Kayla Harrison can be biggest women’s MMA star since Ronda Rousey, more thoughts from the PFL championship


Kayla Harrison can be biggest women’s star in MMA since Ronda Rousey

Harrison, the charismatic, trash-talking, one-woman wrecking crew, who coincidentally occurs to be Rousey’s former teammate with USA Judo, gained her second $1 million PFL championship Wednesday night time, beating Taylor Guardado by way of armbar submission 4 minutes into Round 2.

With the victory, the undefeated Harrison accomplished her contract with PFL and he or she’ll seemingly have a number of suitors, together with the UFC and Bellator. The PFL will do its darndest to deliver her again, too. Harrison will be the biggest MMA free agent in a while and command high greenback for her providers in 2022 and past.

Harrison informed me she’s looking for seven figures per struggle. With the proper promotion, she has an opportunity to change into an enormous star, doubtlessly crossing over into the mainstream. Harrison will not even want a lot assist — she does a ton herself, from ending fights to being a lightning rod (not in contrast to Rousey) each time she picks up a microphone.

It’s a excessive bar to clear, in fact. Rousey had one in all the most unimaginable runs in blended martial arts historical past, and never simply along with her string of first-round finishes, title defenses and her means to drag an armbar submission out of nowhere.

From 2013 to 2016, Rousey headlined six UFC pay-per-view playing cards, all of which bought a minimum of pretty effectively. Rousey was a dominant UFC women’s bantamweight champion, however she was additionally, at a time earlier than the rise of Conor McGregor, one in all the most bankable PPV stars in UFC historical past.

Rousey has not fought since a knockout loss to Amanda Nunes in December 2016. In the almost 5 years since Rousey has been gone, there have been solely seven UFC pay-per-view reveals headlined by girls. Two of these featured Cris Cyborg, who’s now not with the UFC and presently plies her commerce with Bellator.

All of that is to say that the UFC has not had an enormous attract its women’s divisions since Rousey’s departure.

Nunes, who holds the UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight titles, would be the closest factor the promotion has to a feminine pay-per-view draw. She has headlined 5 UFC pay-per-view playing cards, however one was in opposition to Rousey and the different was UFC 200, which was mired by Jon Jones being pulled from the card throughout struggle week as a result of a failed drug take a look at.

Harrison vs. Nunes would be one in all the biggest women’s fights in MMA historical past, although they’re pals and coaching companions at American Top Team in Florida. If Harrison goes the Bellator route, the Cyborg struggle would be an enormous one — a pay-per-view primary occasion caliber battle. And if she stays with PFL, Harrison will proceed to be featured as the face of the promotion. Perhaps the PFL might even co-promote with Bellator to make that Harrison vs. Cyborg struggle.

Who is aware of? But in any case, Harrison has an opportunity to ascend to rarefied air amongst girls in MMA, if given the proper alternative. There are points along with her weight class — Harrison has no competitors at 155 kilos, and a restricted pool of expertise at 145 — however, as the saying goes, when you construct it, they’ll come. And Harrison is somebody price constructing round. — Marc Raimondi

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Abigail Montes picks up her third skilled MMA win vs. boxing nice Claressa Shields at the PFL championship.

Claressa Shields has work to do in MMA

Claressa Shields is one in all the finest women’s boxers on the planet. In the cage, she stays a piece in progress.

Her split-decision loss to Abigail Montes on Wednesday was her first defeat of any type since an beginner boxing struggle in 2012. Setback apart, Shields confirmed enchancment in simply her second MMA struggle, particularly when it got here to her takedown protection.

Unlike boxing, the place a loss typically proves to be a considerable profession blow, defeats are sometimes considered far otherwise in the MMA world. All alongside, Shields’ staff, which incorporates supervisor Mark Taffet and boxing promoter Dmitry Salita, knew the PFL experiment was a long-term play.

That plan requires Shields to compete in showcase fights over the first two years of her three-year cope with PFL earlier than transferring up into the common season competitors in 2023.

