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2019 PFL championships: Full recaps and results

Kayla Harrison celebrates winning the PFL women's lighweight

Kayla Harrison celebrates winning the PFL women's lighweight championship on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Credit: Ryan Loco

The Professional Fighters League ended its second season with a night of championship fights on New Year's Eve at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Six fighters were crowned champions and earned a $1 million prize.

Check out recaps and results from each of the six championship fights below:

Women's lightweight championship: Kayla Harrison def. Larissa Pacheco (50-43, 50-45, 50-45)

A new star of the sport used an old-school method to capture her first MMA title as two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison grounded and pounded her way to a unanimous decision victory over Larissa Pacheco.

Harrison stayed tentative to open the fight, bringing Pacheco against the cage a minute into the bout. With her grip secure, Harrison threw Pacheco to the canvas with Ease, landing on top in Pacheco’s guard. Harrison postured up and looked for a few heavy punches, maintaining her control of Pacheco. After a few punches, Harrison moved to Pacheco’s side and looked to secure a hold near the neck, but nothing came to fruition. The move did, however, create an opening for some strong hooks as the pair battled against the cage. Pacheco attempted to spin out of the position, but Harrison made her pay each time and stayed on top. Harrison mounted Pacheco as the round came near its end, but didn’t have time to secure a finish ahead of the bell.

The start of the second round saw Harrison show off her improving skillset. She opened up her striking, throwing a big head kick that had Pacheco surprised and forced to back up. That allowed the Olympian to score an easy takedown and retake control on the ground. Harrison refused to relent the position, keeping Pacheco in her grasp along the cage and landing strike after strike. Pacheco looked to be on her way back to her feet, but Harrison reversed the position, first taking Pacheco’s back before returning to mount, where she finished the round.

Harrison found herself in a bit of trouble to start the third round. A failed Harrison takedown gave Pacheco a chance at a submission on the ground. When Harrison escaped and returned to her feet, Pacheco landed a big knee to Harrison’s head, but the American held strong and pushed Pacheco to the cage in the clinch before once again scoring a takedown and seeing out much of the round in top position. Harrison briefly got to her feet, but didn’t let Pacheco up as the round came to its end.

The fourth round didn’t stick to the same script at first as Harrison stayed on her feet for the opening 90 seconds, but once she saw an opening for a takedown, she shot in with full force and slammed Pacheco to the ground against he cage. Harrison took her back soon after and poured on punches, looking for the finish that eluded her when the women first met in May. But Pacheco turned to her back and kept Harrison from creating enough space to get off many significant strikes. Pacheco nearly caught Harrison with a sweep when the American rose to her feet, but Harrison finished the round out of danger.

The pair traded some strikes early in the fifth round, but both stayed tentative until Harrison again shot for a takedown. This time, Pacheco succeeded in keeping the fight standing and tried to take advantage, landing some strikes before attempting a standing guillotine. Harrison briefly appeared in trouble, but worked her way out of it before landing another big judo throw and smothering Pacheco in the center of the cage. Harrison looked for any finish she could, and while she looked upset not find it, she did more than enough to earn the convincing victory.

Welterweight championship: Ray Cooper III def. David Michaud via TKO at 2:56

A year after falling in the inaugural PFL welterweight final, Ray Cooper III took home the $1 million prize he just missed out on a year ago, picking up a TKO victory over David Michaud after a heavy body blow.

Michaud came across the cage quick with a half-hearted flying knee to start the fight, but Cooper slowed the fight down by bringing Michaud against the cage. After a few minutes trying to bring down Michaud, Cooper hurt Michaud’s ribs with a knee and succeeded, landing a few body shots on the ground. Cooper advanced his position as the round wore on, not giving Michaud an inch of space. Cooper secured a choke as the round came to a close, but Michaud held on long enough to see the second frame.

The fighters scrambled early in the next round, staying on their feet in the center of the cage. As they continued to trade blows, Michaud began to find success throwing heavy knees, pulling Cooper’s head into each strike, but Cooper retook control and engaged Michaud in a grappling contest. Cooper eventually landed a massive left hook to the body that Michaud couldn’t handle. Michaud crumbled and Cooper pounced, delivering punch after punch until referee Keith Peterson stepped in, giving Cooper the welterweight title.

Heavyweight championship: Ali Isaev def. Jared Rosholt via TKO at 4:09 of Round 4

Ali Isaev kept his unbeaten record intact and captured his first major MMA title with a slow, grinding victory over veteran Jared Rosholt. 

Isaev looked to finesse Rosholt early in the fight, throwing a wheel kick, but the fight went to the ground almost immediately with Isaev holding onto Rosholt’s neck. Rosholt escaped and engaged in the clinch, trading positions with Isaev as both fighters struggled to land with much significance.

