PFL 10 Report: Six Champions crowned at the PFL’s 2021 season finale
By: Eric Marcotte
The PFL returned on Wednesday evening, holding their season finale card from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. This card featured the championship bout for each PFL division, with the added bonus of each title bout victor earning an additional million-dollar prize. The main event featured the undefeated Kayla Harrison attempting to secure her second PFL title against the division’s other finalist, Taylor Guardado. Along with the six championship bouts, this card notably featured the second professional MMA fight for decorated boxing champion, Claressa Shields, and she returned to the PFL here to face Abigail Montes. Sean O’Connell provided commentary for this card, alongside Kenny Florian and Randy Couture.
*Don Madge def. Nathan Williams by rear naked choke at 2:15 of Round 2
*Julia Budd def. Kaitlyn Young by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Jordan Young def. Omari Akhmedov by TKO at 1:32 of Round 3
*Raush Manfio def. Loik Radzhabov by unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 49-46) to win the 2021 PFL Lightweight Championship
*Antonio Carlos Jr. def. Marthin Hamlet by rear-naked choke at 3:49 of Round 1 to win the 2021 PFL Light Heavyweight Championship
*Movlid Khaybulaev def. Chris Wade by unanimous decision (50-45 all) to win the 2021 PFL Featherweight Championship
*Bruno Cappelozza def. Ante Delija by unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 48-46) to win the 2021 PFL Heavyweight Championship
*Abigail Montes def. Claressa Shields by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
*Ray Cooper III def. Magomed Magomedkerimov by KO at 3:02 of Round 3 to win the 2021 PFL Welterweight Championship
*Kayla Harrison def. Taylor Guardado by armbar at 4:00 of Round 2 to win the 2021 PFL Women’s Lightweight Championship
DON MADGE (9-3-1, 155.6) VS NATHAN WILLIAMS (12-7, 155.4) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Williams was the more aggressive fighter in the opening minutes, but as the round progressed, Madge began to take control of the fight with his striking, picking away at Williams from distance. Williams’s early takedown and work on the ground was likely the difference-maker on the scorecards, but the momentum was swinging in Madge’s direction by the end of the first round.
Williams attempted to bring the fight back to the ground early in round two, but it was Madge who took dominant position once things went to the ground. He quickly maneuvered his way to the back of Williams, sunk in the rear-naked choke, and forced him to tap out.
WINNER: Don Madge by rear-naked choke at 2:15 of Round 2
Madge looked comfortable on the feet as well as on the ground, making for a very solid debut in his first PFL bout. Madge was solid throughout his brief tenure in the UFC, winning both of his bouts there, and should make a solid addition to the PFL’s lightweight roster for their upcoming season. He is now on a seven-fight win streak and has finished six of those seven wins.
JULIA BUDD (15-3, 154.6) VS KAITLIN YOUNG (12-11-1, 155.6) – LIGHTWEIGHT
They battled in the clinch to begin the fight, with both fighters landing hard knees to the body. It seemed to me as though Young had a bit more power in her punches, but the strike count was very even throughout the round. In the final minute, Budd secured a takedown, and she rode out the remainder of the round in top position. This was a close round. 10-9 Young on my scorecard.
Young landed a strong uppercut from the clinch early in round two. Budd began to throw a high output of push kicks to the torso, keeping Young at range. Just as Budd started to look comfortable on the feet, Young took her down in the center of the octagon. Young began to look for an armbar, but this gave Budd the opportunity she needed to scramble into top position. Budd controlled the remainder of the round from this position. 19-19.
Young sprawled on Budd’s first takedown attempt of the third round, but Budd was able to power her way into top position regardless. Young attempted an armbar off of her back, however, she was unsuccessful, and Budd was able to move into side control. Budd was unable to finish Young before the conclusion of the round but unquestionably dominated this third round. 29-28 Budd.
