PFL vs Bellator expert picks, fight card predictions for 2024 MMA event in Saudi Arabia

Under one roof, the Professional Fighters League and Bellator will compete for the ultimate brand supremacy on February 24. The fight in Saudi Arabia pits current and former champions and title contenders against one another, along with top-notch fights, to determine who the best in MMA is. 

The event will feature elbow strikes, normally taboo with the PFL’s rules. The PFL purchasing Bellator opened the door to various opportunities. Someone who looks to take full advantage is Ryan Bader, the Bellator heavyweight champion. He faces PFL champion Renan Ferreira in the main event. 

“He’s very athletic; he can do a standing backflip and all that kind of stuff,” Bader said via The New York Post. “Big guys sometimes have a lack of, I want to say, control or whatnot with their big bodies, especially in the grappling and wrestling department, especially a guy like him. … Watching film study, that’s his weakness is being on the ground. His cardio, his ground game is probably the weakest in his game.”

The winner will receive a custom PFL/Bellator world title. Another fight that will compete for the belt will be Impa Kasanganay vs. Johnny Eblen. 

WATCH: PFL vs. Bellator, exclusively on ESPN+

The fight card has seen several changes, but the matchups are still enticing. Outside those fights, the event will host the likes of Patricio Freire, Jason Jackson, Thiago Santos, Yoel Romero, Clay Collard, and A.J. McKee. The undercard features fighters like Aaron Pico, Biaggiao Ali Walsh, and boxing champion Claressa Shields. 

Here are SN’s official picks for every fight on the main card, along with full betting odds for PFL vs. Bellator, courtesy of Bet MGM

PFL vs. Bellator expert picks, fight card predictions

Renan Ferreira vs. Ryan Bader; Heavyweights

Per Bet MGM, Ryan Bader is the -140 favorite, while Renan Ferreira is the +115 underdog. 

Looking at his last three fights, Ferreira landed 33 of 48 strikes against Maurice Greene, with one knockdown. Against Matheus Scheffel, he only needed to land ten strikes to take him down. In the PFL Heavyweight Finals against Denis Goltsov, he landed 26 of 32 strikes, with some coming in at 23.3 MPH. Ouch! Ferreira needed two rounds to win gold and $1 million. 

Bader is a wrestling machine, being a three-time Pac-10 championships gold medalist. “Darth” Bader has won several Bellator contests via knockout, but his ability to tire his opponent got him to where he is. He’s not a submission specialist, but the result is inevitable when he takes you on the floor. 

Ferreira, 34, will have youth on his side against the 40-year-old Bader, who hasn’t fought since February 2023. Speed kills, and if Ferreira can outpace Bader, the Brazilian can land a knockout shot for the ages. Bader will have to work on the inside to avoid Ferreira’s range, but will it be enough? 

The Sporting News believes Bader will look good early on, tire out as the rounds continue, and Ferreira can take advantage for the win. 

Sporting News prediction: Ferreira via TKO (round two)

MORE: Join DAZN to watch the PFL in the U.K.

Impa Kasanganay vs. Johnny Eblen; Middleweights

Per Bet MGM, Johnny Eblen is the -400 favorite, while Impa Kasanganay is the +300 underdog.

Kasanganay can knock out anyone, and also attack on the ground, as he knocked out Marthin Hamlet and landed two takedowns with 29 ground strikes against Tim Caron. He landed 112 of 115 strikes and two perfect takedowns against Josh Silveira. 

Against Fabian Edwards, Eblen had a leg kick-heavy offense, and used volume blows and his wrestling to force Edwards to play defensive through the fight. He overwhelmed Anatoly Tokov by marching toward the latter, not minding the ongoing attack by the challenger. Even if in danger, Eblen used his wrestling to bully Tokov by the cage. 

Both are methodical fighters that can chip away at an opponent with ease. Eblen’s wrestling is too much for any fighter to handle. Kasanganay is almost his equal, bringing the fight anywhere he wants. It could be a true Fight of the Night and a game of cat and mouse.The Sporting News believes it won’t be one-sided, but Eblen will prove something to the world. 

Sporting News prediction: Eblen via unanimous decision

MORE: Weighing up Alex Volkanovski’s next move

Patricio Freire vs. Gabriel Braga; Featherweights

Per Bet MGM, Patricio Freire is the -165 favorite, while Gabriel Braga is the +140 underdog. 

One of the most dominant fighters in MMA history, Freire shares the wealth of brutality; he has eleven wins via knockout, twelve via submission, and twelve via decision. Though on a two-fight losing streak, “Pitbull” is a defensive wizard, and an aggressive striker and grappler.

Against Marlon Moraes, Braga landed 12 strikes against the former UFC fighter, knocking him down and out. He landed 84 strikes against Chris Wade, with 40 leg shots and two ground strikes, which earned him a decision win. He beat Jesus Pinedo to start the season but failed to go 2-0 in a finals rematch, getting hit with 82 of 171 strikes.

