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Hot Tweets: What Kayla Harrison losing means for the PFL

PFL 10: Championships
Kayla Harrison
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This was supposed to be a relatively quiet week in the world of MMA. Thanksgiving in the United States meant there was only one major event happening, the PFL Championships, and while that looked like a fine card, the outcomes mostly seemed guaranteed.

Then Larissa Pacheco went and upset Kayla Harrison.

So, let’s talk about the PFL first before hopping into a few other questions from the loyal MMA Fighting fan base.

Kayla Harrison and what comes next

So monumental was Harrison’s loss that we did a post-fight reaction to it, so if you have the time and inclination, make sure to check that out where you can hear my immediate thoughts on the matter. In general though, this is obviously bad for the PFL and for Harrison, but whether it proves catastrophic will only be revealed in time.

First and foremost, congratulations to Pacheco. While I scored the bout a draw (10-8 Harrison in the first), I have no issues with scoring the fight for Pacheco and I think there is no reasonable way to score it for Harrison, which is a heck of an accomplishment given how the first two fights went. Moreover, while Pacheco showed skills and tactics and all the things you’d expect for her to pull off a win like this, the most important part of the fight seemed to simply be her will to win. To become a two-time Olympic gold medalist you have to be a psychopathically competitive human being, and in the fifth round, when it was gut-check time for both women, Pacheco wanted it more. She fought harder, she did more stuff, and even when Harrison got to her spots, Pacheco never stopped working. It was great, and she’s $1 million richer for it.

Now for Harrison, this is obviously less than ideal. Like Cris Cyborg before her, much of Harrison’s mystique centered around her dominance, since she doesn’t compete in a “real” weight class and thus her level of competition is extremely low in comparison. Taking a loss hurts that mystique, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a death knell. Harrison still won consecutive gold medals at the Olympics, something that no one else in MMA can claim, and something less than 500 people in history (I made this stat up, but I bet it’s correct) can say. What matters most for Harrison is what comes next.

This is MMA, losses happens. And in the PFL, with their season format, they are more likely to happen than just about any other organization in the world. So while Harrison losing is unfortunate, if she comes back and finishes Pacheco in their inevitable fourth fight, she rights the ship almost instantly. Think about how Amanda Nunes put the boots to Julianna Peña in their rematch and everyone just sort of went, ‘Yeah, sometimes MMA happens. Nunes is still the GOAT.’ Harrison can do the same, if she can beat Pacheco again. But that is now a much bigger “if” than before.

Fortunately for Harrison, I doubt that this loss affects her bargaining power in any meaningful way. She’s still the PFL’s biggest star, and she’s still one of the bigger names in women’s MMA, so the PFL is still heavily invested in keeping her. They will always pay Harrison more than the other organizations and frankly, the UFC was never going to pony up the dollars for Harrison, regardless of what she accomplished. It’s not their business model anymore. Why pay Harrison $1 million a fight when they can sign someone off the Contender Series to a $10K and $10K contract? ESPN pays them the same lump sum for events, so that’s just burning $980K instead of keeping that revenue.

Unless this kicks off a downward spiral for Harrison’s career (I doubt), the actual biggest result of Harrison losing is that we can all wave goodbye to the Cyborg superfight. That ain’t happening now. Cyborg was already making aggressive demands with regard to a PPV between the two, and now there is no way she backs off wanting 80 percent of the revenue (a ridiculous number given that Cyborg isn’t exactly a PPV draw either), and Harrison won’t (and shouldn’t) accept that. So instead Cyborg will now just claim victory despite having not fought Harrison and this will join the list of bouts that never were, which is a shame, but so it goes.

Jiri Prochazka vacates the light heavyweight title

For the first question, you’re in luck! If you have a hard time ranking a weight class, we’re happy to do it for you, and you can see exactly how the bantamweight’s should be ranked, right here. Now, onto the Jiri stuff.