Isaev again tried a high kick to open the second round, but missed. Rosholt countered with some big punches, but also missed and eventually was pushed to the ground and into the cage. Isaev ran toward Rosholt and attempted what would have been an illegal soccer kick, but missed, instead taking Rosholt’s back before picking Rosholt off the canvas and landing a big slam. Isaev took top position, where he remained for the rest of the round. The third began with Isaev again moving quickly to top position and settling in against Rosholt, landing strikes when possible but delivering little damage. Rosholt got the fight back to the clinch against the cage, but failed to do anything of substance.

Rosholt was the aggressor of sorts early in the fourth round, pushing Isaev into the clinch against the cage, but again failed to score any significant strikes. Isaev brought it back to the ground and eventually had Rohsolt hurt, landing a series of ground strikes as the veteran fighter covered. With little defense from Rosholt and continuous strikes from Isaev, Dan Miragliotta called the fight and the Russian took the million-dollar prize.

Lightweight championship: Natan Schulte def. Loik Radzhabov (49-44, 49-46, 48-47)

Natan Schulte won his second PFL title over Loik Radzhabov in a fight that looked much more competitive than a pair of the scorecards would suggest. 

With a sizable portion of the crowd in his corner, Radzhabov was the aggressor early in the fight, keeping control of the center of the cage. But after half of the opening round, Schulte threw a big punch that stunned Radzhabov and left him staggering. Schulte pounced and brought the fight to the cage, then to the ground. They eventually got back to their feet, trading shots through the round as both fighters landed with power in the final moments of the frame.

Both fighters came out trading in the second round with Radzhabov eventually winding up with control of the cage. Midway through the round, Radzhabov brought the Tajikistani contingent of the crowd to life with a series of uppercuts against the cage, but Schulte largely was unfazed. The men continued to trade punches until the end of the round when Radzhabov scored a late takedown, but picked up right where they left off in the third, trading throughout as neither could gain a significant advantage. Near the end of the third round, Schulte finally was able to get Radzhabov back to the canvas with a kick to the back of the knee, finishing the round on top.

With the fight too close to call through three rounds, Schulte came out as the aggressor in Round 4, but Radzhabov mostly stayed strong in defense, countering against the cage. Soon enough, however, Schulte again brought the fight to the ground, mounting Radzhabov while looking for a choke. Radzhabov returned to his feet, but appeared to limp and immediately shot for a pair of takedowns, only to wind up back in Schulte’s mount for much of the round.

Schulte again looked for top control early in the fifth, but Radzhabov remained game despite a clear leg injury slowing him down. Radzhabov took top position with three minutes left in the fight and established side control, landing a handful of punches but failing to advance and soon allowing Schulte back to his feet. With two minutes to go, Radzhabov looked to secure a choke, but Schulte defended well against the cage and scrambled back to the top, where he remained to close out an action-filled fight to capture back-to-back titles.

Featherweight championship: Lance Palmer def. Alex Gilpin via unanimous decision (50-43, 50-44, 50-44)

The third time was not the charm for Alex Gilpin as Lance Palmer won in the third fight between them this season via unanimous decision for the PFL featherweight title. Palmer took home the belt and cash prize for the second consecutive season.

It took some time for both fighters to get going, and once they finally did, Gilpin caught Palmer with an eye poke. Once the fight resumed, Palmer immediately brought the fight to the ground. Palmer appeared in control, but Gilpin transitioned to take hold of Palmer’s neck. Gilpin wound up on top with two minutes to work in the round, but Palmer scrambled out. In the final minute of the round, Palmer took top position against the cage, landing several left hands on the ground, but wasn’t close to a finish.

In the second round, Gilpin tried to keep the fight standings, but within two minutes, Palmer again scored another pair of takedowns. Palmer couldn’t do a ton of damage from the top, but remained in control for much the round. After a third round of total domination, Palmer easily tripped Gilpin on his first takedown attempt of the fourth and went to work. Gilpin nearly scrambled his way out after a minute on the ground, but Palmer found his way back to Gilpin’s guard and stayed heavy for most of the remaining time. Palmer was patient to start the fifth, but again secured a takedown and took control of the fight, refusing to give up position for the entire round to lock up his second straight PFL championship.

Light heavyweight championship: Emiliano Sordi def. Jordan Johnson via TKO at 2:01 of Round 1

Emiliano Sordi started the evening with a quick finish to secure his first PFL championship and bring a major MMA title to Argentina. 

Sordi looked to land with power early in the fight, throwing heavy right hands and controlling the cage against Johnson. It didn’t take long for Johnson to attempt grappling with Sordi, but the Argentine stayed in control.

Johnson shot for a single leg less than two minutes into the fight and couldn’t compete the takedown allowing Sordi to begin piling on ground strikes. Sordi repeatedly landed on Johnson, who couldn’t get out of the position, forcing referee Dan Miragliotta to step in at 2:01 of the first round and giving Sordi the TKO victory for the 205-pound belt, his fifth finish of the 2019 season.

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