Jarrah Al-Silawi | Cooper Neill, The Washington Post
Jarrah Al-Silawi is not like the other hopefuls competing at PFL’s Challenger Series event on Friday night.
The premise of the PFL Challenger Series is that up-and-coming fighters will fight for a league contract, with their fates being decided by a panel of judges comprised of athletes and celebrities. Last Friday’s debut episode featured former UFC champion Tyron Woodley, NFL legend Ray Lewis, and actor Jeremy Piven on the panel.
However, in an interview with MMA Fighting, Al-Silawi revealed that he has already signed a contract with the league to participate in their upcoming 2022 welterweight season. He was actually in talks to debut in a showcase bout during the 2021 season, but delays with his visa prevented that from happening.
That means Al-Silawi (16-3) is solely focused on defeating opponent Michael Lilly and he doesn’t particularly care how he does it. The Jordanian fighter’s main goal is not just to win, but to represent for his people.
“I don’t feel any pressure to win in any particular way,” Al-Silawi said via an Arabic translator. “I’m just here to prove a point and the main point I want to prove is that Middle Eastern fighters are now on the biggest stage and they’re really damn good and that’s the main thing.”
“Because we’re a small number, I see this as an opportunity to open the door for many other fighters in the region,” he continued. “I feel it’s my responsibility to kick in the door for other Arab and Middle Eastern-based fighters.”
Al-Silawi has already made a name for himself as a champion in Bahrain’s Brave Combat Federation promotion. “The Jordanian Lion” enters the PFL with wins in 11 of his past 12 outings, his lone loss a split decision to Abdoul Abdouraguimov that he avenged in an immediate rematch. This stretch of success also includes a first-round knockout of current UFC fighter Carlston Harris and a win over former UFC fighter Ismail Naurdiev.
In his most recent outing, Al-Silawi successfully defended his 175-pound title by breaking Naurdiev down with leg kicks to set up a second-round finish.
Unsurprisingly, Al-Silawi feels like he’s now ready to venture into North America with the PFL.
“The reason why is PFL has a really high level, especially at my weight class,” Al-Silawi said. “I feel like I’m now better than I’ve ever been and with all the experience I’ve had, it’s time to really put this to the test and face some of the best people out there. I feel like PFL is the best place to do that.”
“Now is the right time because MMA is just so much bigger in the States than it is in the Middle East,” he added. “It’s still a growing sport here, but still pretty nebular compared to the U.S. I feel like PFL has a pretty big platform, I want to get on there to really showcase my skills and grow my name. For me, PFL and the UFC are the best two in my opinion that there are at the moment. It was always going to be one of the two and it just happened to be PFL.”
Lilly, a strong wrestler fighting out of the MMA MASTERS gym in Florida, sports a 7-6 record and doesn’t have the same hype as Al-Silawi heading into their contest. Still, Al-Silawi views him as a dangerous test, one that could derail his PFL championship dreams before they even get started.
With six knockouts and five submissions under his belt, Al-Silawi prides himself on his versatility, and most importantly he’s not looking past Lilly even with a contract in hand.
“I trained for this fight like I trained as if I was fighting for the million dollars,” Al-Silawi said. “I take every fight extremely seriously. I’ve been preparing for him for a long time. No, I won’t overlook anyone.”
Al-Silawi meets Lilly in a 175-pound catchweight bout at PFL Challengers 2, which airs on fuboTV on Friday at 9 p.m. ET.