Six new millionaires were crowned on New Year’s Eve, including the PFL’s first-ever women’s lightweight champion.
That turned out to be prohibitive favorite Kayla Harrison (7-0), who won a dominant five-round decision over Larissa Pacheco (13-4) in the PFL Championship main event on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
HISTORY MADE! @KaylaH heads into 2020 a millionaire and the 2019 PFL Women’s Lightweight Champion! #PFLChampionship pic.twitter.com/OllX4dELW1— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
It was the second time that Harrison beat Pacheco after winning a decision over her during the PFL regular season and she was even better this time around, completely neutralizing Pacheco and rarely finding herself in danger.
The 25-year-old Brazilian had her moments, searching for submissions from bottom position and occasionally finding a home for her right hand, but overall Harrison was in complete control. Her takedowns came in a variety of ways, via double legs, body locks, and trips, and Pacheco had to focus most of her own grappling efforts on defense to avoid being finished.
Airborn! Courtesy of @KaylaH in round 4. The final round of the decade is coming up on ESPN2. #PFLChampionship pic.twitter.com/35U7g5GqAz— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, gave Pacheco zero room to breathe and built her lead on the scorecards with short punches from top position. After four rounds, Pacheco looked exhausted and demoralized, leaving Harrison five minutes away from winning her first MMA championship and a seven-figure check awarded to all six of the PFL’s season champions.
Afterwards, Harrison exclaimed, “Oh my God, Mike Tyson’s giving me my belt!” as the boxing legend placed Harrison’s championship around her waist.
In the co-main event, the second time proved to be the charm for Ray Cooper III (20-7-1). After falling short in the 2018 PFL finals to Magomed Magomedkerimov, Cooper fought his way back to another shot at a $1,000,000 prize and this time he sealed the deal with a second-round TKO of David Michaud (18-6).
THE HAWAIIAN CHAMPION! Ray Cooper III will return to the island a millionaire and the 2019 PFL Welterweight Champion! #PFLChampionship #AndNew pic.twitter.com/nKaKb9KKHZ— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Michaud was a major threat for as long as this one lasted, landing heavy punches on Cooper that prompted the Hawaiian fighter to go to his wrestling to stifle Michaud’s offense. Both men had success in the clinch, landing knees and punches to the body, with Cooper eventually getting the best of it at the 2:56 mark of round two. Cooper connected with a clean left hook to the liver that dropped Michaud and then followed up with punches on the ground to finish the fight.
It was a tough end for Michaud’s first season with the PFL, which began with him losing in 17 seconds in his debut—again due to a liver shot—and then rattling off three consecutive wins to book his ticket to the New Year’s Eve show.
Cooper had an uneven regular season and and playoffs, but stepped up when it mattered most to finally capture a long-awaited PFL belt.
The heavyweight tournament final between Ali Isaev (9-0) and Jared Rosholt (20-8) was expected to be a battle of wrestlers’ wills, but Isaev turned this one into a rout with his superior takedowns and slams before finishing Rosholt in the fourth round.
With devastating ground-and-pound, Ali Isaev stays undefeated in the 2019 #PFLChampionship season and is a PFL Champion! pic.twitter.com/AufpHiKdoy— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Isaev asserted himself in the grappling from the opening moments of the fight, taking Rosholt to the mat and working him over with a headlock. Though the fight was slow-paced, Isaev provided a jolt of excitement when he scooped Rosholt up and dumped him to the canvas in round two.
The Big Show goes for a ride on NYE! Ali Isaev is looking to stay undefeated in his 2019 #PFLChampionship season. pic.twitter.com/jWHau9cs7G— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
In the third, Isaev started to score with ground-and-pound as Rosholt looked to have no answer for the Russian’s wrestling. Isaev then upped his ground offense in round four to secure the finish at the 4:09 mark and the 2019 PFL heavyweight championship.
Isaev remains undefeated in his pro career, while Rosholt, a 2019 PFL semifinalist, saw a three-fight win streak snapped.
It was back-to-back lightweight championship wins for Natan Schulte (20-3-1) as he won a competitive battle with a game Loik Radzhabov (13-2-1).
