PFL vs. Bellator: Johnny Eblen Earns Nod Over Impa Kasanganay in Card’s Best Battle

Johnny Eblen and Impa Kasanganay, PFL vs. Bellator
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - FEBRUARY 25: Johnny Eblen celebrates after fighting Impa Kasanganay during the 2024 PFL vs Bellator: Champs event at Kingdom Arena on February 25, 2024 in Riyadh. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Johnny Eblen

PFL light-heavyweight champion Impa Kasanganay took on Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen in a thrilling PFL vs Bellator: Champions co-main event.

One of the most inspiring stories of 2023 was Impa Kasanganay’s journey from being on the receiving end of the most spectacular viral knockout in MMA history to winning a million dollars as PFL light-heavyweight champion. Moving back to his preferred weight class, he was greeted by Eblen, who many believe may be the best 185-lber in the world. His mix of domineering wrestling, skilled striking, and knockout power carried him to an undefeated record including a domination of legend Gegard Mousasi. This fight was much closer, but in the end Eblen scraped out a split decision.

Eblen took down Kasanganay with a single leg in the first minute of the fight; Impa crawled to the fence to build back up, but got controlled in the clinch. His clinch striking kept him active and his underhook kept him in control for a good minute until Impa broke free. On the feet, Impa had trouble getting going while Eblen kicked his body consistently. Impa did better as the round went on, but Johnny likely won the first.

Impa came out and dropped Eblen with a right hand in the first ten seconds of round two. Eblen wrestled up but Impa poured on the pressure, hurting the Bellator champ again. Johnny shot a desperate takedown and held onto the single leg against the cage for dear life. Kasanganay escaped and unloaded massive shots once more. Eblen kept trying to wrestle but it was more to stall than to actually land a takedown at first. However, once he recovered he did land a takedown and got on Impa’s back, an amazing show of perseverance and grit. Impa managed to scramble to full guard but stayed on his back the rest of the way, eating short ground strikes.

The fight was likely 19-19 going into the crucial third and final round. They traded hard right hands to start the round, then Johnny Eblen landed a hard leg kick and right hand that made Impa stumble. The Bellator champion pressed forward and continued to land with his right, looking more aggressive and sharp than Kasanganay. But Impa was not out of it by a long shot, he circled the outside of the cage and tried to counter, sometimes landing clean. Eblen took down Impa with under two minutes left and got onto the back with his grappling advantage. A mixture of punches and working for a submission kept him active and dominant for the remainder of the round, with some especially hard punches from an awkward, twisted position on the back in the final five seconds until the bell rang.

When the judges’ scorecards were read for this exciting and competitive fight, it was a split decision. The third and final scorecard, the key one, went to Johnny Eblen, winning 29-28 from two judges.

A rousing post-fight speech from Eblen compared his recovery in round two to life, telling fans that they may be knocked down in life but have to get back up and keep going.

Official Result: Johnny Eblen def. Impa Kasanganay by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)