Brett OkamotoESPN staff writer3 minutes to read
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A potential superfight between two-time PFL champion Kayla Harrison and Bellator MMA champion Cris Cyborg has excited fans for years. However, for the first time, there is nothing standing in the way of this happening.
Harrison (16-1) certainly knows that much and invited Cyborg to meet her in the NFL in 2024 on Friday after she dominated Aspen Ladd to a three-round decision in her 2023 debut.
Earlier this week, the MMA announced it had acquired Bellator MMA from Paramount, meaning both Harrison and Cyborg are under contract to the same company for the first time in their careers. Harrison immediately pointed to a fight with Cyborg after Friday night’s win.
“The PFL just acquired Bellator,” Harrison said. “I heard there’s a girl in Bellator who thinks she’s a bad—-. Why don’t we find out?”
Cyborg (27-2), who is scheduled to box professionally in January, responded to X.
“I’m a woman (sic). Not a girl,” she wrote. “Women don’t refer to themselves as b—-. You’re basic.”
A showdown between Harrison and Cyborg will arguably be the most interesting fight in women’s MMA right now. Harrison, a two-time gold medalist in judo, suffered her first defeat at the end of 2022 to Larissa Pacheco, but has remained dominant since moving to the sport in 2018. Cyborg, 38, is one of the most decorated female athletes in the sport of martial arts Mixed for women. date. She was knocked out in the first round of her Bellator title defense against Cat Zingano in October.
The PFL said it intends to continue operating Bellator as a separate league, but is also planning a PFL champion versus Bellator champion event in early 2024, possibly in February. This theme was carried throughout the evening at the 2023 PFL Championship Finals on Friday, at The Anthem venue, where the company took on several champions live after their matches.
In addition to beefing up the champion versus champion bouts, the PFL crowned its first two-weight champion Pacheco (22-5), who won her second PFL Championship with a unanimous decision over Marina Makhnatkina (11-4). Pacheco won the 155-pound lightweight title by defeating Harrison in 2022, and added the 145-pound featherweight belt on Friday. She is also a candidate to eventually face Cyborg, although the PGA has long favored a high-profile bout against Harrison.
In the lightweight division, Olivier Aubin-Mercier (21-5) completed his title run despite a valiant effort from Clay Collard (24-11). Aubin Mercier defeated Collard by unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring it 49-46. Aubin Mercier will likely face Bellator champion Usman Nurmagomedov next, but he has publicly considered retirement and has said he will at least take a break to spend time with his family.
At heavyweight, Renan Ferreira (12-3) pulled off a stunning upset against Denis Goltsov (32-8), knocking out the Russian veteran with a pair of right hands just 26 seconds into the second round. The end came after Ferreira spent most of the opening frame on his back, eating ground and pound and defending submission attempts from Goltsov. Ferreira could face Bellator champion Ryan Bader next, although former UFC champion Francis Ngannou is also in the opponent mix.
Russian welterweight Magomed Magomedkerimov (34-6) won his second PFL championship with a guillotine finish against 2022 champion Sadibou Sy (16-6-2) at 1:17 of the third round. This was Magomedkerimov’s second career win over Sy. He might have been a three-time NBL champion had visa issues not interrupted his campaign for 2022. He will face newly crowned Bellator champion Jason Jackson, who won the belt by defeating previously undefeated Yaroslav Amosov.
Light heavyweight Emba Kasanganaye (15-3) had one of the best performances of his career in a dominant five-round decision over Josh Silveira (12-2). Kasanagay entered as the betting favorite, but he made it look much easier than expected. He consistently beat Silveira to the punch over the course of 25 minutes and continued to call out Bellator champion Vadim Nemkov and Ngannou.
Peruvian featherweight Jesus Pinedo (23-6-1) capped an amazing 2023 campaign with a third-round victory over Gabriel Braga (12-1). The bout ended in controversy, when referee Fernando Yamasaki called a TKO stoppage while Braga covered strikes along the cage. Although Braga was clearly hurt with a left hook and a flying knee, it didn’t look like it was over. However, it was a great performance for Pinedo, who has also beaten Bubba Jenkins and Brendan Loughnane this year. He will face one of the most dominant champions in Bellator history, featherweight king Patricio Pitbull.
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