WINNER: Julia Budd by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
The bout was fairly even on the feet, but Budd clearly had an advantage in the wrestling department, and once she realized how far ahead she was in the grappling department, she wasted little time in repeatedly bringing the fight back there. She was close to a finish near the end of the third round, but Young was able to hang in there until time expired. This marked Budd’s PFL debut and her first fight outside of Bellator MMA since 2013.
OMARI AKHMEDOV (21-6-1, 203.6) VS JORDAN YOUNG (11-2, 1 NC, 206) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Akhmedov threw a number of leg kicks before rushing in for a single leg. Young defended the attempt, and they separated with half the round remaining. Akhmedov threw some solid combinations to the head and body before shooting for another takedown, this time succeeding. Young kept Akhmedov from advancing and climbed back to his feet, ending the round on the feet. 10-9 Akhmedov.
Akhmedov knocked Young down with a hard leg kick early in round two, and he immediately jumped on him. Akhmedov landed a number of right hands before taking the back of Young. He nearly had Young in a rear-naked choke, but Young was able to escape with ninety seconds remaining in the round. Young connected with a shot that cut Akhmedov open beneath his left eye late in the round. 20-18 Akhmedov.
Young tagged Akhmedov a number of times in the opening minute of round one, connecting with a series of right hands and uppercuts. Akhmedov was clearly getting overwhelmed, and one last big uppercut from Young dropped Akhmedov hard, finishing this fight.
WINNER: Jordan Young by TKO at 1:32 of Round 3
Akhmedov looked as though he was on his way to a fairly one-sided victory, but cardio has never been his friend, and Young really came alive in that third round. By round three, Young definitely needed a finish to win this fight, and he seemed to know that, continuously marching forward while throwing nonstop heat at Akhmedov, seemingly unconcerned by the takedown threat. This was a great win for Young over the UFC veteran, ending his PFL season with the biggest win of his career to this point.
LOIK RADZHABOV (15-3-1, 155) VS RAUSH MANFIO (14-3, 146) – PFL LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Manfio put on the pressure, tagging Radzhabov with a number of right hands early. Radzhabov began to fire back and immediately engaged Manfio in the clinch after finding his target. Manfio broke free before landing another hard right hand, as well as a heavy leg kick. Good work from both fighters throughout a very competitive opening round. 10-9 Manfio.
The pace of the fight continued at a ridiculous level to begin round two. It felt as though both fighters were going for the kill here, with neither man interested in leaving the fight to the judges. Radzhabov was the advancing fighter for the first half of the round, as he walked forward while throwing these quick right hands. Manfio found success with a heavy low kick to Radzhabov’s lead leg, and it looked as though Radzhabov’s leg was compromised. Another close round. 20-18 Manfio.
Radzhabov continued to find success moving forward in round three. Manfio was doing good work on the backfoot, countering Radzhabov with check hooks, but Radzhabov seemed to have a bit more behind his punches. With just over a minute to go in the round, Radzhabov took Manfio down, however, he was unable to keep him down for any significant time, and the fight resumed on the feet. 29-28 Manfio, on my scorecard.
Manfio really went on the attack in round four, throwing a series of brutal knees and kicks to the body throughout the opening minutes of the round. Radzhabov was looking rough, and each body shot seemed to be taking a bit more out of him by this point in the right. Manfio was just brutalizing the body here, landing countless shots to his exhausted opponent. Somehow, Radzhabov made it out of this round, despite fighting almost the entirety of it moving backward with his hands down. 39-36 Manfio.
Despite his exhaustion, Radzhabov came out for the final round looking like a man in need of a finish. This was a much more competitive round than the previous round was, however as time progressed, I thought Manfio began to pull ahead yet again. They had a similar output, but Manfio just appeared to be doing the more significant damage. I scored the bout 49-45 for Manfio.
