PFL v Bellator: Shields and Ali Walsh win, Ferreira sends message to Ngannou in Riyadh

A recap from a historic night in Saudi Arabia where the two promotions were pitted against each other

Bellator heavyweight Renan Ferreira celebrates after his first-round KO victory against PFL's Ryan Bader in Riyadh on Saturday. Photo: PFL MMA
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Saudi Arabia was at the centre of the Mixed Martial Arts world on Saturday night when the Professional Fighters League and Bellator put forward several of their champions in a promotion vs promotion event in Riyadh.

Here is a recap of the historic night, in ascending order from first fight to headliner.

Basahel bt Pereira - Decision

In the first bout of the evening, an amateur flyweight contest, Saudi Arabia's Malik Basahel claimed a unanimous points victory over Brazilian Vinicius Pereira. "The Storm" earned the decision on all three judges' scorecards 30-27, 29-28, 30-27 to take his amateur record to 18-2-1. It was the first defeat of Pereira's amateur career, moving his record to 5-1-0.

Al Qahtani bt Rao - Round 3 TKO

Abdullah Al Qahtani thrilled the home crowd with a third-round TKO win over India's Edukondala Rao in their lightweight bout. One of the leading lights of the Saudi MMA scene, "The Ripper" was keen to put on a show for his fans and managed to get the stoppage with just over 20 seconds remaining in the fight, the referee stepping in as Al Qahtani rained down punches and kicks on Rao. The victory, his third straight since joining the PFL, takes Al Qahtani's professional record to 8-1-0.

Shields bt DeSantis - Decision

Competing in her third MMA bout, boxing great Claressa Shields earned a split-decision victory over Kelsey DeSantis in their catchweight bout, edging the contest on the judges' scorecards 29-28, 28-29, 29-28. It was a historic occasion as the first professional women's MMA bout to be staged in Saudi Arabia. In a close fight, DeSantis came on strong in the final round, but Shields' superior boxing work in the first two just about proved the difference in the eyes of two of the judges. Shields, the unbeaten and undisputed middleweight world champion, is expected to return to boxing for her next fight.

Ali Walsh bt Palacios - Decision

Biaggio Ali Walsh, the grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, made his pro MMA debut in Riyadh on Saturday night and came through with a unanimous points victory over Emmanuel Palacios. Ahead of the fight, Ali Walsh told The National about the pressure of living up to the famous name, and he did his grandfather proud by winning all three rounds of the lightweight fight to earn a 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 win.

Pico bt Corrales - Round 1 TKO

An all-American rematch as explosive as their first fight but with an opposite outcome, Aaron Pico avenged his 67-second knockout defeat to Henry Corrales in January 2019 with a first-round stoppage of his own in Riyadh. Corrales was a last-minute opponent after Gabriel Braga withdrew from the lightweight fight, but hopes of a repeat win were dashed under a flurry of Pico punches and elbows late in the opening round. The win moves Pico to 13-4-0 as a professional while Corrales takes his record to 21-8-0.

AJ McKee bt Clay Collard - Round 1 Submission

In the first fight of the main event, AJ McKee delivered a swift victory over Clay Collard in this lightweight bout with an armbar submission just 1:10 into the first round. It was a statement victory from the former Bellator featherweight champion, which will boost his hopes of challenging for Usman Nurmagomedov's lightweight title. McKee, who has only lost once in 22 professional MMA bouts, is ranked fifth in the Bellator lightweight standings.

Romero bt Santos - Decision

Yoel Romero bounced back from his Bellator light-heavyweight title defeat to Vadim Nemkov with a unanimous points win over Thiago Santos, taking the decision 30-27, 30-27, 29-28. Using the lead-leg kick to great effect, Romero earned a methodical victory to take his professional MMA record to 16-7-0, while Santos fell to 22-12-0 with a fifth defeat in his last six fights.

Vadim Nemkov bt Bruno Cappelozza - Round 2 Submission

Vadim Nemkov proved why he is top of the Bellator pound-for-pound rankings by defeating Bruno Cappelozza via second-round submission in a battle of former champions. Nemkov, who vacated his Bellator light-heavyweight title last month to make a return to heavyweight, displayed his class with an arm-triangle choke that left Cappelozza unconscious. It was about as emphatic a warning to his Bellator rivals as Nemkov could have made.

Jackson bt Cooper - Round 2 TKO

Jason Jackson delivered a performance worthy of his champion status as the Bellator welterweight king obliterated Ray Cooper III with a second-round stoppage. After landing a low kick to Cooper's left knee that sent him to the canvas, Jackson pounced and landed a series of heavy blows, leading the referee to intervene and awarding him the TKO victory in this 182-pound catchweight fight. The win was Jackson's eighth in a row and moves his record to 18-4-0. The defeat was Cooper's second in as many fights and his record now stands at 25-10-1.

Eblen bt Kasanganay - Decision

Johnny Eblen survived an almighty scare against Impa Kasanganay to earn the narrowest of split-decision victories and extend his unbeaten professional MMA record. Eblen, the Bellator middleweight champion, suffered a knockdown in the second round and had to withstand a barrage of punches from Kasanganay. But the American managed to hold on and his superior wrestling and grappling attacks helped him edge the contest 29-28, 28-29, 29-28. Eblen's record now stands at 15-0-0 while Kasanganay is 15-4-0.

Ferreira bt Bader - Round 1 KO

In a showdown between the heavyweight champions of the two competing promotions, there was one clear and decisive winner as the PFL's Renan Ferreira demolished Ryan Bader in just 21 seconds. It was a spectacular display from the Brazilian, who landed a powerful right hand on Bellator champion Bader in the first exchange to send the American to the canvas, before hammering down heavy fists to end the fight.

The statement victory certainly caught the attention of Francis Ngannou, who was sitting cageside, and increased the prospect of Ferreira defending his title against the Cameroonian later in the year. “I am the real problem out here,” Ferreira said. “I am the record breaker. I am the record setter. Francis, where you at? I’m waiting for you. Let’s go, let’s do this.”

Updated: February 25, 2024, 10:30 AM