A Deeper Drive

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Larissa Pacheco’s motivations extend far beyond the size of her bank account.

Perhaps a perspective grounded in harsh realities will serve her well when she confronts the heavily favored Kayla Harrison in the Professional Fighters League women’s lightweight final as part of the 2022 PFL Championships on Friday at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York. There, a $1 million payday hangs in the balance for the two participants.

“I think the prize matters more to people watching than it does to me,” Pacheco told Sherdog.com. “I come from a [slum]. I’ve never paid to train at an academy. I come from a humble and poor family. My mother was a domestic worker, and she didn’t earn much. Our sport isn’t greatly valued in Brazil. It’s completely different in the United States. We see that money matters a lot.

“For most of my career, I didn’t make much money,” she added. “It’s only now that I’m starting to earn a reasonable amount inside the PFL. I don’t let that get to me. I’ve never done this work because of the money. I’ve only worked to show that I’m good at what I do. The money will be the consequence of my work, of my best effort.”

Harrison has already defeated Pacheco twice—she earned a pair of unanimous decisions in 2019, one during the regular season and another in the women’s lightweight final—and remains the only woman to beat the Brazilian outside the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time PFL champion owns a perfect 15-0 record. It goes without saying that Pacheco faces an uphill climb against the decorated judo player.

“You can be a world champion in judo, jiu-jitsu or muay thai, but it’s the mix that matters,” she said. “In mixed martial arts, we have to know a little bit of everything to be able to win. She’s an excellent judoka—I would never say otherwise—but we know that MMA is a box full of surprises. Anything can happen. When you train in every facet, a single style isn’t enough to stop you. Obviously, Kayla is much more complete a fighter today as compared to her first few bouts.”

The 28-year-old Pacheco has momentum of her own upon which to build. The former Jungle Fight champion has rattled off five straight victories, all of them via stoppage inside one round, since her second encounter with Harrison. Pacheco last competed at PFL 9, where she put away Olena Kolesnyk with punches a little more than two minutes into their Aug. 20 semifinal.

“I’m coming off five consecutive first-round finishes,” she said. “No one else is doing this at our weight class. I can see my evolution. There’s a lot of hype around our fight. I’m still young. There’s a lot more I can show. I believe our third meeting will surprise everyone.”

Pacheco continues to hone her skills under longtime coach Joao Bastos. The two traveled to the United States in advance of her latest confrontation with Harrison, choosing to train alongside UFC veteran Roan Carneiro and former Bellator MMA titleholder Douglas Lima in the Atlanta area.

“When we train at home, it’s a bit more complicated,” Pacheco said. “My coach has his family, and I have mine. It’s hard to be a coach and athlete only. Here, we managed to find the necessary isolation. It’s a more relaxing camp. I now have been able to financially invest in my fight camps to have the right infrastructure.”

Whenever Pacheco returns home, she plans to do so with some extra luggage in tow.

“I worked hard to make it to the final,” she said. “I want to show everyone my true potential. It’s something I wasn’t able to show in other organizations. I’ll give 100% of myself in the cage. The championship belt is coming back to Brazil with me.”
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