Kayla Harrison Scores Armbar Win at PFL 2021 Championship, Nabs Second $1 Million Check

By Brian Knapp and Jay Pettry Oct 27, 2021

Kayla Harrison’s second Professional Fighters League run for gold went even smoother than her first.

Taking on Taylor Guardado (3-2, 3-1 PFL) for the women’s lightweight throne in PFL, Harrison’s victory was never in much doubt. A massive -4000 favorite coming into the PFL Championship main event, Harrison (12-0, 11-0 PFL) still managed to impress by handling Guardado on the ground en route to a textbook armbar. The second attempt proved to be the one to elicit the tap, with Guardado surrendering at 4:00 of the second round to crown the 2021 PFL season queen.

Guardado started aggressively, hoping to throw Harrison off-balance by striking first. A few quick punches forced Harrison to reconsider her approach and clinch up in the center of the cage, and the clinch turned into a trip takedown in rapid succession. Guardado held on and defended herself from damage and submission attempts, which came early and often from the unbeaten judoka. Guardado made it out of the first round, including suffering an emphatic throw that put her on her back with seconds left.

The second round began similarly to the first, with the two hesitantly testing out their striking before the grappling inevitably ensued. A blocked head kick from Harrison allowed her to close the distance, so that she could trip Guardado to her back. From there, Guardado was never able to get back on her feet until the fight ended. Harrison swiftly chained from submission to striking to open the other up, all while methodically advancing her position. When Harrison took mount, it was all over, as she smoothly transitioned to an armbar to end the night. Guardado had no choice but to tap out at the four-minute mark.

Harrison is now one of a small number of repeat PFL champions, and she earned her 12th win as a pro having finished each of her four foes in 2021 within two rounds.

Cooper Obliterates Magomedkerimov in Huge Comeback

Signs did not look great in the rematch between Ray Cooper III (24-7-1, 11-2-1 PFL) and Magomed Magomedkerimov (28-6, 11-1 PFL) for the Hawaiian, who found himself in trouble in the third round. Hurt with his back against the cage, Cooper shocked the world with a devasting combination that knocked Magomedkerimov out cold. A few follow-up punches were merely academic when Magomedkerimov’s head hit the canvas, and Gary Copeland waved off the welterweight championship affair at 3:02 of Round 3.

The first round did not go to Cooper’s liking, eating heavy shots and succumbing to a takedown midway through the period. Cooper protected himself from harm by latching on to Magomedkerimov to force a standup, and he turned the tables in Round 2 by taking Magomedkerimov down. Getting off some solid ground-and-pound, Cooper showed he had learned much since their first meeting. As the third round began, Cooper walked face-first into a big right hand, and he turned the disadvantageous situation into a successful takedown. As the Dagestani fighter returned to his feet, his hands looked sharp, marking Cooper’s face up with blow after powerful blow. Cooper’s mouth hung open as it might have suffered some damage, but he gritted his teeth and swung back with an enormous right hand that sent Magomedkerimov reeling. A few more blistering strikes sent Magomedkerimov crashing to the canvas, who ultimately suffered the first knockout loss in his career.

Successfully exacting revenge, Cooper became a two-time PFL Championship titleholder, having won the previous season in the tournament-based league.

Montes Upsets Ex-Boxing Champ Shields

The vaunted boxing of Claressa Shields (1-1, 1-1 PFL) was barely on display thanks to gritty grappling from PFL newcomer Abigail Montes (3-0, 1-0 PFL). The red-haired fighter from Mexico constantly pressed Shields into the fence, and eventually scored takedowns to plant Shields firmly on her back. The action proved to be close for all three rounds, and although Shields earned a 29-28 score, Montes’ two 29-28 counts in her favor awarded “Brave” the split decision win.

Any signs of success on the feet for Shields were quickly thwarted as Montes pinned her opponent to the cage wall again and again. The first round saw one brief surge of offense from the boxer until Montes tied her up for the remainder of it. In the second frame, Montes was able to hit a takedown towards the midpoint of the round, and her ground control served effective enough to halt any meaningful attacks from her foe. The final five-minute stretch played out largely like the second stanza, until Montes claimed mount and rained down blows right to the final bell.

“Brave” stayed perfect as a professional, earning her third win in as many tries, while handing Shields her first defeat in her own young MMA career.

Striker Cappelozza Outlasts Grappler Delija

Incredible back-and-forth action for the first two-plus rounds treated fans watching in the building and on television as Bruno Henrique Cappelozza (14-5, 4-0 PFL) went all-out against Ante Delija (19-5, 3-2 PFL) in their rematch. The action slowed as both heavyweights fatigued, but when the dust settled, Cappelozza earned a unanimous nod from the judges courtesy of 49-45, 49-45 and 48-46 tallies.

Delija was never out of the fight, even after taking major damage in the opening frame from a barrage of punishment from the Brazilian. A giant hematoma and other wounds on his face did not deter him from coming back in the second frame, where he rocked his opponent and they went to battle for that five-round stretch. As they slowed, grappling reigned supreme as Delija attempted takedowns for the remainder of the rounds. Both men had the other on their back for a time, but neither found themselves able to mount fight-ending offense. Fighting to pure exhaustion, the two heavyweights competed right to the final bell.

Cappelozza earned the first decision win of his 19-fight career, with all of his previous victories coming by knockout. Following his million-dollar triumph, the Brazilian was informed of heartbreaking news, as his father passed away over the weekend before his championship bout.