“Right now, we’re in the laboratory,” Taffet mentioned. “We just do it live on TV.”

When Shields returns to the boxing ring on Dec. 11, she’ll be a significant favourite to retain her unified middleweight championship. After that, it is again to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to work on her MMA sport, and he or she is aware of there is a lengthy option to go.

“I think I won the first two rounds … and then the last round she got the ground-and-pound; I’m OK with that,” Shields informed ESPN. “It doesn’t detour the gameplan.”

In a means, Shields has already succeed at MMA by making an attempt one thing outdoors her consolation zone and discovering even a sliver of success. But to really cross over and dominate in a second sport, she’ll have to overhaul her floor sport and keep away from the sort of efficiency that performed out in the third spherical of Wednesday’s struggle.

She has two or three more fights to work on it, and loads of time in the fitness center to fine-tune her sport earlier than the MMA bouts really matter. — Mike Coppinger

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Ray Cooper III wins his second PFL title with a great thing about a knockout vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov.

Ray Cooper III has finished the whole lot he can in the PFL — it is time to take a shot in the UFC

No fighter has constructed his or her identify in the PFL’s 4 years of existence more than Ray Cooper III. The Hawaii native has been Mr. PFL for the previous couple of years, compiling an 11-2 (1 NC) document in the promotion with 9 finishes. On Wednesday, he gained his second straight $1 million PFL welterweight championship. He avenged his father’s loss to Jake Shields by beating Shields twice in 2018, solely to fall simply wanting a PFL title with a loss in the remaining to Magomed Magomedkerimov.

In 2019, Cooper gained the PFL welterweight title, and he repeated the feat Wednesday — as soon as once more righting a incorrect, in opposition to Magomedkerimov, the man who beat him for the $1 million in 2018. He additionally beat Rory MacDonald on the option to the 2021 title.

Cooper has come full circle in PFL, and easily finished the whole lot there may be to do in the promotion. He is a free agent now, and it is time he tries his hand in the UFC. Cooper remains to be simply 28 years previous, in his athletic prime. It’s unclear if “Bradda Boy” will change into a champion in the UFC or perhaps a high contender, ought to he go. But the issues you recognize you are getting with Cooper are simply transferrable: motion fights, a never-say-die perspective, sturdiness and people grenades in his fists.

Cooper picked up more than $2 million in prize cash since 2019 with PFL. The time is true for Cooper to see what he can do in the biggest MMA promotion in the world.

“I know I’m the best,” Cooper mentioned after Wednesday’s victory. “I’d take on the UFC champion, the Bellator champion. We can unify the belts. I’ll take on anybody, just bring them on.” — Raimondi

Julia Budd wants to indicate more to even threaten Kayla Harrison

The storyline preceded Julia Budd’s arrival. The former Bellator featherweight champion’s PFL debut in a showcase bout early in the night was constructed up as a preview of what may quickly boost the PFL’s women’s light-weight division. That is the area of Kayla Harrison, who has mowed down all competitors in successful the championship in 2019 and 2021. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo is unbeaten in MMA. She seems to be unbeatable in the PFL. Budd was introduced on to maybe problem that.

Before attending to Budd, although, let’s not ignore that the PFL signed an excellent greater identify in the fight sports activities world so as to add luster to its 155-pound division. The unbeaten boxing nice Claressa Shields, a two-division undisputed world champion, competed in her second MMA struggle in a while the undercard. She misplaced. Shields confirmed some enchancment in her defensive wrestling, and he or she principally responded effectively to her coaches, however she has a protracted option to go. Let’s see how Shields responds to her first defeat in fight sports activities.

As for Budd, she confirmed up in her new MMA house and managed virtually each second of her struggle in opposition to Kaitlin Young. But she’s going to must do more than that to halt Harrison, assuming the two-time champ, now a free agent, remains to be round for the 2022 season. Budd was measured in her strategy, exhibiting no recklessness however nonetheless absorbing more strikes than she ought to have, particularly early on. And when Budd acquired the struggle to the canvas, she did not unload with ground-and-pound or relentlessly pursue dominant positions. Budd fought steadily, which labored tremendous in opposition to Young. I significantly doubt it might in opposition to Harrison.

