Kayla Harrison has her second straight million-dollar year.
The two-time Olympic judo champion steamrolled through Taylor Guardado to win PFL’s 2021 women’s lightweight tournament on Wednesday at the promotion’s season finale at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The performance gave Harrison her second consecutive PFL tournament title and her second $1 million grand prize.
Just as she’s been throughout her MMA career, Harrison (12-0) was a dominant and overwhelming force against Guardado (3-2). She controlled the opening frame with a pair of takedowns and devastating ground-and-pound from top position, then replicated the feat in Round 2, scoring an effortless takedown along the fence before moving into full mount. Guardado defended as best as she could, but the action was one-way traffic as Harrison waited for her moment then whirled into the fight-ending armbar submission.
Guardado had no choice but to tap at 4:00 of Round 3.
With the win, Harrison instantly becomes one of the most intriguing MMA free agents in recent memory, as Wednesday marked the final fight of her PFL contract.
“I just feel way more grateful [than last season],” Harrison said. “A lot more gratitude. I realized that nothing in this world is given. You have to earn it all. And I’m very blessed and very lucky that I work hard every day.”
Harrison’s victory headlined a night of champions that saw six total tournament winners crowned — and six more $1 million checks handed out.
In the night’s co-main event — a battle between PFL’s Season 1 and Season 2 welterweight winners — Ray Cooper III (24-7-1) didn’t waste his chance at revenge. Faced with a second shot at the man who beat him in PFL’s 2018 season final, the 28-year-old summoned the strength to pull off a hellacious third-round comeback and capture his second straight tournament title with a one-punch knockout of Magomed Magomedkerimov (29-6).
Magomedkerimov and Cooper traded momentums to start the bout, with the Russian winning Round 1 on the strength of a takedown and top control, and Cooper returning the favor in Round 2. But Round 3 was really where the action heated up, as Magomedkerimov caught Cooper with a stiff one-two then swarmed with punches and knees in the clinch that put the Hawaiian on wobbly legs.
Sensing the end may be near, Magomedkerimov continued picking away with long punches — only to be met by a right hand from hell by Cooper.
The official time of the stoppage was 3:02 of the third round.
Cooper is now not only a two-time tournament champion, he’s also the only fighter to make three consecutive PFL finals. And he did so on the final fight of his PFL contract, according to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani.
“I know I’m the best,” Cooper said. “I’ll take out the UFC champion, the Bellator champion. We should go out and unify the belts. Put me against anybody, I’ll take them all out.”
The heavyweights may have been a rematch of a fight Bruno Cappelozza (14-5) won in 46 seconds in March, but Wednesday’s finale was anything but easy. In a roller-coaster affair, Cappelozza and Ante Delija (19-5) combined for 12 minutes of absolute hell before losing steam and settling into a slog for the match’s second half.
In the end, Cappelozza again defeated Delija, this time via unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 48-46).
The first two rounds were some of the wildest heavyweight action the sport has seen all year, as Cappelozza stormed out of the gates, dropped Delija with a hard punch, then pummeled him with shots from full mount in an effort to notch another first-round stoppage. Cappelozza out-struck Delija by a ridiculous margin of 88-5 in the opening frame, yet Delija miraculously survived the onslaught and reversed the momentum in Round 2 by downing Cappelozza with a flurry and nearly finishing him with a slew of hard ground-and-pound. Unbelievably, Cappelozza managed to keep his wits about him long enough to reverse the position and end the stanza locked onto Delija’s back with both hooks in.
The heavyweights again answered the call in Round 3 with another explosion of ferocious punching exchanges in the round’s opening sequences, however that last-ditch dump of offense emptied out any remaining gas left in their tanks, as the final half of the fight featured mostly cage clinching and stalled action from the two exhausted warriors.
“I sacrificed a lot, I put my whole heart into this,” an emotional and battered Cappelozza said through tears and a translator. “And we’re world champions.”
