Keeping the action going, the bout featuring the most in cage experience of the night also features two well credentialed Brazilian finishers in undefeated Manoel Sousa who has finished all nine of his pro fights and Paulo Laia who won two fights in one night at a PFL International Qualifier Series event to earn his spot in this year’s PFL Challenger Series. Meanwhile, Laia will become the first deaf fighter to compete in the PFL tonight. With 19 finishes between the pair of them, this fight promises to deliver fireworks.
The bell rings and Laia opens with a front kick up the middle and the size and length advantage for Laia is very apparent early as her peppers push kicks and low kicks from the outside and Sousa tries to plod his way in.
Sousa manages to close the distance and lands a nice overhand right before changing levels and successfully taking Laia down, instantly attacking a kimura. Sousa can’t finish it though and Laia creates a scramble and gets back to his feet, wearing on Sousa along the SmartCage and landing some heavy knees inside as we approach the halfway point in the round.
Sousa gets in deep on a single leg again and gets Laia to the mat and again Sousa is attacking a kimura before transitioning to a belly down armbar attempt but Laia is able to slip out and land on top once again but now Sousa attacks a heel hook! That’s in deep now as Laia uses his free leg to kick and pry his leg free as Sousa attempted to transition to a kneebar.
Now it’s Laia throwing up a triangle but to no avail as Sousa pops his head out and winds up on top and the fighters will scramble to end the opening round.
The commission towels off Sousa a bit more as we begin the second round between two very game Brazilians. Sousa fires a big right hand and doesn’t quite land but bull rushes Laia behind a jab and a lead hook and manages to clasp his hands under the butt of Laia and drag him to the mat with a double leg.
Sousa once again finds himself in top position but he can’t seem to hold Laia down, perhaps a result of Laia’s height and length advantage as Sousa attacks an armbar again and gets in deep but Laia is completely unfazed, rolling into the armbar and diffusing the danger before winding up on top in side control.
Laia lands a few short hammerfists as the referee warns Sousa not to use his toes in the cage. Laia passes to half guard halfway through the round and postures up to land some big shots and cut Sousa off from the cage, a very high IQ move from Laia before Sousa snatches an arm again and attacks a kimura! This is in deep but Laia seems completely unbothered once again, rolling with it as Sousa transitions to an armbar and tries to finish Laia.
Again, Laia maintains his composure and winds up on top as Sousa continues to attack the left arm from his back with 30 seconds remaining in the round. With 10 seconds remaining Sousa once again gets in deep on an armbar and again Laia hits a picturesque hitchhikers escape, rolling right into it and evading the danger to finish the round on top in side control.
Sousa ends the 1st round with an armbar attempt but Laia is able to escape AGAIN! 3rd round up now!#PFLonFubo LIVE NOW | @fuboSports— PFL (@PFLMMA) February 18, 2023
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We begin a pivotal third round and it’s anybody's guess what the judges scorecards look like as Laia opens with a big uppercut and Sousa looks to clinch again. Sousa lands a big left but Laia counters with a check hook and Sousa follows up with another monster right and Laia appears to be hurt! Sousa pressures Laia into the mat and he’s got the mount with almost four minutes to work now.
Sousa is attacking the arm triangle choke now and that’s in deep! Laia appears to think about tapping but is able to walk the fence and escape out the backdoor once again, the man simply refuses to be submitted as Sousa now attacks another kimura. No matter how deep the attempt, Laia seems completely calm each time and just finds a way out.
Laia briefly escapes with two minutes remaining but can’t get back to his feet as Sousa adjusts and gets back to top half guard. The referee stops the fight briefly to make an adjustment to the tape on Sousa’s glove. They restart and once again Sousa is attacking the arm triangle as Laia defends correctly by grabbing his hands over his head until he gets an opening to escape.
Sousa postures up and lands some HEAVY ground and pound, perhaps finally deciding to abandon the submissions against Laia with about 30 seconds remaining. Sousa continues the ground and pound and choke attempts straight through the final bell, likely clinching himself a win and a chance at a PFL contract!
Manoel Sousa slays the giant in a back and forth scrambly battle between two talented Brazilian prospects.
Manoel Sousa def. Paolo Laia via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)