I say all of this as the solely ESPN voter to place Budd in his women’s pound-for-pound high 10. Harrison acquired votes from two of my colleagues and ended up tied for No. 9 in the rankings. Could that pecking order get flip-flopped subsequent yr? Sure it might. Budd has fought girls with higher resumes than Harrison (Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg and Ronda Rousey), whereas Harrison has confronted nobody with Budd’s pedigree (aside from when she rolls with Nunes in the American Top Team fitness center). But Shields retains getting higher. The window of benefiting from her relative inexperience is closing quick.

If Budd will get the matchup for which she got here to the PFL, she would wish to place Harrison on the defensive, and to do this Budd would wish to ramp up the aggression, which is a harmful option to strategy the two-time champ. — Jeff Wagenheim

Wednesday’s most spectacular under-the-radar efficiency

The highlight shined in a number of instructions on this night time, from Kayla Harrison to Claressa Shields to the champion-vs.-champion rematch between Ray Cooper III and Magomed Magomedkerimov. But there have been some shining performances outdoors the highlight, too.

What an evening it was for Brazil, house of three of the six 2021 PFL champions — heavyweight Bruno Cappelozza, mild heavyweight Antonio Carlos Junior and light-weight Raush Manfio.

But the fighter who impressed me the most outdoors of the most distinguished spots on Wednesday’s card was Movlid Khaybulaev. The Dagestani featherweight didn’t placed on the most entertaining efficiency, however his five-round determination over Chris Wade was stunningly dominant.

Why so gorgeous? Wade was coming off a win in the semifinals by which he managed the wrestling in opposition to 2011 NCAA Division 1 champion Bubba Jenkins. Yet he couldn’t do a factor in opposition to Khaybulaev, who took him down eight occasions and managed each spherical on the canvas.

Khaybulaev did not threaten a flashy end like the ones turned in by Harrison, Cooper and Carlos Junior. But he was nonetheless eye-opening. Sometimes the finest efficiency is the one by which you completely shut down what your opponent is finest at. — Wagenheim

With the 2021 championship in the books, what might the PFL seem like in 2022?

PFL made an enormous splash early in the yr by signing high-profile veterans from different promotions: Anthony Pettis, Fabricio Werdum and Rory MacDonald. Pettis is a former UFC light-weight champion and was a large enough identify lower than a decade in the past to have had his picture emblazoned on a Wheaties field. MacDonald is a former Bellator welterweight champion who was a part of a few of the most memorable motion fights in UFC historical past. Werdum is a former UFC heavyweight champion.

The presence of Pettis, Werdum and MacDonald was a sign that PFL wasn’t going to be shy about signing big-name free brokers, and that the promotion had firmly cemented itself as one in all the high ones in all of MMA. Unfortunately, it did not fairly work out as hoped. Pettis and MacDonald went a mixed 1-4 in PFL this yr. Werdum fought simply as soon as, a loss that was overturned to a no contest. Pettis was unable to qualify for the light-weight playoffs. Surely, placing these males on a card raises the worth of any occasion. But it wasn’t inflow of championship-level expertise PFL may need been hoping for.

The excellent news is that fighters like Ray Cooper III and Raush Manfio capitalized on victories over MacDonald and Pettis, respectively, to make an even bigger identify — and a few good cash — for themselves this season. And there may be additional positivity on the horizon. Pettis and MacDonald are each again in PFL for the 2022 season, promotion spokesperson Greg Savage informed ESPN on Wednesday night time. Werdum’s standing is unclear.

But put these names with some new signees, together with Budd, the former Bellator women’s featherweight champion who beat Kaitlin Young on Wednesday, and returning champions, and PFL is more likely to have its most stacked roster but subsequent yr, even when Harrison doesn’t re-sign. — Raimondi



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