The main event at the PFL World Championships placed the two-time lightweight queen against a foe she defeated twice before in Larissa Pacheco at MSG’s Hulu Theater on a Friday night in November 2022.
Harrison (15-0) looked to continue her unbeaten streak, go 3-0 against Pacheco, and take home yet another championship and another million dollar check. A win Friday would send the former Olympic gold medalist in judo off into 2023 with all of her hype intact, continuing her seemingly inevitable collision course with her peers Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes, with just two fights on her PFL deal following Friday.
Pacheco (18-4) meanwhile attempted to avenge her prior losses against Harrison and to be the first one to defeat the undefeated fighter and put a dent in the hype she has accrued. One million dollars would be a nice little cherry on top if she could pull off the upset.
It was one for the ages on Friday, with Harrison pushed to the limit and then some.
Pacheco stalked Kayla early on and looked to set up her main weapon, the powerful right hand, while also staying cognizant of the takedown. After a minute Kayla clinched, and at first it seemed that Pacheco would stay on her feet but then Kayla hit an outside trip and threw the Brazilian to her back. Harrison settled in full guard and looked to do short, efficient ground and pound even though the shots were not highly impactful. Pacheco tried to get up, with little success, and eventually gave up and resorted to hammerfists from her back. Pacheco looked to throw up an armbar with around a minute left but Kayla avoided it easily. Kayla was forced to her feet however and kicked at the legs of her foe before finally diving back into the guard. With ten seconds left Kayla got on the back with one hook in and she was landing ground and pound from there when the bell rang.
Pacheco kicked out Kayla’s leg from under her in the start of the second round but Kayla got her footing back and landed a big right hand of her own. Kayla clinched, separated, then suddenly ducked onto a double leg, seamlessly chaining takedown attempts together. However, when Kayla went for the takedown a tight guillotine attempt from Pacheco forced Kayla to roll out of it and ended up on bottom in side control. Kayla did a good job to immediately wrestle up onto the single leg and push Larissa to the fence again. Pacheco was soon able to gain the outside position in the clinch, stuff a takedown from Kayla, and even send Kayla to her knees momentarily before getting back to distance striking.
With one minute left in the round Pacheco caught Harrison coming in and staggered her. The Brazilian chased down the judoka and landed more big punches. Kayla shot a double leg and although it was stuffed initially Kayla somehow went over Larissa’s back and ended up on the dominant position. Harrison tried for an armbar but Pacheco scrambled out right before the bell rang. Due to strikes and the guillotine attempt it was likely that Pacheco had actually won a round here for the first time in their three fight series.
Kayla looked tired on the stool between rounds, which bore watching as the later rounds drew near. In the opening seconds of the third round Harrison instantly shot a single leg which Pacheco defended at first but eventually was force onto her back from the dogged determination of Harrison. Pacheco sometime eschewed defense in these sequences in favor of landing hammerfists of varying quality, as she did there. Still, Kayla settled on top in full guard.
Soon Pachecho threw up a triangle choke with her legs two minutes into the round but it was not perfect. Still, she worked to grab her ankle and finish it while also punching the trapped head of Harrison. Kayla Harrison postured up and finally broke the legs but Pacheco transitioned to an arm. Kayla kept scrambling though, escaped, and ended up on top once again. Now it was Pacheco’s turn to look visibly tired as she tried to hold Kayla in half guard, to no avail.
Kayla got full mount with one minute left in the middle round and looked to use ground and pound to set up an arm triangle choke. Meanwhile, Larissa framed with her forearms to keep Kayla from being able to do so, but she ate big ground and pound when Kayla quit the submission hunting and postured up. An exciting round ended with the two-time champion on top.
The penultimate round began with Pacheco moving forward and landing a good right hand early. Kayla tried to clinch after that but was pushed away by Larissa. Both athletes were breathing out of their mouths now but still pushing through their tiredness. Kayla shot a double and again Pacheco went for a guillotine attempt. This time it was her downfall as it kept her from defending the takedown and Kayla landed in half guard, in no danger.
However soon Pacheco was able to wrestle up and gain top position in a scramble. She tried to take the back of Kayla but did not have it really, she was sideways to Kayla’s body. Kayla got on top for a moment before Pacheco then got to her feet, albeit stuck in a front headlock. Harrison pulled her foe down and then swiftly moved to her back but could not get both hooks in because of the fence. Larissa Pacheco then hit a sudden switch and engaged a scramble which ended with her on top in side control. Pacheco tried to get to mount but Kayla exploded upwards and got up. On the way up Pacheco landed some big right hands and a knee but once Harrison got to her feet she level changed and shot a double leg. The round ended before she could complete it.
Going into the last round there was a chance that the fight was tied at two rounds apiece. Kayla clearly won round one, Pacheco clearly won round two, Kayla likely won round three, and round four was close. The final round could be all to play for between these rivals in the undefeated former Olympic gold medalist’s toughest test to date in MMA. Going into this round Kayla was only a -140 favorite per the PFL broadcast. Kayla got to a clinch around a minute into the round but Pacheco was able to reverse her and put Harrison’s back on the cage. However Kayla unbalanced her and almost got the trip takedown, but Pacheco somehow stayed up after almost going to her butt. Kayla was able to hold Pacheco in the clinch and land knees before shooting a single leg, whereupon Larissa slammed hammerfists into her opponent’s head, forcing Kayla to change her head position. Pacheco then sprawled fully on the takedown and got on Kayla’s back with both fighter’s on their knees against the fence.
Pacheco got one hook in and then worked to get the other while doing damage. She almost got the body triangle but at the last second Kayla was able to throw her opponent over the top and Harrison ended up on top. Pacheco tried to use her guard to sweep Kayla and came close but Harrison was able to stay on top once again and reset in full guard. Pacheco did everything she could to throw up a triangle with a minute left but Harrison stayed low and avoided it. When Harrison postured up, Pacheco landed more hammerfists off of her back while Kayla was unable to land many strikes from top. The fight ended with Kayla trying to posture up for one last attempt at ground and pound but she ate one final, medium strength, hammerfist at the bell.
Pacheco acted like she had done enough at the bell, being lifted up and cheered by her coach while Kayla Harrison was subdued and in quiet conversation with her team, though she surely thought she had won the fight, as most fighters do after a close fight. The Fighter Performance Rating, an unknown PFL-created algorithm for deciding who won fights, had Pacheco as the winner with the second, fourth, and fifth rounds. The mood in the Hulu Theatre was tense in New York City as the judges scorecards were announced and Larissa Pacheco was the victor in a major upset by a score of 48-47. The Brazilian handed the Olympic gold medalist her first defeat in her career and earned a million dollars which is truly life changing money for any fighter.
Official Result: Larissa Pacheco def. Kayla Harrison by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)