THE BRAZILIAN REIGN CONTINUES! @NatanSchulte brings another million dollar performance to NYC and is the back-to-back PFL Lightweight Champion! #PFLChampionship #BackToBack pic.twitter.com/cKSfY1rnN3— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
The seventh seed heading into Tuesday’s finals, Radzhabov stood right in the pocket with the champ in the opening round and utilized volume striking to keep Schulte on his toes. Schulte connected with a straight right that wobbled Radzhabov, then followed with a takedown when Radzhabov recovered. Radzhabov survived Schulte’s dangerous jiu-jitsu to make it to round two.
A key moment in the second frame occurred when Schulte ducked a Radzhabov punch and scored a takedown, only to have Radzhabov scramble out of it and once again push the pace on the feet. However, Schulte stayed patient, targeting Radzhabov’s lead leg with hard kicks, a strategy that paid dividends in the later rounds.
Schulte started landing the cleaner strikes in round three and by round four it was clear that Radzhabov was slowing down, both due to the damage to his leg and the non-stop action through the first 20 minutes of the fight. Even in round five, both men remained active on the feet and on the ground, but it was Schulte who appeared to be the fresher man as he ended the fight in top position.
When the judges’ scorecards were read, it was Schulte who won a unanimous decision (49-44, 49-46, 48-47) to boost his win streak to nine. He has now won consecutive PFL lightweight championships.
Enjoy your 2020 @NatanSchulte aka Mr. Back-to-Back Champ! #PFLChampionship— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Cagenomics presented by @GEICO pic.twitter.com/0BxK3matYP
All Lance Palmer (22-3) had to do to win another PFL prize was beat Alex Gilpin a third time and he completed the task in convincing fashion, using his wrestling to ground Gilpin (14-4) for five rounds and take a unanimous decision (50-43, 50-44, 50-44).
THE PARTY NEVER ENDS! @LancePalmer rings in 2020 with another $1 Million Dollar Belt and is a #Back2Back PFL Champion! #PFLChampionship pic.twitter.com/AwToTJX6b6— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Gilpin—stepping in as a replacement for finalist Daniel Pineda after Pineda failed a drug test—was fighting Palmer for the third time coming off of decision losses to Palmer in the regular season and the PFL featherweight semifinals. Unfortunately for the Texan, he was once again unable to solve Palmer’s relentless wrestling. The majority of the bout took place with Palmer on top position and he pulled away in the third round before cruising to a win by smothering Gilpin for the final 10 minutes. In total, Palmer recorded seven successful takedowns.
With another Million Dollars, @LancePalmer will be partying before the ball drops!— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Cagenomics presented by @GEICO pic.twitter.com/rAYNzSDMAL
With the tournament win, Palmer has now won 11 straight fights and been the last man standing at 145 pounds in the PFL’s first two seasons.
Emiliano Sordi (22-8) became the evening’s first millionaire with a first-round TKO of Jordan Johnson (12-2-1).
Meet one of 2020’s newest millionaires! @emilianosordi with an explosive performance! #PFLChampionship pic.twitter.com/7CKiG81T2v— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
After fending off an early takedown, Sordi found his range and clipped Johnson with a straight right that sent the former UFC fighter scrambling for a takedown. As he held on for a single leg, Johnson was repeatedly struck by hammerfists from Sordi. The Argentinian patiently waited for openings, punching away at the kneeling Johnson who began to turtle up, which prompted the referee to wave off the bout.
This marked five finishes in five fights for Sordi in 2019.
In a 145-pound showcase bout on the pre-show, Brendan Loughnane (19-3) improved to 2-0 in the PFL with a commanding decision win over David Alex Valente (11-5). For three rounds, Loughnane walked Valente down and out-struck him by a ratio of 5-to-1 according to the on-screen stats.
Ending 2019 on a sweet note, @Brendan264 get it done for the . #PFLChampionship— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) January 1, 2020
Cagenomics presented by @GEICO pic.twitter.com/ZlTqP1SNdX
All three judges awarded Loughnane scores of 30-27. The English veteran has won nine of his last 10 fights and is expected to take part in next year’s PFL featherweight season.