PFL Champions Crowned: Pacheco Tested; Sy Submits

November 28, 2023
3 months

The Professional Fighters League crowned its champions for the 2023 season at the weekend. There were six enthralling title fights, along with some enthralling showcase bouts, as well as some exciting news about the company’s acquisition of fellow MMA brand Bellator.

Pinedo Makes Peruvian History

The first South American success story of the night came in the first title fight, which took place on the prelim card. Jesus Pinedo defeated his undefeated Brazilian opponent, Gabriel Alves Braga, to win the PFL featherweight championship. As such, he became the first Peruvian fighter to win a title belt in a major international organization. This victory would have been particularly sweet, having lost to the same opponent at the very start of the 2023 season. This time, it was Pinedo’s punches that secured a TKO win less than a minute into the third round.

Kayla Harrison is Back

Kayla Harrison might have suffered that loss in 2022 in the PFL Championship final and had to take a whole calendar year away from the sport, but she jumped at the chance to get back into the smart cage in this showcase bout. She secured a decision win over Aspen Ladd to show the division that she will be in contention for the 2024 season. After the result was announced Harrison took to the microphone and delivered a heartwarming speech about her work outside the ring for charitable causes, transcending MMA’s latest updates, which was universally well-received.

Magomedkerimov Defeats Sy, Again

In the build-up to the welterweight championship fight, a lot was made about the fact that Magomed Magomedkerimov and Sadibou Sy had already fought in PFL way back in the 2021 season. Two years on, and the Swedish fighter has improved leaps and bounds, having lifted the 2022 welterweight belt. Magomedkerimov was the only person in the pre-event media who said he saw no change in his opponent’s abilities and calmly said he would defeat him again. He secured a decision victory two years ago and did one better this year by making his adversary tap out to a tight guillotine choke. Magomedkerimov now adds the 2023 title to his collection, having won the accolade back in 2018 as well.

Mokhnatkina Tested Pacheco

Larissa Pacheco was the total odds-on favorite to win this fight against Marina Mokhnatkina, with even the PFL commentary team referring to the fact that the Russian had called herself an underdog. Yet, the first round shaped the entire contest and, on another day, could have ended it early. Halfway through round one, Mokhnatkina was able to lock in a devastating knee-bar on Pacheco with a vice-like grip, a moment that had editors of MMA news websites on tenterhooks.

Pacheco writhed in pain but fought through. This was a testament to the Brazilian’s resilience but also that the Russian wasn’t here to make up the numbers. While Pacheco was able to escape the move, the damage was visible as she hobbled around for the remainder of the round. However, she used that to alter her game plan and was a lot more efficient throughout the fight as it went the full 25 minutes. Most scorecards gave her four rounds out of the four as she controlled the fight for large parts after that aforementioned submission. Pacheco had her hand raised and became the first-ever PFL multi-weight champion.

Ferreira Capitalizes and Finishes Fight

On a night that didn’t have that many finishes, Renan Ferreira delivered an exceptional series of strikes to end his heavyweight final against Denis Goltsov. The Russian fighter had an unsuccessful takedown attempt blocked by Ferreira, which allowed the Brazilian to attack freely as he delivered a series of overhands, which first grounded Goltsov before he took the grounded position and then attacked with multiple hammer fists. The ref soon stepped in and stopped the fight as Ferreira climbed to 12-3 and earned himself the PFL heavyweight championship in the process, as well as the fanfare from MMA news sites.

Aubin-Mercier Gets Judge’s Decision in Main Event

The Canadian Gangster has embodied PFL’s success since joining the promotion after he parted ways with the UFC in 2019. Olivier Aubin-Mercier has won every fight he’s ever fought in the PFL, which sees him win the lightweight championship in 2022 and get to the final in 2023.

Trying to stop his winning run was Clay Collard, another man who stepped away from the UFC and even had experience in the boxing ring. On paper and in the ring, this was a tightly matched fight. Collard’s problem, however, was that Aubin-Mercier was just a bit better in everything; he landed more punches, his control was more assertive, and at the end of 25 minutes, the judges had to give it to the Canadian.

Collard most certainly won the fourth round and could have had a reasonable argument for the third, but ultimately, his adversary would go on to retain his lightweight title and continue to etch his legacy into the PFL history books.

Management Encourages Cross-Brand War

One of the biggest developments from the evening was that the PFL announced its intentions for Bellator after the initial confirmation. Excitement reached fever-pitch as the broadcasters announced that in 2024, the overarching management would be commissioning a PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions fight card, possibly as early as February. Many of the Bellator title holders were in attendance, meaning that there were some early stare-downs between fighters.

This has already prompted fight fans to think about potential matchups like an all-Brazilian showdown in the Women’s Featherweight division between Larissa Pacheco and Cris Cyborg. Bellator Welterweight Jason Jackson got in the cage as Dan Hardy interviewed Russia’s Magomed Magomedkerimov, in what would also be another highly anticipated bout in the cross-brand event.

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