WINNER: Raush Manfio by unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 49-46) to win the 2021 PFL Lightweight Championship
This was a fun fight. Both men fought at a fairly high pace for twenty-five minutes, and I was surprised to see this one ultimately go the distance. The difference-maker on the scorecards was the power of Manfio, who fought with an excellent game plan by attacking the body with the ferocity in which he did. This marked the culmination of a pretty spectacular run for Manfio in 2021, who went from two years of inactivity, to go 4-0 in this PFL season, beating the likes of Anthony Pettis, Clay Collard, and Radzhabov on his way the million-dollar prize.
ANTONIO CARLOS JR. (12-5, 2 NC, 204.4) VS MARTHIN HAMLET (8-2, 205) – PFL LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Carlos Jr. worked his jab early until a left hand from Hamlet knocked him off balance. He was able to recover quickly and began to look for a takedown of his own. Carlos Jr. took Hamlet to the ground with a double leg, where he quickly took his back, locked in a rear-naked choke, and secured the first-round submission.
WINNER: Antonio Carlos Jr. by rear-naked choke at 3:49 of Round 1 to win the 2021 PFL Light Heavyweight Championship
Aside from a brief moment of trouble as a result of that Hamill left hand, this could not have gone any better for Antonio Carlos Junior. He looked comfortable on the feet, and the second the opportunity presented itself to take this fight to the ground, he took it and instantly finished things. At the start of 2021, Carlos Jr. was cut from the UFC after losing his third consecutive fight, and to go from that moment to going 3-0 (1 NC) in PFL, ultimately winning the million-dollar prize is a remarkable turnaround.
MOVLID KHAYBULAEV (18-0-1, 1 NC, 145) VS CHRIS WADE (20-6, 145) – PFL FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Khaybulaev landed the first big shot of the fight, a sharp counter right to the side of Wade’s head. Khaybulaev punched his way inside before taking Wade down against the cage. Wade popped right back up to his feet but found himself with his back pressed against the cage for a significant portion of time. Khaybulaev took Wade back down to end the round. 10-9 Khaybulaev.
Khaybulaev brought Wade back to the cage to begin the second round. After about ninety seconds, they were broken up due to inactivity, and the fighters began trading hands on the feet. Outside of these exchanges, the vast majority of the round was spent battling in the clinch, where Khaybulaev had the advantage. Wade was bleeding heavily below his right eye by the end of the round. 20-18 Khaybulaev.
There was no drastic shift of momentum in round three. Khaybulaev continued to control the action, largely from the clinch against the cage. They were eventually separated yet again, but Khaybulaev immediately wrapped Wade back up. Khaybulaev completed another takedown before time expired. 30-27 Khaybulaev.
Khaybulaev wasted no time in taking Wade back down. He took Wade’s back with three minutes to work, but was in a bit of an awkward position, just a bit too low on Wade’s back. Regardless, he spent the near entirety of the round on Wade’s back, easily taking this round. 40-36 Khaybulaev.
Unsurprisingly, Movlid Khaybulaev felt no need to change up the strategy by round five. He completely shut Wade down with his grappling, giving Wade no room to get off any significant offense. The fight went the distance, and I scored it 50-45 in favor of Khaybulaev.
WINNER: Movlid Khaybulaev by unanimous decision (50-45 all) to win the 2021 PFL Featherweight Championship
This was far from an entertaining fight, but certainly an effective gameplan from Khaybulaev here, who won every round of this bout without much issue. Wade was frustrated after the bout, which was certainly understandable given was at stake here, but it was a completely fair strategy from Khaybulaev. Khaybulaev finished the 2021 PFL season with a record of 4-0.
BRUNO CAPPELOZZA (13-5, 236.4) VS ANTE DELIJA (19-4, 1 NC, 243) – PFL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
This was a rematch of a fight from May of this year. Cappelozza won by knockout in under a minute.
Cappelozza sprawled on Delija’s immediate takedown attempt and knocked him down with one of the first shots he threw afterward. Cappelozza jumped into his guard, and he began to throw down brutal ground and pound. He did an immense amount of damage but was unable to get the finish. With about thirty seconds remaining in the round, Delija powered to his feet, and they brawled wildly for the remainder of the round. 10-8 Cappelozza.
