Olivier Aubin-Mercier captured back-to-back PFL lightweight championships as he claimed the 2023 title with a hard-earned unanimous decision victory over Clay Collard at the 2023 PFL World Championship in Washington DC.
The event, which took place at The Anthem in the US capital, saw six million-dollar champions crowned on a packed night of fights, with Aubin-Mercier’s victory capping off a big night for the promotion, which has huge plans for expansion in 2024 following the recent acquisition of Bellator MMA.
After some early stand-up exchanges, Aubin-Mercier turned to his wrestling and dragged Collard to the mat. The American repeatedy tried to get back up, but with each attempt, “The Canadian Gangster” brought Collard further down to the canvas. Eventually, Aubin-Mercier had achieved back mount and had locked in a body triangle to control position.
With two minutes left in the round, “OAM” set to work as he looked to find a submission, but Collard scrambled back to his feet, then threatened with a heel hook after the action returned to the canvas once more. But the 2022 champion was having the better of the exchanges on the mat, and Aubin-Mercier soon had Collard’s back again as he forced “Cassius” Clay to defend off his back for the remaining seconds of the round.
Despite being the one on the defensive in Rounds 1 and 2, Collard pushed the pace in Round 3 as he looked to sap the gas tank of the the more heavily-muscled Aubin-Mercier. His steady supply of leg kicks had also started to affect the Canadian, whose mobility and speed were both looking compromised towards the end of the round. And if the third round saw Collard start to turn the tide, Round 4 saw Collard begin to take over. He stuffed OAM’s takedown attempts and lit up the 2022 champion with punches to the head and body. The leg kicks were a constant threat, too. Aubin-Mercier was only throwing single shots, while Collard was unloading multi-punch combinations as the American dominated the striking exchanges. An extended single-leg takedown attempt from Aubin-Mercier came to nothing as Collard effectively shut down almost all of “The Canadian Gangster’s” offense.
It meant the bout went into the final round with the fight hanging in the balance, and the commentary team suggesting the fight could be level at two rounds apiece. Collard opened up with a big punch that connected clean, but Aubin-Mercier took the shot well and scored a takedown. With the action back on the mat, OAM took Collard’s back and locked up a rear-naked choke, but Collard stayed calm and eventually worked his way free of the hold.
OAM stayed on Collard’s back and maintained position while looking to re-apply the choke. But while Collard did well to fend off the choke attempt, he was unable to escape Aubin-Mercier’s clutches as the fight went all the way to the judges’ scorecards. All three judges scored the bout 49-46 to Aubin-Mercier, who gave an emotional post-fight speech as he hailed the PFL as “the future” and thanking them for being the “only ones” who believed in him. He was then asked about his fighting future, and he revealed that he would take a break from the sport to spend some time with his family. He had previously said that this season would be his last in the PFL’s season format, but with the inception of the PFL’s pay-per-view Super Fights events, plus the addition of one-off Bellator shows, the door might still be open for Aubin-Mercier to return. But, for now, “The Canadian Gangster” rides off into the sunset as a back-to-back champion.
Ferreira bludgeons Goltsov to claim million-dollar heavyweight title, then calls out Ngannou
Six-foot-eight Brazilian contender Renan Ferreira looked to be struggling against Russia’s Denis Goltsov, but one right hand changed everything.
After a first round largely dominated by Goltsov, Ferreira came out for Round 2 and stunned his man with a big right hand that put him on shaky legs. Another big punch sent the Russian to the mat, where Ferreira finished the fight with a vicious volley of ground strikes to capture the 2023 PFL heavyweight championship.
Ferreira’s win puts him in line for two huge matchups in 2024. A clash with Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader awaits at the PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions event, while a pay-per-view matchup with Francis Ngannou may also be on the cards, and he sent a message directly to Ngannou that he was ready to face “The Predator.”
“I’m the new PFL heavyweight champion,” he said.
“Francis, I’m here. I’m waiting for you. Let’s make this fight happen!”
Pacheco grabs two-division glory with dominant decision win
Larissa Pacheco became a two-division PFL champion after defeating Marina Mokhnatkina to win the 2023 PFL women’s featherweight championship.
Pacheco, who stunned the MMA world last year when she outpointed Kayla Harrison to win the 2022 women’s lightweight title, dropped down to featherweight for 2023, and added a second divisional title to her resume with a stellar year, capped off by a dominant performance in the final in Washington DC.
Pacheco came out of the gate swinging hard as she looked to blast her way to a first-round finish, but despite enjoying plenty of success on her feet, she found Mokhnatkina to be a tough nut to crack through the opening two rounds.
As the fight wore on, Pacheco continued to threaten in the stand-up, but Mokhnatkina began to impose some of her skillset on the Brazilian as she took the action to the mat and after calmly escaping an attempted triangle choke from Pacheco in the fourth round, threatened with a leg lock before the action returned to the feet again.
The action had become quite ragged by this point, as fatigue began to play a factor in proceedings, but despite showing plenty of grit through the middle portion of the fight, Mokhnatkina needed something big in the final round to turn the tide in her favor.
But Pacheco was simply too strong and too good for the Russian, as she ran out a comfortable unanimous decision winner, taking four of the five rounds on each of the judges’ scorecards, which read 49-46 across the board.
Magomedkerimov submits Sy to become two-time welterweight king
Russia’s former 2018 PFL welterweight world champion Magomed Magomedkerimov became a two-time PFL champion after submitting 2022 170-pound champ Sadibou Sy in the third round of their championship final.