Khaybulaev controlled nearly every second of the fight with his takedowns and back-takes, as he essentially set up base camp on Wade’s back in multiple rounds and spent long swathes of the action hunting for rear-naked chokes. Wade defended Khaybulaev’s many submission attempts valiantly, but the game plan proved to be a cheat code that the American was unable to stop, as Khaybulaev swept the takedown battle by a lopsided margin of 9-0 and all three judges scored the contest 50-45 in Khaybulaev’s favor.
Afterward, the 31-year-old tournament winner credited Khabib Nurmagomedov and the former UFC champion’s deceased father, Abdulmanap, for his victorious PFL run.
“I’m fighting not for the money, I’m fighting for the legacy,” Khaybulaev said through a translator. “Losing was not an option. That’s the only outcome possible. The trainer, the coach — Abdulmanap — is not with us, but he’s proud. He sees us. The only way is to become the champion, to be the best, and we carry his legacy.”
Antonio Carlos Junior (13-5) completed a turnaround to remember. After starting 2021 on a down note by getting his UFC walking papers following three straight losses, “Shoeface” ended the year ready to deposit a $1 million check into his bank account following his first-round submission win over Marthin Hamlet (8-3) in PFL’s light heavyweight finals.
The former UFC middleweight wasted little time on Wednesday as he slickly took Hamlet’s back during an early grappling exchange, locked in a standing body triangle, then slithered in the fight-ending rear-naked choke at the 3:49 mark of the opening round to finish off a PFL run that saw the Brazilian get past Tom Lawlor, Vinny Magalhaes, Emiliano Sordi, and Hamlet in succession, even though the Magalhães fight ended in a no contest.
“This is my best position actually. I love to be on the back control,” Carlos Junior said. “Once I’m there, it’s pretty hard to escape, so I just waited for the right moment.”
In the opening bout of the championship slate, lightweight Raush Manfio (15-3) capped off his season of upsets with one final gem as he bested two-time finalist and No. 1-seeded Loik Radzhabov (15-4-1) in a back-and-forth war of attrition to capture a $1 million grand prize.
A training partner of two-time PFL lightweight champion Natan Schulte, Manfio began his fairy tale run in 2021 as a tournament alternate, then scored underdog wins over Joilton Lutterbach, Anthony Pettis, and Clay Collard to punch his ticket into the finals. Against Radzhabov, he left every ounce of effort possible inside the cage, battering his Tajikistan foe’s lead leg with an endless procession of low kicks, marching forward with non-stop pressure, and narrowly out-landing Radzhabov by a margin of 112-106 in total strikes.
Radzhabov’s lead leg appeared compromised by the end of the second round, but Round 4 was Manfio’s best round as he walked Radzhabov down and smashed him with repeated knees from the clinch. Radzhabov landed two takedowns of his own in the fight, and tried to answer back with as much offense as he could, but ultimately all three judges saw the contest for Manfio (48-46, 48-46, 49-46), giving ATT its third PFL lightweight tourney title.
“Man, this is a dream come true,” Manfio said as he and Schulte celebrated together inside the cage. “Hey Natan, now I have a belt like you, my brother.”
Complete PFL World Championship 2021 results can be seen below.
- Kayla Harrison def. Taylor Guardado via submission (armbar) at 4:00 of Round 2
- Ray Cooper III def. Magomed Magomedkerimov via KO (punch) at 3:02 of Round 3 to win PFL welterweight tournament
- Abigail Montes def. Claressa Shields via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Bruno Cappelozza def. Ante Delija via unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 48-46) to win PFL heavyweight tournament
- Movlid Khaybulaev def. Chris Wade via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) to win PFL featherweight tournament
- Antonio Carlos Junior def. Marthin Hamlet via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:49 of Round 1 to win PFL light heavyweight tournament
- Raush Manfio def. Loik Radzhabov via unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 49-46) to win PFL lightweight tournament
- Jordan Young def. Omari Akhmedov via TKO (punches) at 1:32 of Round 3
- Julia Budd def. Kaitlin Young via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Don Madge def. Nathan Williams via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:15 of Round 2