MMA Fighter of the Year #1: Larissa Pacheco

December 29, 2023
2 months

With 2023 drawing to a close, it’s time to review some of the top MMA fighters of the year. Our top fighter for the year is the PFL’s Brazilian sensation and first-ever two-weight champion, Larissa Pacheco.

Changed Weight Division

MMA fighting latest news has long documented Larissa Pacheco’s career and how she’s not always had success in different weight classifications. Notably, her two fights in the UFC at bantamweight ended in defeat in the mid-2010s. She found her preferred division at lightweight in the PFL, so there was conjecture that she would struggle in 2023 when the promotion changed its women’s division, only offering a featherweight competition. As we are about to detail, she did more than participate in the featherweight division…

4-0 as Pacheco Tops Table, Wins Championship

Larissa Pacheco started the year and her venture back into the featherweight division with a regular season match with the storied Julia Budd. The Canadian was a great barometer to see whether Pacheco would be competitive at this weight. The Brazilian defeated the former Bellator featherweight champion across five rounds by a decision victory in a very methodical match.

While that first regular season match went the distance, Pacheco made short work of Amber Leibrock in her second fight of the year. This fight lasted less than a minute as the Brazilian unloaded lefts and rights with no reply from the American, resulting in a quick win.

These two wins gave her nine points in the overall table, topping the standings in the process, which handsomely put her in the playoffs for the championship. Given she was the top seed, she got to fight the fourth seed in the semi-final, Olena Kolesnyk (in their third career meeting). It was another rapid win as Pacheco won the fight with her powerful punches in just 14 seconds, advancing to the championship final.

Awaiting her in the final was the Russian fighter Marina Mokhnatkina. The fight had similarities to the 2022 championship match where Pacheco was an underdog, yet this time it was her opponent who was the unfancied fighter. The match went all five rounds, a lot more competitive than Pacheco’s prior two fights, but it was still lopsided on the scorecards. Pacheco was announced the winner and made history by becoming the first fighter, male or female, to win two titles in different weight classes in the Professional Fighters League.

What Does 2024 Have in Store for Pacheco?

Given that Pacheco went from 2022 to 2023 with great success, the next year shouldn’t be any different. It is uncertain whether the PFL will add any more or change its weight classes to its existing operation for 2024. Whether it’s lightweight or featherweight, Pacheco will feel comfortable winning the season again. Could Pacheco realistically fight in both divisions if the promotion ran both competitions next year? Now that would make some serious history!

One fight that will probably have to take place is a bout between Pacheco and a representative from the Bellator brand. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the PFL bought Bellator and announced that a Champions versus Champions card will be taking place sometime in 2024. Given that Larissa has won both the lightweight and the featherweight titles, it leaves it open as to who she could fight.

The most obvious bout that fight fans want to see is Larissa Pacheco against Cris Cyborg. The two Brazilian fighters have a lot in common and arguably need each other. Pacheco has dominated PFL for two years and needs a new challenge. Cyborg has dominated the Featherweight division in Bellator since 2020, having defended the strap five times without much competition. She had to be enticed to come back for Bellator 300, having not defended the belt in 18 months.

A champion-against-champion bout between the two would be a real dream match and cement the winner as the most dominant Brazilian in MMA right now. Amanda Nunes might have something to say about that moniker being branded, but she shouldn’t have retired. If she’s got a problem with it, she should join the PFL and fight these two. MMA news websites, much like this one, have long waited for this fight, as we’ve already documented the potential bout.

The other Bellator female champion right now is Liz Carmouche. While this would be a good fight on paper, Carmouche is the flyweight champ. Pacheco has never fought at flyweight, and it would be a tall ask for the fighters to change so drastically so as to meet at bantamweight, especially given the problems the Brazilian fighter has had changing weight classes in the past.

Does She Fancy One More Shot in the UFC?

While the PFL is making some marvelous strides in the landscape of combat sports, MMA news sites and fight fans still revere the UFC as the top promotion and the true destination for fighters to hone their craft. Back in 2014 and 2015, the UFC’s female ranks weren’t nearly as established as they are now. Her two losses weren’t the only reason for leaving; she didn’t like the divisions available and the lack of opponents on offer.

Going into 2024, Pacheco could compete in the PFL, but what more does she have to gain from going over old ground? She’s won it twice and fought some of the same opponents. Entering the UFC would be a new challenge. While Dana White has said the featherweight division could be disbanded and it no longer appears on the UFC rankings page, he could be persuaded to bring it back with the arrival of superstar Pacheco.

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