Khaybulaev Stifles, Outgrapples Wade for Featherweight Gold

Movlid Khaybulaev (19-0-1, 1 NC; 5-0-1, 1 NC PFL) will leave Florida a million dollars richer after suffocating top control and clean counterstriking led him to a clean-cut unanimous decision over Chris Wade (20-7, 8-5 PFL). At the end of their grueling 25-minute affair, the judges handed in matching three scorecards of 50-45 in favor of Khaybulaev.

Wade showed toughness and resilience, but unrelenting takedowns and mat returns grounded him for much of the fight. Control time swung massively in the Dagestani grappler’s favor, wrestling Wade down and wrenching him back down to the canvas as Wade continued to try to explode out of bad situations. After slipping Wade’s best strikes and countering with crisp right hands early, the fight found itself on the mat more often than not as the bout progressed. More often than not, Khaybulaev led the dance, reversing Wade any time he temporarily gained an advantageous position. The unbeaten fighter proved to be a puzzle officially yet to be solved.

Khaybulaev makes good on a successful PFL campaign that began in 2019, when a defeat in the playoffs later overturned to a no contest ended his run two years ago.

Opportunistic Carlos Jr. Throttles Hamlet

American Top Team mainstay Antonio Carlos Jr. submitted Marthin Hamlet with a first-round rear-naked choke, as he walked away with the 2021 light heavyweight championship and the accompanying $1 million prize. Hamlett (8-3, 2-2 PFL) conceded defeat 3:49 into Round 1.

Carlos Jr. (13-5, 3-0 PFL) pecked away with jabs, withstood a counter left hook from the Norwegian wrestler that sent him somersaulting backward and waited for an opening to present itself. He followed a right hand into a clever takedown and immediately climbed to the back, securing his position with a standing body triangle. Hamlet tried to spin free but only wandered deeper into danger, leaving his neck exposed in his haste to eject the Brazilian. Carlos Jr. calmly ensnared the Frontline Academy rep in the choke and left him no choice but to tap.

The 31-year-old Carlos Jr. has now delivered 10 of his 13 career victories by submission, six via rear-naked choke.

Manfio Outduels Radzhabov for Lightweight Crown

Stinging kicks to the lower leg, sublime takedown defense and a devastating clinch game spurred American Top Team’s Raush Manfio to a five-round unanimous decision over Loik Radzhabov, as he laid claim to the 2021 PFL lightweight championship and the life-altering $1 million prize attached to it. All three cageside judges scored it for Manfio (15-3, 4-0 PFL): 48-46, 48-46 and 49-46.

Radzhabov (15-4-1, 4-4-1 PFL) fought valiantly in defeat, but his inability to put the Brazilian on the mat left him in a less-than-desirable situation. Manfio chipped away at his base with kicks, cut loose with body-head combinations and kept pace with the Tajikistani’s notoriously high output. He turned a corner in Round 4, where he ripped punches to the body in open space and excelled at close range, where he unleashed with dirty boxing, mixed in sneaky foot sweeps and drove knees into the head, chest, solar plexus and liver. Radzhabov appeared to be a spent force at the start of the fifth period but nevertheless pressed forward with punches in a bid to shift momentum in his favor. Those efforts ultimately failed.

Manfio will ride a four-fight winning streak into his 2022 campaign.

Young Rallies, Vanquishes Akhmedov

Jordan Young staged a remarkable comeback and put away American Top Team stablemate Omari Akhmedov with punches in the third round of their light heavyweight confrontation. Young (12-2, 1-1 PFL) brought it to a dramatic and emphatic close 92 seconds into Round 3.

Akhmedov (21-7-1, 0-1 PFL) largely controlled the first 10 minutes with two- and three-punch combinations, leg kicks, clinches and takedowns. However, he appeared to run out of steam after the middle stanza, where he floored Young with a leg kick, advanced to the back and threatened with a rear-naked choke. Akhmedov’s inability to shut the door proved costly. Young looked like a new man in Round 3, where he picked apart the Dagestani sambo practitioner with right hands, felled him with a slashing uppercut and prompted the stoppage with follow-up blows.

The victory was Young’s first since July 12, 2019 and halted a two-fight losing streak.

Budd Takedowns Sink Young

Well-timed takedowns, positional control and intermittent ground-and-pound carried former Bellator MMA champion Julia Budd to a unanimous decision over Kaitlin Young in a three-round women’s lightweight tilt. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for Budd (16-3, 1-0 PFL), who could conceivably serve as an interesting foil for Harrison in 2022.

Young (12-12-1, 1-2 PFL) was surprisingly effective in the early standup exchanges and even mixed in a takedown of her own in Round 1, but she could not stay upright long enough to make meaningful headway. Budd secured takedowns in the second and third rounds, drowned her American counterpart with stifling top control and piled up points with short punches and shoulder strikes.

The 38-year-old Budd has won 14 of her past 15 bouts.

Madge Choke Submits Williams

Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Don Madge breezed through his promotional debut after a two-year absence, as he submitted Nathan Williams with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their lightweight pairing. Madge (10-3-1, 1-0 PFL) drew the curtain 2:15 into Round 2.

Williams (12-8, 0-1 PFL) executed takedowns in both rounds but failed to bottle up the Fight Fit Militia export on the ground. Madge rolled into an omoplata reversal in the second period, advanced to his counterpart’s back and secured his position with a body triangle. From there, he turned his attention to the choke, tightened his Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt-level squeeze and forced the tapout.

Madge, 30, has rattled off seven consecutive victories, six of them finishes.
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