To be a player in the MMA landscape these days is tough work. Remaining competitive requires some major financial backing and the ability to sign world-class talent and keep them busy. It requires a reliable distribution partner (or perhaps more than one), and engagement with fans to generate buzz and attract a steady audience. Does Professional Fighters League have what it takes?

We’re about to find out.

This Thursday, the entity formerly known as World Series of Fighting debuts on NBC Sports with a card that will have plenty of recognizable faces and compelling matchups from top to bottom. Yet perhaps it’s the entire storyline that will begin from here that will maintain the most intrigue. With a tournament structure, a tight TV schedule and millions of dollars at stake, there are a lot of questions that we’ll only have the answers to over time. It all starts here, and it begins with some of the most talented fighters not in the big 3 premier organizations.

Undefeated Andre Harrison (17-0) returns to the cage against former UFC fighter Jumabieke Tuerxun (20-5, 1 draw). Harrison won the World Series of Fighting featherweight title against Lance Palmer back in March of last year, and went on to defeat Steven Rodriguez last July. Tuerxun has had a rocky career since leaving his native China, going 0-3 in his UFC run. Since then, he’s had tough losses against Soo Chul Kim and Aliyar Sarkerov and is coming off a decision loss that took place on May 25th of this year. Often talked about due to his mysterious career prior to his international exploits, with rumors of fights that did not make it to his official record. He’s faltered against most international fighters he’s faced, and has a tough road ahead against an excellent wrestler that trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.

The co-main event has even more meat on it, as Team Alpha Male and former champ Lance Palmer (12-3) tests himself against Russian submission threat Bekbulat Magomedov (19-2). Both fighters have taken on very seasoned and talented opposition, with Palmer using his wrestling pedigree and ever-improving boxing to become more complete with each outing. Magomedov has amazing finishing instincts, chains submission threats effectively and has a very animated and scrambly grappling game.

Another former WSOF champ, Alexandre de Almeida (18-9) draws British bantamweight Lee Coville (4-1), a straight finisher that hasn’t had a decision win yet as a professional. de Almeida lost a decision against Lance Palmer for the title in their rematch way back in 2016 after a controversial decision win in which he took the belt from him.

Former M-1 fighter Magomed Idrisov (8-1) is to see action against Steven Siler (29-17), while former Bellator champion Marcos Galvão (18-9, 1 draw) will have his hands full against fellow veteran, former Bellator and Pancrase fighter (and former Ultimate Fighter Brazil contestant) Nazareno Malegarie (34-4). Violence machine Timur Valiev (12-2) welcomes surging German talent Max Coga (19-4), who currently rides an 8-fight win streak.

Did I mention heavyweights? Because Strikeforce heavy Mike Kyle (23-15, 1 draw, 2NC) was scheduled to face former UFC fighter Shawn Jordan, and Jordan somehow came in 9lbs over the heavyweight limit. Kyle is 1-1 under the PFL banner as he suffered a loss to Josh Copeland last July, rebounding with a TKO win over Daniel Gallemore in November. Jordan is returning after a TKO loss against the almost-unstoppable Blagoi Ivanov in March of 2017 (Update: this fight has since been cancelled). Former UFC fighter Jared Rosholt (15-4) may not have had the most exciting run of fights, but he defeated some very legit talent to go 6-2 during his UFC tenure. Now he has to contend with Liechtenstein’s finest, Valdrin Istrefi (12-1), who has a bunch of KO/TKO finishes. 11-6 Jake Heun looks to show off some new tricks from his time in Thailand to fend off a man that some passionately believe should be back in the UFC (despite some controversy he’s stirred up), former middleweight Alex Nicholson (11-5). It should also be noted that Heun was originally slated to fight Brazilian finisher Caio Alencar (11-2). “Cuddly Bear” Josh Copland (16-4) looks to extend his win streak to five as he deals with another heavy hitter in Jack May (9-3).

Another former UFC fighter returns as light heavyweight Francimar Barroso (19-7) faces the aforementioned Daniel Gallemore (7-4) at heavyweight. while Kelvin Tiller (8-1) was originally signed to fight Alex Nicholson, but due to the weight disparity regulations in the state of New York, that fight was changed. Tiller now faces Caio Alencar, who was initially to fight Heun.

PFL 2018 #1 begins on June 7th, with prelims streaming live on Facebook at 6:00pm EST, with the main televised portion at 9:00pm airing live on NBC Sports.