Kayla Harrison (PFL)

Thoughts on the Inaugural PFL Awards

The Professional Fighters League announced via press release today that it will debut its first annual awards on ESPN+ and Twitter. The fans, media, fighters and the league will cast their votes, exclusively on Twitter. The voting period stretches from today, Feb. 26, to Sunday, March 1. The winners will be announced at an awards special set to air on ESPN+ in March.

There are a wide range of categories in which awards will be presented. It’s not a write-in format, but rather the PFL has presented nominees in each category. We can’t tell you how to vote, but we can at least say something about each category.

Male Fighter of the Year

The Nominees: Lance Palmer, Natan Schulte, Emiliano Sordi


This is a tough one. Palmer and Schulte should almost share the award if we retroactively account for the 2018 season. Even the PFL blurbs for these two repeat divisional champions suggests that their full body of work with the PFL should be considered. Meanwhile, Sordi had an eye-opening 2019 campaign.

Sordi’s breakout for the year is difficult to ignore. The Argentinian fighter absolutely destroyed the competition and only saw the second round on one occasion through five fights. His series of first-round stoppages through the playoffs was also monumental. There’s not a bad pick among this group, but how can Sordi be denied? He’s a strong contender in both this category and the “Most Improved Fighter” field.

Female Fighter of the Year

The Nominees: Kayla Harrison, Sarah Kaufman, Larissa Pacheco

It would be a shock if this one doesn’t go to Harrison. Kaufman and Pacheco were certainly the Olympian’s biggest threats on the way to the women’s lightweight championship, but Harrison cleared the Pacheco hurdle twice over the season and never even had to fight Kaufman. The PFL groomed the gold-medalist judoka to be a star, and she delivered. Now, she should take home another trophy at the awards show.

Knockout of the Year

The Nominees: John Howard over Ray Cooper III, Movlid Khaybulaev over Damon Jackson, Ray Cooper III over Chris Curtis

A 10-second flying knee finish? Yeah, we’ll take it. The knockouts from Howard and Cooper were strong showings, but a finish in the opening seconds of a fight usually creates a lot of buzz. Khaybulaev didn’t have much success during the season, but this was his one moment to shine.

Submission of the Year

The Nominees: Alex Gilpin over Andre Harrison, Magomed Magomedkerimov over John Howard, Natan Schulte over Ramsey Nijem

Schulte’s 52-second finish of UFC veteran Nijem is definitely a strong contender here, but Gilpin’s stunning choke of Harrison deserves this honor. Gilpin was on the losing side of the first round, and Harrison’s grinding approach seemed to be settling into autopilot by the second frame. However, Gilpin managed to surprise Harrison with a ninja choke and kept it locked in as the fighters went to the canvas. By the time the official stepped in, Harrison was asleep. If the PFL had included an award for “Comeback of the Year,” this fight would be a frontrunner for it as well.

Professional of the Year

The Nominees: Francimar Barroso, Kayla Harrison, David Michaud

The name of this award would suggest that the PFL intends to honor front-office personnel. That’s misleading, as the award is really meant for the “fighter who used his/her platform to make a positive impact in the community, while also demonstrating character and a dedication to excellence in the cage.”

Barroso’s contribution comes in the form of getting youth off the streets and into his gym in Rio Branco, Brazil. Harrison created the Fearless Foundation in support of survivors of child sex abuse. Meanwhile, Michaud contributes to youth organizations in the Native American community.

It’d be nice to see a diverse group of individuals selected for recognition at the awards, but Harrison’s involvement in the Fearless Foundation is probably going to garner her another award. Can’t say she doesn’t deserve this one, though.

Fight of the Year

The Nominees: Ray Cooper III vs. David Michaud, Movlid Khaybulaev vs. Andre Harrison, Natan Schulte vs. Loik Radzhabov

The list of candidates includes a fight that ended in a majority draw and one contest where a fighter hobbled his way to the final bell. Yet, none of these fights are stretches for this honor. The lightweight showdown between Schulte and Radzhabov would be a stronger contender had it not been for Radzhabov coming up gimpy. The draw between Khaybulaev and Harrison shows the extremely competitive nature of the contest, but a close fight isn’t always the best fight. Honestly, though, any of these are fine picks for this award.

Holy S#!+ Moment of the Year

The Nominees: John Howard hands Ray Cooper III his first knockout loss, Ali Isaev scores last-second finish of Denis Goltsov, Movlid Khaybulaev’s flying knee against Damon Jackson

This is another good batch of candidates. While Howard’s finish of Cooper was a surprise, the other nominees have more of a “holy shit” quality to them. As much fun as Khaybulaev’s flying knee may have been, is there really any way to top a literal last-second finish of a top seed in a semifinal bout of a $1 million playoff bracket? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Most Improved Fighter

The Nominees: Natan Schulte, Emiliano Sordi, Rashid Yusupov

Schulte won the 2018 season in his weight class. He was more convincing in 2019, but is that really enough to be considered the most improved of the bunch?

Yusupov exited the 2018 campaign early with a broken jaw, but his 2019 success is more worthy of consideration if the category was “Comeback Fighter of the Year.”

That leaves Sordi, who went from a ho-hum 2018 in which he only went 1-1 with the PFL to a 2019 run in which he won all five fights via stoppage. This should be a clear pick for anyone who votes without bias.

Toughest Fighter/Playoff MVP

The Nominees: Ali Isaev, David Michaud, Loik Radzhabov

This is another misleading award name. It’s not about the best performing fighter of the postseason, but rather the one who “showed the most grit and determination.” Um, OK. Maybe drop the “MVP” implication then?

This is another category with a set of deserving fighters, and Isaev’s last-second win and Radzhabov’s attempt to tough it out through an injury are reason enough to honor them. Something has to be said for Michaud’s dark-horse run, though. He was unexpectedly tough throughout the playoffs. His is the true underdog story of this trio.

On Notice

The Nominees: Nikolay Aleksakhin, Denis Goltsov, Brendan Loughnane

Why is a top seed from the 2019 playoffs in this group of nominees? It feels like this award should go to either a showcased non-tournament fighter or someone who fell out of competition early in the year due to injury after posting an impressive initial showing. Loughnane and Aleksakhin are the more logical candidates.

The PFL seemed to tout Loughnane more in 2019, but the British fighter turned in decision wins against relatively unknown opponents. He’s a UFC veteran, but he’s yet to look like a really dominant star. Aleksakhin has taken some losses in his career as well, but his knockout of Jesse Ronson was a much more emphatic win that should put the PFL’s welterweights on notice. Given the Russian this prize.