WASHINGTON D.C. -- A potential superfight between two-time PFL champion Kayla Harrison and Bellator MMA champion Cris Cyborg has tantalized fans for years. For the first time, however, nothing is really standing in the way of it happening.
Harrison (16-1) certainly knows as much and called for Cyborg to meet her in the PFL in 2024 on Friday after dominating Aspen Ladd in a three-round decision in her first appearance of 2023.
Earlier this week, the PFL announced it had acquired Bellator MMA from Paramount, meaning both Harrison and Cyborg are under contract with the same company for the first time in their careers. Harrison immediately referenced a fight with Cyborg after Friday night's win.
"PFL just acquired Bellator," Harrison said. "I heard there's a girl in Bellator who thinks she's a bad b----. Why don't we find out?"
Cyborg (27-2), who is scheduled to box professionally in January, responded on X.
"I'm a women (sic). Not a girl," she wrote. "Women don't refer to themselves as b----. You basic."
A matchup between Harrison and Cyborg would arguably be the most intriguing fight in women's MMA right now. Harrison, a two-time gold medalist in judo, suffered her first defeat at the end of 2022 to Larissa Pacheco but has otherwise been dominant since transitioning to the sport in 2018. Cyborg, 38, is one of the most decorated athletes in women's MMA history. She is coming off a first-round Bellator title defense against Cat Zingano in October.
The PFL has said it intends to continue operating Bellator as a separate league, but it's also planning a PFL champion vs. Bellator champion event in early 2024, potentially February. That theme played out all evening at the PFL 2023 Championship Finals on Friday, at The Anthem venue, as the company even squared many of the champions off immediately following their bouts.
In addition to promoting champion vs. champion bouts, the PFL crowned its first two-weight champion in Pacheco (22-5), who won her second PFL championship with a unanimous decision over Marina Mokhnatkina (11-4). Pacheco won the 155-pound lightweight title by defeating Harrison in 2022, and added a 145-pound featherweight belt on Friday. She is also a candidate to eventually face Cyborg, although the PFL has long favored the high-profile matchup against Harrison.
In the lightweight division, Olivier Aubin-Mercier (21-5) completed a back-to-back title run despite a valiant effort by Clay Collard (24-11). Aubin-Mercier defeated Collard by unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring it 49-46. Aubin-Mercier would likely face Bellator champion Usman Nurmagomedov next but has publicly considered retirement and said at the very least that he will take a break to spend time with his family.
At heavyweight, Renan Ferreira (12-3) pulled off a stunning upset against Denis Goltsov (32-8), as he knocked out the Russian veteran with a pair of right hands just 26 seconds into the second round. The finish came after Ferreira spent most of the opening frame on his back, eating ground and pound and defending submission attempts by Goltsov. Ferreira might face Bellator champion Ryan Bader next, although former UFC champ Francis Ngannou is also in the mix for an opponent.
Russian welterweight Magomed Magomedkerimov (34-6) won his second PFL championship with a guillotine finish against 2022 champion Sadibou Sy (16-6-2) at 1:17 of the third round. It marked Magomedkerimov's second career win over Sy. He might have been a three-time PFL champion, had visa issues not interrupted his 2022 campaign. He will face newly crowned Bellator champ Jason Jackson, who won the belt by defeating the previously undefeated Yaroslav Amosov.
Light heavyweight Impa Kasanganay (15-3) delivered one of the best performances of his career in a dominant five-round decision over Josh Silveira (12-2). Kasanagay went in as a betting favorite, but he made it look far easier than expected. He consistently beat Silveira to the punch over the course of 25 minutes and went on to call out Bellator champion Vadim Nemkov and Ngannou.
Peruvian featherweight Jesus Pinedo (23-6-1) capped off an amazing 2023 campaign with a third-round finish of Gabriel Braga (12-1). The bout ended in controversy, when referee Fernando Yamasaki called a TKO stoppage as Braga covered up from strikes along the cage. Although Braga was clearly hurt by a left hook and flying knee, it did not appear he was done. It was nevertheless an impressive performance by Pinedo, who also beat Bubba Jenkins and Brendan Loughnane this year. He will face one of the most dominant champions in Bellator history, in featherweight king Patricio Pitbull.