When the Professional Fighters League added Kayla Harrison as a full-time competitor for the 2019 season, it didn’t just bring a two-time Olympic gold medalist into the league — it brought an entire division of women’s mixed martial arts into the sport’s mainstream.
PFL 1 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Thursday saw the PFL’s first fight in its women’s lightweight division, a first for a major American MMA promotion.
“I think the women are going to steal the show,” Harrison said Wednesday. "We’re monsters. We have knockout power. We’re going to be slugging. It’s going to be awesome.”
The UFC currently sponsors four women’s divisions ranging from 115 pounds to 145 pounds, while Bellator MMA has women champions at 125 and 145 pounds, but neither has sponsored women’s fights at the 155-pound limit set by PFL for the 2019 season.
The division’s first fight opened the card on Thursday as Roberta Samad cruised to victory over Moriel Charneski, winning 30-27 on all three scorecards, and the occasion wasn’t lost on the Brazilian.
“I feel very thankful for the PFL to believe in the women’s division at 155. All the girls are very talented, very strong,” Samad said. “I deserve to be here.”
Samad previously fought for Bellator at 145 pounds in 2015, but was out of action since then as she gave birth to and raised her daughter. After an extensive weight cut in her last fight, Samad said she had to cut just three-to-four pounds for this event, a key reason many have called for the addition of women’s lightweight.
“At 145, I feel like I don’t have much strength. Right now, I feel comfortable at this weight. It’s the weight for me, I feel like I’m in the perfect division right now and I’m growing more.”
Samad spent much of the fight on top of Charneski, using her strikes to set up takedowns while looking for submissions on the ground. She earned three points in the lightweight standings with her victory.
The lightweights continued to impress when Bobbi Jo Dalziel defeated Genah Fabian via unanimous decision in a bloody brawl. Dalziel moved to 5-0 in her career with the victory.
“That was definitely the toughest fight of my life but exactly what I expected,” Dalziel said. “I had so much fun, and I’m happy to earn the three points towards a potential playoff spot.”
On the main card, former UFC bantamweight Sarah Kaufman jumped out to an early lead at lightweight by recording the division’s first finish, a submission victory over Morgan Frier.
Kaufman, who weighed-in Wednesday at 153.2 after previously spending her entire career at 135 pounds, controlled the contest easily after both fighters came out firing. The Canadian then found her way into position for a choke, sealing the result at 2:22 of the first round to earn six points.
For Kaufman, who said she needs to focus on keeping weight on to approach the 155-pound limit, was pleased with her fight at lightweight and the experience of fighting two weight classes above her previous division.
“I was able to eat a lot of good fats and add in more carbs and really come in tonight not depleted whatsoever," Kaufman said. "Just feeling healthy, feeling strong, knowing that this is how I train and this is how I’m going to be fighting, and that’s a really powerful thing to be moving forward with.”
Kaufman is the most experienced fighter in the division and sits atop the standings after the opening night thanks to her victory, but she's not looking past the rest of her competition.
"I think over the course of the season, we're going to see a big shift and a lot of growth in some of the other ladies who were fighting tonight, and also myself," Kaufman said. "The fact that we have the opportunity and that 155 pounds is an option for girls who don't want to cut down a ton of weight and want to feel healthy is very progressive. As a whole, fans are going to get really behind it and next season you're going to see more and more athletes coming into this division knowing it's a viable option for great money and a lot of fights."
Next LI card
PFL returns to the Coliseum on May 23 with Freeport featherweight Andre Harrison (20-1) and Islip lightweight Chris Wade (14-5) each scheduled to compete in the first bout of the regular season. Both Harrison and Wade reached the semifinals last year.