Much like the first round, Cappelozza began the second by sprawling on a takedown attempt. This time, however, Delija was able to land a huge right hand to Cappelozza on the feet, and he proceeded to take Cappelozza down in the center of the cage. He began to throw down these brutal hammerfists, and it looked to me as though Cappelozza was out, but he woke up just on time, and the fight continued. Delija transitioned to a north-south choke, and once again, it looked as though this fight may have been over, but Cappelozza slipped out and actually managed to take Delija’s back. This was an insane round. 19-18 Cappelozza.
Cappelozza just started swinging like a madman, trying to take Delija out in the opening seconds of round three. For a second, it looked as though he was on the verge of success, but Delija started swinging back and shot for a takedown after backing Cappelozza off. They spent a considerable amount of time wrestling against the cage until they were eventually broken apart. 29-27 Cappelozza.
Cappelozza stuffed yet another takedown to begin round two and transitioned to the back of Delija. Delija escaped from this position, and once again pursued a takedown of his own. He was eventually successful, working from top position for a significant portion of the round. Cappelozza made it back to his feet before time expired. 38-37 Cappelozza.
Round five began with a successful takedown from Cappelozza. He controlled half of the round on the ground, before Delija exploded to his feet. Unfortunately for Delija, he wasn’t able to create any room for himself, and Cappelozza took him down one last time to seal the round. 48-46 Cappelozza.
WINNER: Bruno Cappelozza by unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 48-46) to win the 2021 PFL Heavyweight Championship
The first two rounds of this fight were complete insanity. The two heavyweights were exhausted by round three, and while the second half of this fight was not nearly as entertaining as the first, there were more than enough shifts in momentum to keep things interesting. Cappelozza has been one of the highlights of the 2021 PFL season, and this was the first time we really saw him pushed in PFL, surprisingly enough, by a fighter he walked through earlier in the year. Cappelozza ends the 2021 PFL season with a record of 4-0.
CLARESSA SHIELDS (1-0, 155.8) VS ABIGAIL MONTES (2-0, 154.4) – LIGHTWEIGHT
An early flurry from Shields prompted Montes to engage her in the clinch. It was Shields however who seemed to have the power advantage, and she was able to keep on her feet. Despite her takedown defense holding up well, this resulted in a large portion of this round being spent in the clinch against the cage. This was a very uneventful round. 10-9 Shields I suppose.
Shields tagged Montes with a right hand to begin round two, which once again resulted in Montes closing the distance and bringing the fight to the cage. After about two minutes, Shields was able to break away but got too aggressive with her strikes, and Montes changed levels on her, completing the takedown. Montes was fairly ineffective from top position, and Shields worked her way back to her feet before the round ended. 19-19 perhaps.
Shields landed another big right hand and defended a takedown in the opening minute of round two. Montes went for another takedown, but it was defended well by Shields, and Shields nearly secured one of her own before they separated. However, that separation was just what Montes needed to secure a proper takedown of her own. Montes worked from half guard for the next few minutes, before posturing up in the final seconds, throwing down some strong ground and pound. 29-28 Montes.
WINNER: Abigail Montes by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
It seems probable that Shield’s first professional loss will create much discussion online, but honestly, there is very little to take away from this type of fight. Obviously, Shields has a lot of work to do in the grappling department, but she showcased some serious improvements from her debut fight, and it seems safe to assume that she will continue to improve as she puts more time into the sport. You could make all the same comments about Montes if you swap the word “grappling” for “striking’. These are both fighters in the earliest stages of their respective MMA careers, and this will undoubtedly serve as a valuable learning experience for both of them.
RAY COOPER III (23-7-1, 169.8) VS MAGOMED MAGOMEDKERIMOV (28-5, 1 NC, 170) – PFL WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
This was a rematch of the PFL Welterweight Finals bout from 2018. Magomedkerimov won that fight by second-round submission.
