The PFL is ending its 2023 season with a bang.
On Friday, it will host the PFL Finals at The Anthem in Washington DC. The event may be overshadowed by the announcement of the promotion's landmark acquisition of former competitor Bellator on Monday; however, it still promises a strong offering of title bouts and showcases.
Here is a rundown of the card so far:
- Lightweight tournament final: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Clay Collard
- Heavyweight tournament final: Renen Ferreira vs. Denis Goltsov
- Women's featherweight tournament final: Larissa Pacheo vs. Marina Mokhnatnina
- Welterweight tournament final: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Sadibou Sy
- Light heavyweight tournament final: Josh Silveira vs. Impa Kasanganay
- Featherweight tournament final: Jesus Pinedo vs. Gabriel Alves Braga
- Kayla Harrison vs. Aspen Ladd
- Ray Cooper III vs. Derek Brunson
- Biaggio Ali Walsh vs. Joel Galarza Lopez
- Bubba Jenkins vs. Chris Wade
- Phil Caracappa vs. Khai Wu
- Jesse Stirn vs. Josh Blayden
Here are the three
3. Derek Brunson's PFL debut
In September, the UFC surprised its fans by releasing veteran middleweight contender Derek Brunson. Granted, he was 39 years old and on a two-fight losing streak, both inside the distance; but there was also a new champion in his division by the name of Sean Strickland, and a new win streak might have put him back in the hunt.
According to Brunson, he grew tired of lobbying for title shots or eliminators every time he built up momentum and not getting them.
Brunson will not make his season debut until next year, when he goes 20 pounds north for the first time in his career; but in the meantime, he has already decided to showcase himself to his new audience for the first time on Friday, in his current weight class.
His opponent, Ray Cooper III, needs no introduction to long-time PFL fans. He is a two-time welterweight champion in the promotion and a proven finishing machine, but a costly weight miss derailed his 2022 campaign, and he opted to take a break for 2023.
Now he goes 15 pounds north for the first time, looking to spoil another big free agent signing's debut and build up his own momentum ahead of a potential full-time return in 2024. There are only two viable outcomes in this fight: either someone is going down early, or these two heavy hitters will slug it out until one can take it no more.
2. Kayla Harrison's PFL return
The last time she was seen in the cage, Kayla Harrison had her head down and her hands on her hips, cutting a dejected figure as she lost for the first time in her career against Larissa Pacheco in a massive upset at 2022's PFL Finals.
Since then, she has stayed away from fighting, recuperating from her injuries and refocusing her mind. But all that ends on Friday, as she draws Aspen Ladd in a 150-lb. catchweight bout.
Harrison was supposed to face former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, who was cut after she "refused to fulfill her contractual obligation," per the PFL. Stepping in on relatively short notice instead is Ladd, a once-promising prospect in the UFC women's bantamweight division whose potential was hurt by her struggles to make weight. After settling into her new home, she has since gone 2-1.
The former two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo should be a huge favorite in her homecoming, but Ladd will definitely not just lie down.
1. The tournament finals
And of course, the main reason why the PFL Finals are stacked: the tournament finals.
Provisionally topping the bill is Olivier Aubin-Mercier defending the lightweight title against Clay Collard in what he has claimed may be his retirement fight. He recently told MMA Junkie Radio, “I think there’s more of a chance that I’m done after this fight than I’m not done.”
Elsewhere, the aforementioned Pacheco looks to cement her legacy as the PFL's new woman to beat in the women's featherweight finals against Marina Mokhnatkina, who is having the best stretch of her career. And light heavyweight Josh Silveira aims to cap off a career year against UFC veteran Impa Kasanganay.
The other bouts are no slouches either: Renan Ferreira and Denis Goltsov vying for the heavyweight crown, 2022 welterweight winner Sadibou Sy looking to avenge a prior defeat to Magomed Magomedkerimov, and Jesus Pinedo and Gabriel Alves Braga rematching with the featherweight title at stake.