People saying Jiri vacating because of the absurd amount of USADA testing he has undergone are just trying to draw connections where none exist because people love conspiracy theories. In life, the simplest answer tends to be the correct one, and in this case the simplest answer is that when Jiri was forced out of UFC 282, the promotion was screwed.

282 only had one title fight to carry the weight of promotion and so when Jiri dropped off, they’re left without a main event. Keeping Glover Teixeira in the main event makes the most sense as he was the most recent champion, but Glover was never going to fight for an interim title (why would he?) so they tried to cajole him with the full-blown belt. But Glover wasn’t willing to face Magomed Ankalaev on two weeks notice (reasonable) and the UFC had zero interest in being reasonable in this situation. They have a PPV to sell, so screw it, Glover’s off and out, Jan Blachowicz vs. Ankalaev for the real belt. Jiri will fight the winner sometime next year it sounds like, and Glover is screwed, all because he wasn’t willing to kowtow to the UFC’s transparent attempt to crown Ankalaev. This is the game that MMA fighters play.

Mostly, I’m just bummed about everything though. Jiri vs. Glover was possibly the best MMA fight ever and the chance of getting another one of those was awesome. Instead, Jiri, one of the most exciting fighters in the world, is now going to be out for an extended period of time and will have major shoulder surgery. There’s no telling when he’ll be back or what he’ll look like when he does return (shoulder’s are tricky, just ask T.J. Dillashaw), and that’s a huge bummer.

Bellator heavyweight and light heavyweight title fights

Vadim Nemkov vs. Yoel Romero makes sense for the promotion and is a reasonable booking. Nemkov likely wins because he’s really damn good and actually does stuff, while Romero is really damn good but often doesn’t do stuff. Simple and clean.

As for Ryan Bader vs. Fedor Emelianenko 2, it’s my least favorite fight booking in recent memory, and that’s saying something.

This booking is the exact, textbook definition of bad promotional process. Who benefits from it?! I have absolutely zero belief that Fedor draws big eyeballs in 2023, and Bader has never drawn them. Bader is 39, about to be 40, and Fedor is 46 going on 107. Neither of these men are the face or the future of the promotion, so why in the name of Chester Cheeto would you put this as the headline for your big CBS event? Let’s play this out logically.

Scenario A: In the infinite number of universes out there where this fight takes place, an overwhelming amount of them see Bader KO Fedor again. Cool. Hardcore fans hate it because it’s Fedor and regular people hate it because most normal human beings don’t relish seeing 46-year-old dudes getting sent to the hospital. And no one likes it at all because no one cares about Ryan Bader. Literally no one benefits from this outcome. Everything is bad. And in the darkest timeline, things are really, really, horrifically, catastrophically bad in a way that I don’t want to think about or say out loud.

Scenario B: Fedor pulls off the massive upset. Great! That’s a legitimate moment in MMA history and one that hardcore fans will cherish. But Fedor is still 46 and he’s going to retire, now with the title, leaving the promotion without a heavyweight champion, and having used their precious time on CBS to elevate a man no longer competing. This is clearly the better outcome, but it still doesn’t benefit anyone, other than Fedor. Bellator has wasted an opportunity, for little to no reward, and the risk was enormous.

The essence of good fight promotion (at least in the MMA landscape) is creating no-lose fights, where regardless of the outcome, there is a good path forward. If Conor McGregor loses to Nate Diaz, then Nate becomes star, and now we have two aces. Fantastic! And if Conor wins, well, the money rig keeps right on rolling. Huzzah! That’s good matchmaking! Instead, Bellator booked a fight with a marginally good and a horribly bad outcome, but no ability to control that outcome (and with the bad outcome being the most likely one!).

This is why Vince McMahon famously wasn’t concerned with the UFC all those years ago. “How can they build stars when they don’t control who wins and loses?” It’s really tough! But instead of doing their best to mitigate that very real problem, instead Bellator is just making a bad bet, like Elite XC did with Kimbo all those years ago (not entirely the same but you get the drift). And if you keep making bad bets, eventually they catch up to you.

Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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