Favorites and sleepers in every PFL division for Season 2

Professional Fighters League brings true sport format to MMA (1:49)

The PFL, which begins May 9 on ESPN+ and ESPN2, features a regular season, a playoff bracket and championship fights with million-dollar payouts. (1:49)

The Professional Fighters League's second season gets underway May 9 with 68 fighters competing from May until New Year's Eve. Will Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison continue her unbeaten streak and reign supreme in the women's lightweight division? Which titleholders from last year will repeat as champions, adding another $1 million to their bank accounts?

Ahead of Thursday's PFL 1, we're breaking down each division with a favorite and a dark horse.

Women's lightweight

The favorite: Kayla Harrison (3-0)

Duh. Harrison, who claimed the Olympic gold medal in judo in both the 2012 and 2016 Games, appears to be an unstoppable force. Her size, strength and ability to take opponents to the mat are almost unparalleled at this division. Two of her three professional wins thus far have been first-round TKO victories. Expect that to continue in a tournament many believe was created for Harrison to shine.

Don't sleep on: Sarah Kaufman (20-4)

Kaufman, one of the most experienced fighters in all of the PFL, has spent considerable time in both the UFC and Invicta. The Canadian would typically be a favorite in most matchups, though one big issue sticks out heading into this competition -- she's facing competitors much bigger than her. Kaufman is used to fighting at bantamweight (135-pound limit) and now will go up against women who are used to fighting at 155 pounds. It's a decision she had to make to participate in this season of the PFL, and if she can withstand the disadvantages that come with the change in division, Kaufman could go far.

First regular-season fight: Women's lightweight (PFL 1, May 9)

- Kayla Harrison vs. Larissa Pacheco

- Sarah Kaufman vs. Morgan Frier

- Genah Fabian vs. Bobbi Jo Dalziel

- Moriel Charneski vs. Roberta Samad


The favorite: Lance Palmer (17-3)

Palmer, the defending PFL featherweight champion, went 5-0 last year en route to $1 million. It's hard to bet against a fighter with that kind of momentum. The former four-time All-American wrestler at Ohio State uses those skills to get his opponent to the mat for heavy ground-and-pound. His biggest competition might just be his biggest rival in Andre Harrison. Palmer defeated Harrison by unanimous decision in the PFL semifinals last year, but lost the World Series of Fighting featherweight belt to him in 2017. That competition could carry over in 2019 if they fight a third time.

Don't sleep on: Jeremy Kennedy (13-1)

The sleeper of this division might actually be another fighter the defending champion knows well: Lance Palmer's teammate at Xtreme Couture, Jeremy Kennedy. Not many fighters in PFL's tournament boast the experience and level of competition that Kennedy does, even at just 26 years of age. He was 3-1 in the UFC, with his only loss coming to top featherweight title contender Alexander Volkanovski. After the defeat he fought for the Bahrain-based promotion Brave Combat Federation and won his next two fights by KO and TKO, respectively.

First regular-season fight: Featherweight (PFL 2, May 23)

- Lance Palmer vs. Alex Gilpin

- Andre Harrison vs. Freddy Assuncao

- Alexandre Almeida vs. Luis Rafael Laurentino

- Alexandre Bezerra vs. Jeremy Kennedy

- Damon Jackson vs. Movlid Khaibulaev

- Steven Siler vs. TBD


The favorite: Natan Schulte (15-3-1)

Schulte entered last year's tournament relatively unknown, but he earned the No. 1 seed in the lightweight division and fought his way into the finals before earning a unanimous decision win against Rashid Magomedov for $1 million. PFL's youngest defending champion won three of his fights by decision, showing he has the endurance to hang in the cage for any amount of time. He had the most takedowns of any PFL fighter in any division last season.

Don't sleep on: Islam Mamedov (16-2)

Mamedov has won 15 fights in a row, including a 2-0 record last season in PFL, and dropped out in the semifinals of the lightweight tournament only due to illness. The 29-year-old Russian actually defeated the eventual champion, Schulte, by second-round armbar prior to the 2018 PFL season. With a sambo background, his specialty is taking opponents to the mat for ground-and-pound or submission attempts.