Magomedkerimov was active with his leg kicks early, but caught Cooper with an inadvertent low blow quickly. When the action resumed, Magomedkerimov took Cooper to the ground, where he began to work from half guard. Cooper kept him from accomplishing much here, and they were eventually stood up. 10-9 Magomedkerimov.
It was Cooper who found the takedown in round two. Cooper spent the majority of the round in the guard of Magomedkerimov, before transitioning to half guard in the final two minutes. Cooper began to work for an arm triangle, and while it looked tight, it wasn’t quite in the best position to actually secure the submission. Regardless, a great round for Cooper. 19-19.
Magomedkerimov cracked Cooper with a straight right hand early in round three, tagging him a few times before Cooper started shooting again. Magomedkerimov defended the attempts, and he really started to put a beating on Cooper. Cooper was in deep trouble here, eating shot after shot against the cage, but he was able to stick in it, and all of a sudden it seemed as though Magomedkerimov had tired. Cooper realized this, and he started pressing forward with strikes of his own. He landed a wild overhand right that floored Magomedkerimov, and immediately followed it up with a pair of follow-up shots, finishing this fight.
WINNER: Ray Cooper III by KO at 3:02 of Round 3 to win the 2021 PFL Welterweight Championship
In 2018, these two met in the welterweight PFL finals, and Magomedkerimov came out victorious. This fight felt it was on the verge of going the same way, but Cooper picked his shots well in the third, and this was a pretty spectacular comeback victory. Cooper is now a two-time PFL champion, and he has competed in the division’s finals every year. It definitely feels like he’s “the guy” for the PFL at welterweight, although, despite his loss, Magomedkerimov isn’t really far off himself. I imagine the third meeting between these two fighters will be very interesting. Cooper’s win snapped a remarkable winning streak for Magomedkerimov, that dated back to 2015.
KAYLA HARRISON (11-0, 153.8) VS TAYLOR GUARDADO (3-1, 154.4) – WOMEN’S LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Guardado blitzed forward but was quickly tripped to the ground. Harrison dominated the entirety of this round, seamlessly transitioning between positions on the ground, landing numerous ground and pound strikes, and threatening submissions. Guardado did not seem to have any answers for Harrisons grappling. 10-9 Harrison.
Harrison easily tripped Guardado back to the ground about a minute into round two. She moved into full mount, before transitioning to an armbar. Harrison fully extended the arm, and Guardado was forced to submit.
WINNER: Kayla Harrison by armbar at 4:00 of Round 2
Harrison is one of the most dominant fighters in the sport right now, and this fight was no exception. Guardado has only had four professional fights and was clearly outmatched here. The focus of this entire week has been the subject of Kayla Harrison’s future, and that will undoubtably continue to be the focus of discussion coming out of this. I hardly have any unique takes to add to the discussion, but regardless of where Harrison signs next, there will be a great deal of interest regarding her next bout. She very much feels like the biggest star in the PFL right now, and that’s including names like Anthony Pettis and Rory MacDonald.
This marked the conclusion of the 2021 PFL season. In my mind, this was a very successful year for the PFL in terms of notoriety. They felt as though they were on par with a Bellator MMA or a ONE Championship as far as general interest and media coverage are concerned, and signing well-known fighters such as Anthony Pettis, Rory MacDonald, and Fabricio Werdum helped further their legitimacy as an MMA organization with top tier talent. But for all of the positive strides, the PFL made this year, I don’t think I can wrap up my coverage of this event without discussing the overwhelming negative of the PFL in 2021: the pacing. This has to be the absolute worst-paced product I’ve ever watched. These ten fight cards are stretched out over the span of nearly eight hours, making these shows nearly unwatchable at times. The amount of time spent airing video packages or recapping fights that happened earlier in the night is absurd, and the product suffers greatly from it. These extreme pacing issues are something that the PFL broadcast is going to have to put some serious work into because I can see this severely impacting viewership in the future.