Freire will look to attack right away. He rarely makes mistakes and is the fresher fighter, seeing how he was supposed to face Pinedo until this week. Bellator’s pound-for-pound king and leader should walk out of Saudi Arabia with a win. 

 Sporting News prediction: Freire via unanimous decision

Ray Cooper III vs. Jason Jackson; Catchweight

Per Bet MGM, Jason Jackson is the -500 favorite, while Ray Cooper III is the +360 underdog. 

Bellator’s Jackson won the Bellator welterweight title by knocking out Yaroslav Amosov. He used a takedown offense to force Amosov by the cage and used uppercuts and kicks to cut off the former champion before using boxing to take him out. Before that, he won six straight fights via decision. Jackson smothered the great Douglas Lima with his wrestling, recovering from early kicks that bothered him. 

Cooper was a top figure on the PFL roster, winning two tournament finals. When he was on, Cooper had a streak that included three knockout wins and one via submission. However, in his last three fights, Cooper missed weight twice. After more than a year away from the cage, he had an uninspiring performance against Derek Brunson. 

Jackson is ready to prove why he’s a champion. Cooper has plenty to prove following the Brunson fight and being out for a year. It does not look like the fight favors Cooper, who now looks like he can take damage. Jackson can and most likely will land brutal shots and has a takedown defense that can stuff Cooper’s offense. 

Sporting News prediction: Jackson via TKO 

Bruno Cappelozza vs. Vadim Nemkov; Heavyweights

Per Bet MGM, Vadim Nemkov is the -600 favorite, while Bruno Cappelozza is the +425 underdog. 

Cappelozza is a former PFL heavyweight tournament winner, but he hasn’t fought since April 2023, when he tested positive for a banned substance. The Brazilian has 14 wins via knockout and can catch anyone making mistakes. 

Nemkov has been unstoppable in his run with Bellator, gliding past the fighters in the Light Heavyweight Grand Prix. The multi-time Sambo gold medalist has a tremendous wrestling ability and power to match it. He relinquished the Bellator light heavyweight title to focus on heavyweight, which is a scary thought for anyone in his path. 

Nemkov will most likely control the pace of the fight. If he grabs and drops Cappelozza right away, it may be over before the fight even has a chance to get warmed up. Cappelozza has the height and reach advantage, but Nemkov’s overall ability has a chance to trump all that. 

Sporting News prediction: Nemkov via unanimous decision

Thiago Santos vs. Yoel Romero; Light Heavyweights

Per Bet MGM, Thiago Santos is the -135 favorite, while Yoel Romero is the +110 underdog. 

Santos still has some pop, with 15 wins via knockout. The Brazilian has gone on a 1-4 run with one no-contest since tearing his ACL, PCL, MCL, and meniscus against Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2019. The 40-year-old was about to lose his third straight in his PFL debut until Rob Wilkinson tested positive for a banned substance. 

MORE: MMA Awards 2023: Best Knockout, Submission, Upset

Romero is as unorthodox as they come. “Soldier of God” has 13 wins via knockout but has only won two fights in about six+ years. The Cuban fighter looked lethargic against Vadim Nemkov for 25 minutes, though the 46-year-old survived the power and wrestling of Nemkov. His toughness, outside his boxing, is his ultimate strength. 

The fight will either be entertaining or one to forget. Romero appears to be the fresher and healthier fighter. The soft-spoken Romero should get the job done against Santos.

Sporting News prediction: Romero via TKO (round two)

Clay Collard vs. A.J. McKee; Lightweights

Per Bet MGM, A.J. McKee is the -300 favorite, while Clay Collard is the +230 underdog. 

McKee is a chameleon, able to adapt to any situation. He is on a three-fight win streak since losing a rematch against Patricio Freire for the Bellator featherweight title. Sidney Outlaw had control time when they fought, but McKee landed the most damage. McKee has six wins via knockout and seven via submission. 

Collard is a volume striker. In a 2023 Fight of the Year candidate against Shane Burgos, Collard landed 194 of 438 strikes, with 178 pure punches. Collard landed 71 of 90 shots and had a ground control time of over two minutes against Stevie Ray. Facing Yamato Nishikawa, Collard landed 156 of 341 strikes and mixed it up by landing several leg kicks. In a losing effort against Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Collard landed 129 of 197 strikes but got taken down five times.

If McKee were to win, it would be because he avoided Collard’s strikes. Moving around the ring and being patient will help his cause. Collard would be wise to avoid the ground game of McKee. He has legitimate boxing skills, both on the offensive and defensive end of things, but McKee can strike at any point. McKee should come out on top in a fun scrap. However, a Collard upset shouldn’t be out of the question. 

Sporting News prediction: McKee via split decision


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