2023 PFL Challenger Series Week 1 Preview and Predictions


The Pro Fighters Challenger Series Season 2 gets underway on January 27, 2023. This year’s series will run six weeks on Fridays, starting tonight and running through March 6, with all events airing on FuboTV and Fubo Sports Network. 


The PFL Challenger Series is similar to Dana White’s UFC Contender Series, where contenders can earn a contract with the PFL and compete in the promotion’s Tournament for $1 million. Last year, seven fighters earned regular PFL contracts, and two competitors were awarded developmental deals with the company.  


 The Welterweight division takes center stage in Week 1 at Universal Studios in Orlando at 9 p.m. (ET). The main event of Lucas Barbosa vs. Itso Babulaidze headlines the four-card draw. Three of the four bouts are in the welterweight division, with the other being a catchweight fight.  


Lucas Barbosa vs. Itso Babulaidze, Welterweight- Main Event 

The main event features two relatively young, inexperienced professional mixed martial arts Barbosa (2-1), a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion, enters the octagon for the first time in over a decade. Babulaidze (2-0) is fighting for just the third time. 


Barbosa is one of the most decorated submission grapplers of all time. However, “Hulk’ has not competed as a mixed martial artist since he put away Tiago Sena with punches in the first round of their Aug. 11, 2012 encounter under the Roraima Show Fight banner in Brazil.


After going 3-2 as an amateur MMA’er. Babulaidze defeated Jorge Demolition” Molina in his professional debut in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships this past March. He is coming off a first-round knockout of onetime Olympic wrestler Mahmoud Sebie Fawsy at PFL 7 in August.  


Pick: While this is a tossup, Barbosa wins in his return to the cage. 


Eric Alequin vs. Thad Jean, Welterweight

Alequin and Jean are both intriguing prospects who are undefeated in their pro careers. Alequin, 32, enters the fight with a 7-0 record, and Jean, 24, is 4-0. 


Alequin has fought under several promotions as a professional. He is coming off a unanimous decision over Hugh Fulley to win the Cage Fury Fighting Championships vacant welterweight title on March 17. Five wins are via decision, and he has submitted two opponents. 


Jean has also fought under several umbrellas since turning pro in 2021. He defeated Georgie Medina via unanimous decision in his last outing on Sept. 30. It was his first professional fight that went the distance as he has two knockouts and one submission.  


Pick: Alequin’s experience proves advantageous as he wins via decision. 


Josef Wittner vs. Zach Juusola, Welterweight

The first welterweight matchup of the night features two veteran combatants. Wittner (16-2) makes his US MMA debut, while Juusola (12-9) has lost seven of his last nine outings.  


Pick: Wittner To Win via TKO/KO


Kendly St.Louis vs. Nick Adley, catchweight

In a last minute replacement, Kendly St. Louis takes the place of Mostafa Nada to fight Nick Alley in a 175 pound catchweight bout. St. Louis was slated to be Thad Jean’s corner man.


St. Louis enters the cage with a 7-4 career record. He has won four straight matches, earning a unanimous victory over Blake Smith on November 10 in his last outing. Also a pro boxer, he has three victories via knockout and two by submission.


Alley is 7-5 as a professional. Alley has lost two straight fights, although his last bout was in November 2021. 

PFL Pick: This is going to be a tough fight for both combatants with so little time to prepare, but Alley has been susceptible  to being knocked out. So, I will go with St. Louis to end up with a victory prior to the final bell. 


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