The Hit List: 5 PFL-Bellator Fights We Want to See in 2024

The Professional Fighters League-Bellator MMA merger was one of the more impactful stories of 2023, and it creates wide-ranging opportunities for matchmakers moving forward.

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Francis Ngannou looks like the company’s premium chess piece, especially after he crossed over to boxing, introduced himself to a much wider audience and nearly upset Tyson Fury in October. Exactly when “The Predator” returns to the MMA scene—he signed a multi-fight deal with the PFL—remains an open question, as he has agreed to box Anthony Joshua on March 8 in Saudi Arabia. There figures to be no shortage of potential suitors once Ngannou debuts with the PFL, as his deal stipulates that his opponents receive no less than $2 million per fight.

At the front of the line stands Renan Ferreira, the monstrous 6-foot-8 Brazilian with a ridiculous 88-inch reach. The 34-year-old Team Nogueira product tore through Matheus Scheffel, Maurice Greene and Denis Goltsov in a little more than 11 combined minutes to become the latest PFL heavyweight champion. Ferreira has delivered 10 of his 12 career victories via knockout or technical knockout, making him a prime candidate to welcome Ngannou to the PFL.

Ngannou-Ferreira is but one of the PFL-Bellator crossover fights we want to see in 2024. Here are four more:

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Kayla Harrison: Justino, now 38, may not be quite as dominant as she was in her prime, but the Brazilian’s unique brand of ferocity still plays at the highest levels of the sport. She captured the Bellator women’s featherweight crown in January 2020, successfully defended it on five occasions and carries a seven-fight winning streak into the new year. Justino last appeared at Bellator 300, where she took apart Cat Zingano with punches in the first round of their Oct. 7 encounter. Harrison, meanwhile, remains firmly established as one of the PFL’s pillars. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time PFL women’s lightweight champion rebounded from her first professional setback—a decision defeat to rival Larissa Pacheco in late 2022—by earning a unanimous verdict over Aspen Ladd on Nov. 24.

Jason Jackson vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov: Anchored at the esteemed Kill Cliff Fight Club camp in Florida, Jackson emerged as a breakout star over the past four years. The 33-year-old Spanish Town, Jamaica, native enters his 2024 campaign on the strength of a career-best seven-fight winning streak. A former Titan Fighting Championship and Victory Fighting Championship titleholder, Jackson laid claim to the undisputed Bellator welterweight crown on Nov. 17, when he buried the previously unbeaten Yaroslav Amosov with punches in the third round of their Bellator 301 headliner. On the other side of the ledger, Magomedkerimov made himself a two-time Professional Fighters League welterweight champion when he put away Sadibou Sy with a third-round guillotine choke at the 2023 PFL Championships on Nov. 24. He has rattled off 19 wins across his past 20 outings.

Johnny Eblen vs. Derek Brunson: The unbeaten Eblen has a legitimate claim as the top middleweight in the sport. The American Top Team standout marches into the new year with a perfect 14-0 record that features victories against John Salter, Anatoly Tokov and the great Gegard Mousasi. Eblen, 33, last competed in September, when he wrecked Fabian Edwards with third-round elbows and punches to retain his undisputed Bellator MMA middleweight championship at Bellator 299. Brunson, meanwhile, has a long and successful track record to which he can point, his resume anchored by wins over Lorenz Larkin, Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall, Kevin Holland and Darren Till. He made his organizational debut at the 2023 PFL Championships, where he took a three-round unanimous decision from Ray Cooper III on Nov. 24.

Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Natan Schulte: Possibilities seem endless for Nurmagomedov, who, at 25 years of age, has not yet reached the peak of his powers. The reigning Bellator lightweight champion carries a 17-0 record into his 2024 campaign, which figures to provide ample opportunity for him to continue establishing himself as one of MMA’s best at 155 pounds. However, the American Kickboxing Academy standout closed out his run in Bellator under less-than-ideal circumstances. Nurmagomedov saw his Oct. 7 unanimous decision over Brent Primus changed to a no contest after he tested positive for a banned substance in prescription drug. The California State Athletic Commission also levied a six-month suspension against him. On the other side of the equation, Schulte has compiled a 14-2-1 mark across his 17 assignments in the PFL. He has twice cashed in on seven-figure paydays with the company, claiming lightweight championships in 2018 and 2019.

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Renan Ferreira