Defending champs Kayla Harrison, Ray Cooper III aiming for another $1 million


Six championship fights. Six life-changing $1 million paydays.

The PFL closes out its 2021 season Wednesday evening on the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel Casino in Hollywood, Florida (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2/ESPN+), with the PFL World Championships internet hosting the high-stakes finals in a half-dozen weight lessons and a handful of different showcase fights. Each winner earns pockets the champion’s prize and a gold PFL championship belt.

The night’s headliner is aware of a factor or two about gold. Kayla Harrison received gold medals in judo at each the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. She additionally captured the PFL ladies’s light-weight title in 2019, the promotion’s most up-to-date season. When she faces Taylor Guardado on the ultimate step of her pursuit of a second straight championship, Harrison will likely be a large favourite — 16-1 at Caesars Sportsbook, and as excessive as 30-1 elsewhere.

The ladies’s light-weight division is the star of this present in a number of methods. Aside from Harrison’s presumed coronation, two different bouts at 155 kilos characteristic champions from throughout the fight sports activities spectrum.

Making her PFL debut will likely be newly signed Julia Budd. The 38-year-old, from Canada, is the previous Bellator featherweight champ, and faces Kaitlin Young in her PFL debut. She’s misplaced simply 3 times in her profession — to Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg — so let’s simply say Budd is undefeated apart from in opposition to the Mount Rushmore of girls’s MMA.

Claressa Shields has a glittery pedigree, albeit in boxing, the place she is an undefeated boxing champion, the primary boxer to grow to be an undisputed world champion in two divisions within the four-belt period, and at the moment No. 2 within the ESPN ladies’s pound-for-pound rankings.

Like Harrison, Shields received gold on the 2012 Olympics. She made her MMA debut in June, weathering early hassle earlier than scoring a third-round TKO over Brittney Elkin. Now Shields is again, dealing with Abigail Montes.

Will Budd and Shields add a better stage of competitors for Harrison subsequent season? Will Harrison, whose PFL contract expires after Wednesday’s remaining, even nonetheless be right here? Those are questions for another day. For now, these six championship fights are what’s most vital.



Kayla Harrison speaks about her pending free company after the 2021 PFL World Championships.

Women’s light-weight: Kayla Harrison (11-0) vs. Taylor Guardado (3-1)

How Harrison obtained right here: beat Mariana Morais by TKO1; beat Cindy Dandois by Sub1; beat Genah Fabian by TKO1.

How Guardado obtained right here: beat Olena Kolesnyk by UD; beat Laura Sanchez by UD; beat Mariana Morais by SD.

What to count on: Guardado is an actual fighter with a ability set stronger than the meager numbers beside her identify, however she is about to step in with probably the most dominant pressure within the sport. Sure, that designation is partially because of the comparatively shallow expertise pool in Harrison’s weight class. But one can not help however discover that with each combat, the defending champ will get higher, rounding out her sport past her apparent grappling benefit. Still, Guardado should do all she will to maintain this one standing if she hopes to maintain it aggressive.

Welterweight: Ray Cooper III (23-7-1) vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov (29-5)

How Magomedkerimov obtained right here: beat Curtis Millender by Sub1; beat Sadibou Sy by UD.

How Cooper obtained right here: beat Jason Ponet by Sub1; beat Nikolai Alksakhin by UD; beat Rory MacDonald by UD.

What to count on: Cooper must be on the very top of confidence proper now, coming off a domineering victory over MacDonald, the prized signee introduced in so as to add star energy to a division that Cooper, the 2019 champion, considers his personal. Now he faces another top-of-the-mountain claimant. Magomedkerimov defeated Cooper in the 2018 final and was derailed by harm the following yr whereas headed towards a rematch — a flip of occasions that denied the Hawaiian the redemption he’d hoped would accompany the title belt.

When I spoke with Cooper before this season, he talked about Magomedkerimov. When I spoke with Cooper right before the MacDonald fight, he talked about Magomedkerimov. He obtained the ultimate matchup he needed. Now can Cooper preserve the endurance that he acknowledges he didn’t display the primary time these two fought?



Movlid Khaybulaev all however secures his spot within the PFL featherweight championship with an enormous takedown in Round 3 vs. Brendan Loughnane.

Featherweight: Movlid Khaybulaev (18-0-1) vs. Chris Wade (20-6)

How Khaybulaev obtained right here: beat Lazar Stojadinovic by UD; beat Lance Palmer by UD; beat Brendan Loughnane by SD.

How Wade obtained right here: beat Anthony Dizy by UD; beat Arman Ospanov by TKO2; beat Bubba Jenkins by UD.

What to count on: This division goes to have a brand new champion who would be the 145-pound roster’s goal for all of 2022. Wade lived as much as his swaggering confidence in August by outwrestling Jenkins, a former NCAA Division 1 nationwide champion, however now he faces an opponent who’s extra well-rounded. Khaybulaev is explosive on his ft, and that units up his takedowns. He’s an issue in all places a combat might go.



Bruno Cappelozza overwhelms Ante Delija with a flurry of punches early in Round 1 for the convincing win.

Heavyweight: Ante Delija (13-5) vs. Bruno Cappelozza (19-4)

How Delija obtained right here: misplaced to Cappeloza by TKO1; beat Chandler Cole by TKO1; beat Denis Goltsov by UD.

How Cappelozza obtained right here: beat Delija by TKO1; beat Muhammed DeReese by TKO1; beat Jamelle Jones by TKO2.

What to count on: All three of Cappelozza’s fights thus far in 2021 have resulted in knockouts — together with his season opener in opposition to Delija, which lasted all of 46 seconds. The huge Brazilian is quick and explosive. But after getting a style of that energy, Delija did a very good job of shutting down a harmful striker in his semifinal in opposition to Goltsov. He is aware of that the important thing for him is managing hanging vary — both by working from distance or crowding Cappelozza with clinches. Can Delija do what he is aware of he should do?

Light heavyweight: Antonio Carlos Junior (12-5) vs. Marthin Hamlet (8-2)

How Carlos Junior obtained right here: beat Tom Lawlor by Sub1; fought to a no contest with Vinny Magalhaes (unintended groin stroke, Round 1); beat Emiliano Sordi by UD.

How Hamlet obtained right here: beat Dan Spohn by Sub2; misplaced to Cory Hendricks by Sub3; beat Cezar Ferreira by TKO1 (harm).

What to count on: Carlos Junior is a multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion, however will he even have a chance to indicate off his elite grappling? Hamlet’s power is as a wrestler, and high-level wrestlers usually management the place a combat is fought. They defuse harmful strikers by smothering them on the canvas, they usually preserve grappling whizzes on their ft, the place their submission video games are nullified. Carlos Junior does have energy in his arms, and he in all probability goes to should depend on it.

Lightweight: Loik Radzhabov (15-3-1) vs. Raush Manfio (14-3)

How Radzhabov obtained right here: misplaced to Alex Martinez by SD; beat Akhmed Aliev by TKO1; beat Martinez by UD.

How Manfio obtained right here: beat Joilton Lutterbach by SD; beat Anthony Pettis by SD; beat Clay Collard by UD.

What to count on: This is a matchup of beatable fighters who had a number of shut fights on their option to the championship, which might convey a few stirring back-and-forth. Manfio is skating on particularly skinny ice. He obtained to this remaining on the power of two break up choices adopted by a semifinal victory that, whereas unanimous on the judges’ scorecards, was a little bit of a head-scratcher. How did Collard not get his hand raised again in August?

As for Radzhabov, he was on the improper finish of a break up resolution to open the season, and his semifinal win had some treacherous moments. Who would be the final man standing?

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