The Most Impressive and Shocking Champions at the 2022 PFL Finals

Six Professional Fighters League champions were crowned on Friday and adorned with million-dollar checks. Which one impressed, and which left viewers in shock the most? The former is a challenging question, while the latter has a very obvious answer.

Most Impressive: Rob Wilkinson

This was tough, as Brendan Loughnane has looked sensational since joining the PFL, and looks to be a borderline world top 10 featherweight, including his fantastic fourth round knockout of the excellent Bubba Jenkins to win the featherweight crown. He also continues to make Dana White look very stupid for not signing him after his performance on the Contender Series.

There was another champion who slightly surpassed him, though: Wilkinson. Fans may remember Wilkinson as the Australian grappler who fought in the UFC middleweight division and was knocked out by Israel Adesanya in early 2018. He is a very different man almost five years later. Not only is he now an enormous light heavyweight, but he has developed powerful, punishing striking to go with his bruising grappling. Personally, I thought that his opponent in the finals, Omari Akhmedov, a former Top 10 UFC middleweight who had also moved up to 205 pounds, had a very good chance of beating him. Wilkinson was a roughly -200 favorite, but much of that had to do with cardio concerns about Akhmedov. I thought Akhmedov had better defense and would do well in the stand-up. Wilkinson proved me dead wrong. Incredibly, the Australian had improved his striking in in the mere three and a half months since his last outing in the PFL playoffs, with sturdier defense and a fine use of feints. His own punches looked as crisp as ever, repeatedly battering Akhmedov with combinations. I especially loved his use of the uppercut whenever the man from Dagestan tried to wrestle. Wilkinson likely would have knocked out Akhmedov at the end of the second round with a few more seconds, but the doctor mercifully waved off the contest due to a cut between rounds. With Wilkinson's combination of brutal ground-and-pound and aggressive striking, he may well be a Top 15 light heavyweight at this point, possibly even better. I would love to see him in either the Bellator MMA or UFC light heavyweight division, where at 30 years old and still getting better, he would be a fearsome contender.

Most Surprising: Larissa Pacheco

This is a clear choice. Pacheco was the biggest underdog in the championship fights at +550 against Kayla Harrison, and the only one to come through, with all the other favorites winning easily. Pacheco had already lost twice to Harrison in 2019, so what would be different this time around, people wondered? True, Pacheco had vastly improved her striking over the past few years, knocking out lesser women's lightweight fighters in the first round left and right in her path of destruction. And yes, she had built up her body to be a legitimate lightweight, versus the blown-up featherweight or even bantamweight she had first been. But Harrison wasn't going to strike and mere size wouldn't be enough to stop her takedowns. And in the first round, this looked to be a repeat of the first two outings, as Harrison easily put Pacheco on her back and inflicted heavy ground-and-pound. But then something amazing happened. Harrison began to tire and wither while Pacheco stayed tough. Harrison found it increasingly difficult to get the takedown, often taking heavy abuse in the clinch and occasionally eating a big punch at range. Sometimes she would force matters and Pacheco would gain a dominant position, including taking Harrison's back on a few occasions. Even when Harrison did take the Brazilian down, it would often be Pacheco who was attacking more with strikes and submission attempts from her back. Pacheco won Round 2 and Harrison won Round 3, giving her a 2-1 lead, but over the last two championship rounds, the Brazilian showed why she deserved the throne, as the tired two-time Olympic gold medalist could muster little offense while being pelted with blows from the determined challenger. It's an extraordinary victory and big upset for Pacheco, handing Harrison the first defeat of her career. It will be interesting to see where Pacheco goes from here, as she, like Harrison, is now a full-fledged lightweight and may struggle to ever make 145 pounds again.
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