First regular-season fight: Lightweight (PFL 2, May 23)

- Chris Wade vs. Nate Andrews

- Ramsey Nijem vs. Ronys Torres

- Akhmed Aliev vs. Carlao Silva

- Islam Mamedov vs. Ylies Djiroun

- Rashid Magomedov vs. Loik Radzhabov

- Natan Schulte vs. Bao Yincang


The favorite: Ray Cooper III (17-6)

Yes, he lost to Magomed Magomedkerimov in the PFL welterweight title fight last year. But the extremely talented and fun-to-watch Cooper is out for redemption in 2019. The 5-foot-7 Hawaiian was on an absolute tear, competing in the finals last year after four knockouts in four fights, before running into Magomedkerimov in the finals. Look for Cooper to once again make noise in the welterweight division.

Don't sleep on: Handesson Ferreira (13-2-1)

Ferreira, a 2018 semifinalist, is one of PFL's most all-around versatile fighters. He had the third-fastest knockout of the season last year when he defeated Paul Bradley by TKO in 20 seconds. Though he lost to Cooper in last year's tournament, he boasts a previous win against him in 2017. The 30-year-old Brazilian could be a problem for Cooper if they happen to meet for a third time in a grudge match.

First regular-season fight: Welterweight (PFL 1, May 9)

- Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. John Howard

- Ray Cooper III vs. Zane Kamaka

- Sabidou Sy vs. David Michaud

- Handesson Ferreira vs. Bojan Velickovic

- Gamzat Khiramagomedov vs. Glaico Franca

- Andre Fialho vs. Chris Curtis

Light heavyweight

The favorite: Jordan Johnson (10-0)

With defending champion Sean O'Connell retiring after winning $1 million last year, the division is wide open. Vinny Magalhaes, the runner-up to O'Connell who led the league in submissions last year (three), could be an option. So too could Russian Maxim Grishin (28-7-1), a fighter with 20 career wins by stoppage. But the most intriguing pick is Johnson, an undefeated light heavyweight who won all four of his fights in the UFC.

Don't sleep on: Ronny Markes (18-7)

While the PFL light heavyweight roster has a ton of knockout power, Markes is someone you don't want to find yourself on the mat with. The 6-foot-1 Brazilian, an elite jiu-jitsu practitioner, has 11 career wins by stoppage -- six of which were by submission. He nearly beat eventual champion Sean O'Connell last year, but got knocked out later in the fight.

First regular season fight: Light heavyweight (PFL 3, June 6)

- Maxim Grishin vs. Jordan Johnson

- Rakim Cleveland vs. Viktor Nemkov

- Ronny Markes vs. Sigi Pesaleli

- Rashid Yusupov vs. Mikhail Mokhnatkin

- Vinny Magalhaes vs. Emiliano Sordi

- Dan Spohn vs. Bozigit Ataev


The favorite: Philipe Lins (14-3)

It's hard to pick against the defending champ here. The Brazilian went a perfect 4-0 last season, finishing all four fights early. He is one of the more versatile fighters on the roster, with the ability to hurt opponents on his feet and on the mat. His first matchup will be must-watch, as he faces 2008 Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii.

Don't sleep on: Satoshi Ishii (20-8-1)

Ishii has an Olympic pedigree that Lins, and other opponents in his way, should be worried about. Ten of his 20 career wins have come by submission, and he has three wins in the past three months. The biggest worry is fatigue. Could all of this cage time in 2019 -- most fighters compete three times in 12 months, let alone three -- be a problem long-term?

First regular-season fight: Heavyweight (PFL 3, June 6)

- Philipe Lins vs. Satoshi Ishii

- Kelvin Tiller vs. Muhammed DeReese

- Valdrin Istrefi vs. Ali Isaev

- Alex Nicholson vs. Francimar Barroso

- Jared Rosholt vs. Denis Goltsov

- Ben Edwards vs. Ante Delija