Magomedkerimov was the aggressor throughout the matchup as he pushed Sy onto the back foot and kept the rangy Swedish striker uncomfortable. And, in the third round, Magomedkerimov landed a big body shot that forced Sy into an ill-judged takedown attempt. Magomedkerimov saw the shot coming and immediately snatched up Sy’s neck as they fell to the canvas. Sy was trapped, with no escape route, and eventually conceded defeat as he tapped out, giving Magomedkerimov his second PFL welterweight championship, and his second million-dollar payday.
After the fight, Magomedkerimov was joined in the cage by newly-crowned Bellator welterweight champion Jason Jackson, who had just defeated long-reigning champion Yaroslav Amosov at Bellator 301. After a good-natured faceoff, both men expressed the desire to face each other inside the PFL SmartCage in early 2024 in a champion-versus-champion matchup.
Kasanganay serves up million-dollar performance to shut out Silveira
Impa Kasanganay captured the 2023 PFL light heavyweight championship, and one million dollars, with a dominant performance as he delivered a five-round shutout of Josh Silveira in their 205-pound title tussle.
Kasanganay, who had to win his way into the PFL regular season via the PFL Challenger Series
The fight saw Kasanganay dominate the striking as he repeatedly connected with heavy punches, while Silveira looked to take the fight to the mat. But crucially, Kasanganay was able to nullify Silveira’s threat on the ground while offering plenty of offense on the mat himself. After three rounds, Kasanganay looked well on top, in both the striking and grappling realms.
The fourth and fifth rounds offered more of the same as Kasanganay dominated the action against a tired and frustrated Silveira, with even the inspirational urgings of his father, martial arts legend Conan Silveira, unable to spark Josh into a winning surge as Kasanganay ran out the clear unanimous decision victor.
All three judges scored it the same, as they gave Kasanganay each of the five rounds for 50-45 scores across the board. After his win, Kasanganay called for a fight against Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov, then a matchup against Francis Ngannou.
Harrison bounces back with dominant victory
One year on from her shock defeat to Larissa Pacheco in the 2022 PFL lightweight championship final, Kayla Harrison returned to the PFL SmartCage and scored a dominant decision win over former UFC contender Aspen Ladd in their 150-pound catchweight matchup.
Harrison started out looking typically aggressive, and found a home for her punches early. And, when the pair ended up inside clinching range, Harrison picked up Ladd and powerfully slammed her hard into the canvas.
With the fight on the floor, Harrison went to work in search of a submission. But, despite mounting Ladd, she was unable to make any headway as Ladd impressively escaped and went for a takedown of her own. Harrison got the better of the exchange, however, and ended up on top once more.
Harrison held sway through the majority of Round 2, but wasn’t able to find a finish, despite a late arm-triangle choke attempt as time ran out at the end of the round. It means the action carried on into the final round, and Harrison continued to push the pace on the feet in search of another takedown opportunity.
Then Ladd threatened to turn the tables on the two-time Olympic judo champion as she briefly took Harrison’s back and attempted to lock in a rear-naked choke. But Harrison escaped well and ended up on top once again, using her dominant top game to keep Ladd playing defense.
Harrison hammered Ladd with two big knees to the head while up against the fence, before rag-dolling her opponent to the mat. To her credit, Ladd bounced back to her feet immediately, but was unable to impart any real offense of her own.
It meant that Harrison ran out the easy winner on the scorecards, earning 30-27s across the board from the three cageside judges.
Brunson claims routine win over former champion Cooper
Former UFC middleweight contender Derek Brunson made a winning start to life in the PFL SmartCage with a unanimous decision victory over former PFL welterweight champion Ray Cooper III in their middleweight matchup
Despite moving up a weight class, Cooper was unable to make weight at Thursday’s official weigh-ins, and conditioning seemed to play a major part as an in-shape and ready Brunson dominated Cooper on the mat for long spells of the fight to earn the nod from the cageside judges.
His win didn’t come without incident, however, as Cooper rocked Brunson in the second round with a short punch, despite standing on one leg. But Cooper was unable to make his punch power pay as Brunson ran out a comfortable winner on his promotional debut.
Pinedo TKOs Braga to capture featherweight championship
The preliminary card also featured PFL championship action, as Jesus Pinedo stopped Gabriel Braga with strikes to capture the title and the million-dollar prize.
Pinedo looked the more mobile, more dynamic fighter as he worked the outside, connecting with punches and leg kicks, while Braga looked to stay compact and maintain the center of the cage.
Eventually, Pinedo hurt Braga with strike that forced the Brazilian to cover up against the fence as the Peruvian unloaded a barrage of strikes. The referee’s intervention 58 seconds into the second round may have been a touch earlier than expected, but Braga wasn’t throwing anything back, and it cost him a shot at a million dollars, as Pinedo was crowned the 2023 featherweight champion.
After his win, Pinedo was greeted inside the cage by Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull, and the pair faced off ahead of the mooted PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions event next year.
2023 PFL World Championship: Official results
- Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Clay Collard via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) – for lightweight championship
- Renan Ferreira def. Denis Goltsov via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 0:26 – for heavyweight championship
- Larissa Pacheco def. Marina Mokhnatkina via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) – for women’s featherweight championship
- Magomed Magomedkerimov def. Sadibou Sy via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 3, 1:17 – for welterweight championship
- Impa Kasanganay def. Josh Silveira via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) – for light heavyweight championship
- Kayla Harrison def. Aspen Ladd via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Derek Brunson def. Ray Cooper III via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Jesus Pinedo def. Gabriel Braga via TKO (punches) Round 3, 0:58 – for featherweight championship
- Biaggio Ali Walsh def. Joel Lopez via knockout (punch) – Round 2, 1:24
- Phil Caracappa def. Khai Wu via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Jesse Stirn def. Josh Blyden via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)