There is no stopping Kayla Harrison.
The two-time Olympic gold medal-winning judoka lived up to her billing as the lightweight tournament favorite by dispatching of late-notice replacement Bobbi Jo Dalziel (5-2) in just over three-and-a-half minutes with a first-round armbar submission win.
Harrison (6-0) dominated Dalziel right out of the gate, immediately getting double underhooks and working for a takedown. Harrison moved to side control with plenty of time to work, then mount, raining down big punches from top position. She then went for her signature armbar finish to force the tap from Dalziel, who was stepping in as a replacement after originally scheduled semifinalist Genah Fabian withdrew due to health concerns.
Harrison advances to the PFL women’s lightweight finals where she will rematch Larissa Pacheco. In their first meeting this past May, Harrison defeated Pacheco by unanimous decision.
Pacheco (13-3) picked up one of the biggest upsets of the PFL season in the lightweight semifinals. Facing former Strikeforce and Invicta bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman (21-5, 1 NC), Pacheco took the fight to the veteran early and dominated the first two rounds. When she wasn’t using her superior reach to connect with punches down the middle, Pacheco was taking Kaufman to the mat and doing damage from top position.
By the time round three rolled around, a bloodied Kaufman was forced to crank up the pressure and go for broke, but she was out-muscled by the larger Pacheco and taken down to the mat once more. Though the striking numbers were fairly even, it was evident that Pacheco had consistently landed the harder shots and she ended up winning a unanimous decision to advance to the lightweight finals.
In the welterweight main event, David Michaud (17-5) came out on top of a bloody battle against No. 1 seed Glaico Franca (22-6) to book his spot in the 170-pound tournament finals on New Year’s Eve. After a close first round in which both men stood and traded on the feet, Franca took control in round two with his wrestling, neutralizing Michaud from top position.
Likely tied going into the third, it was Michaud who was able to put the pressure on Franca, ignoring an early low knee to the groin and a high knee to the head that sliced him open, overwhelming Franca with his volume striking. When the final scores were read, one judge declared the bout a 28-28 draw while the other two scored it 29-28 Michaud to give the fighter a majority decision win.
Michaud started his PFL run with a 17-second TKO loss to Sadibou Sy, but has rebounded with three straight wins and now has a chance to win a $1 million prize when he faces Ray Cooper III in the finals. Earlier in the evening, Michaud won a two-round quarter-final bout over John Howard by unanimous decision.
Post-fight, Franca announced on the broadcast that he was retiring from MMA competition and also proposed to his girlfriend.
The other welterweight semifinal saw Cooper (20-7-1) score the 19th finish of his career, a second-round knockout of Chris Curtis. Cooper controlled round one with his wrestling, then blasted Curtis with a right hand at the start of round two to earn his second PFL finals trip in as many seasons.
Curtis’s involvement came under bizarre circumstances, as he lost his quarter-final bout earlier in the night to Magomed Magomedkerimov only to be called in as a replacement to fight Cooper when Magomedkerimov was ruled out of the semifinals with an injury. In between his quarter-final and semifinal bouts, Curtis had actually announced his retirement on Instagram and after losing to Cooper, he once again made it official that he was hanging up the gloves.
In a welterweight showcase bout, Nikolay Aleksakhin (25-5) picked up a big win in his first fight on U.S. soil, finishing Jesse Ronson (20-10) with strikes in the first round. The Russian fighter consistently beat Ronson to the punch from the start, before hurting Ronson with a knee up to the middle that caused Ronson to crumple. Aleksakhin followed with ground-and-pound to secure the stoppage and his seventh consecutive victory.
Also in a showcase bout, this one at featherweight, recent PFL signee Brendan Loughnane (18-3) made a successful league debut with a unanimous decision win over Matt Wagy (13-7). For three rounds, Loughnane showed off the well-rounded game that made him a standout on the international scene and the topic of much controversy when he was not signed to the UFC after competing on the Contender Series earlier this year.
Though Loughnane could not find the finish, he consistently scored with kicks to the leg and body, straight punches, and an impressive slam in the final round. All three judges scored the fight in Loughnane’s favor.
Both Aleksakhin and Loughnane are expected to participate in the 2020 PFL regular season.