The Professional Fighters League closes out its 2022 season this Friday, Nov. 25, with six title fights that each have a million dollars on the line for the victors. Headlining the event is reigning women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison who looks to defeat Larissa Pacheco for the third time in as many meetings. Harrison has been practically unstoppable in mixed martial arts, amassing a 15-0 record, complete with six submissions, six knockouts, and three decisions. Two of those decision victories came previously against Pacheco, who hopes the third time will be the charm, and that she can upset Harrison to stop the two-time Olympic gold-medal-winning judoka from notching a third seasonal championship inside the PFL.
The co-main event is the men’s featherweight championship as Brendan Loughnane clashes with Bubba Jenkins. Neither man tasted defeat in the 2022 Regular Season or Playoffs, and each fighter will be looking to claim what has eluded them so far in their careers – a championship with a major MMA promotion.
Also on the card, outside of the six title showdowns, is a women’s featherweight contest between Aspen Ladd and Julia Budd. Ladd is making her first appearance inside the PFL after a string of weight-cutting issues lead to her departure from the UFC. Budd is a former Bellator champion, who has, thus far, gone 1-1 with the PFL. She is looking to make an impression heading into next season by spoiling Ladd’s debut.
The early card airs live on ESPN+ starting at 3 p.m. ET, followed by the main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 6 p.m. ET.
Kayla Harrison won the first two meetings with Larissa Pacheco by clear-cut unanimous decisions; is there any reason the third fight will be different?
No. Larissa Pacheco is a very durable fighter, and she hasn’t been stopped since her two-fight run with the UFC back in 2014 and 2015. Having fought Harrison twice, she knows how to game-plan for the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Pacheco will be aware of some of Harrison’s tricks and, therefore, will be able to avoid getting finished quickly like so many other Harrison opponents. But, aside from being solid defensively, Pacheco will have limited offensive success.
If Pacheco gets aggressive, she will have to put herself out of position – at least momentarily – and that is all that Harrison will need to capitalize. The champ will get the fight into her world on the canvas, where she will immediately hunt for a finish.
Expect Pacheco to come into this fight certainly trying to win, but, ultimately, more concerned with not letting Harrison rip off one of her arms and take that home to sit on her mantle. That means that this fight is probably going to be a little anticlimactic as far as title fights are concerned. For the third time in as many meetings, this will be a lopsided affair with no doubt that Harrison is, far and away, the best female lightweight on the planet. Fans will be clamoring even more for a showdown between Harrison and current Bellator champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino, as she might be the only woman big enough and talented enough to challenge Harrison.
Both Brendan Loughnane and Bubba Jenkins made it to the Championship without a blemish in 2022; who keeps the perfect record intact and claims the million dollar prize?
No fighter has a bigger chip on his shoulder than Brendan Loughnane. He still carries the criticism Dana White gave him after his Contender Series performance, and it has been a great motivator. Since White refused to offer Loughnane a contract, because he went for a takedown late in his fight against Bill Algeo, the English fighter has gone 7-1 with the lone loss coming via split decision against Movlid Khaibulaev. That was a fight where you could make a case that Loughnane deserved the win.
Bubba Jenkins is no punk, he has really turned up his talent level in the last couple years, improving each time he steps into the cage. It is not controversial to say that the current version of Jenkins would absolutely wreck the version of himself when he was the featherweight champion in BRAVE CF. This could be the best fight of the night, as it should be a highly competitive bout between two fighters with incredible gas tanks who are probably going to engage in a war of attrition. Of all my picks, this is one I am the least confident in making, but I expect Loughnane to outwork Jenkins late to win the fifth round and take a decision victory after a grueling back-and-forth contest.
The only non-title fight on the main card is Aspen Ladd’s PFL debut against Julia Budd; how does Ladd fare at featherweight under a new promotional banner?
Aspen Ladd really needs to show up big here, in order to salvage her reputation and future as an elite mixed martial artist. Three times under the UFC banner, Ladd had fights canceled because of weight-cut issues. That is what led to her release, and now up at featherweight, she has a chance to prove that 145 pounds is her proper home. Her first bout in the PFL is no picnic.
Former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd is a grinder and has been in the cage against the best female mixed martial artists on the planet. Three of her four losses came against Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes, and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. They are all women’s MMA royalty. The only other woman to beat her is Genah Fabian, and that fight was up at lightweight where Fabian still missed weight by almost five pounds. Expect Budd to put a pace on Ladd that she can’t handle over 15 minutes. The first round will be close, but the second and third will be more and more dominant for Budd, as she earns a wide decision victory and sends Ladd back to the drawing board once again.
Which other championship bout, that might be flying under the radar, has a chance to steal the show?
The men’s lightweight fight between Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Stevie Ray. Both of these fighters had mixed results under the UFC banner, and the move to the PFL has done them both good. Aubin-Mercier is thriving, with a 5-0 record since making the switch. Those wins include two unanimous-decision victories over fellow UFC vets Darrell Horcher and Marcin Held, as well as a pair of victories over teammates and former PFL champions Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio. Ray has claimed back-to-back victories over former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in his run towards the Championship. This one should have a bit of everything in it, from precision striking to powerful wrestling and some slick grappling.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s LW Championship: Kayla Harrison vs. Larissa Pacheco
FW: Brendan Loughnane vs. Bubba Jenkins
HW Championship: Ante Delija vs. Matheus Scheffel
Women’s FW: Aspen Ladd vs. Julia Budd
LW Championship: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Stevie Ray
WW Championship: Sadibou Sy vs. Dilano Taylor
LHW Championship: Robert Wilkinson vs. Omari Akhmedov
Early Card (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
BW: Sheymon Moraes vs. Marlon Moraes
LW: Natan Schulte vs. Jeremy Stephens
WW: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Gleison Tibau
Women’s FlW: Dakota Ditcheva vs. Katherine Corogenes
LW: Biaggio Ali Walsh vs. Tom Graesser
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