Kayla Harrison can be biggest women's MMA star since Ronda Rousey, more thoughts from the PFL championship

Kayla Harrison could be the biggest female MMA star since Ronda Rousey
Harrison, the charismatic trash-talking, one woman wrecking crew member who happens to be Rousey’s former teammate with USA Judo won her second $1,000,000 PFL championship Wednesday night. She defeated Taylor Guardado via an armbar submission in Round 2.

The undefeated Harrison has signed her contract with PFL. She'll probably have many suitors, including Bellator and the UFC. The PFL will also do everything in its power to get her back. Harrison will be the most prominent MMA agent in history and she will command top dollar in 2022 and beyond.

Harrison said she is looking for seven figures per fight. She has the potential to be a major star and possibly even become mainstream if she gets the right promotion. Harrison doesn't need any help; she can do a lot by herself, from finishing fights to being an inspiration (not unlike Rousey), every time she picks up the microphone.

This is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Rousey was a legend in mixed martial art history. Not just because of her first-round finishes, title defenses, and her ability pull off an armbar submission from the midst of nothing, but also because of her string of title defenses, title defenses, and string of first rounds.

Six UFC pay per view cards featuring Rousey were held between 2013 and 2016. All of them sold well. Rousey was a formidable UFC women's bantamweight champion. However, she was also, before Conor McGregor's rise, one of the most financially sound PPV stars of UFC history.

Rousey hasn't fought since December 2016, when she was knocked out by Amanda Nunes. Since Rousey's departure, there have only been seven UFC pay per view shows featuring women. Cris Cyborg was featured in two of these shows, although she is not with the UFC anymore and is currently working with Bellator.

This is all to say that since Rousey's departure, the UFC hasn't had a huge draw in its women’s divisions.

Kayla Harrison won the second consecutive PFL women's lightweight title on Wednesday. Harrison is a potential star in MMA and has many options for the future. Cooper Neill / PFL

Nunes, who holds both the UFC women’s featherweight and bantamweight titles, is the closest the promotion comes to a female pay per view draw. Although she has headlined five UFC pay per view cards, one was against Rousey, and the other was UFC 200. Jon Jones was forced to withdraw from the card due to failing a drug test during fight week.

Harrison vs. Nunes will be one of the most important women's MMA fights ever. However, they are training partners at American Top Team in Florida and are also friends. The Cyborg fight, if Harrison chooses to go Bellator, would be an epic one. It would be a main event-caliber fight. Harrison will remain the face of PFL if she remains with the organization. The PFL might even be able to promote with Bellator, making that Harrison vs. Cyborg fight.

We may never know. Harrison is a rare breed in MMA and has the potential to rise to the top if given the chance. Harrison is not the most popular weight class, with no one competing at 155 and very few talent at 145. But, there are problems. Harrison is a person worth building around. -- Marc Raimondi

Claressa Shields needs to work in MMA

Claressa Shields, a world-class women's boxer, is a great example of what it means to be a woman boxer. She is still a work-in-progress in the cage.

Abigail Montes lost in a split decision to Shields on Wednesday. This was her first loss of any sort since 2012's amateur boxing bout. Despite the setback, Shields did show improvement in her second MMA bout, particularly when it came down to her takedown defense.

In MMA, defeats are often viewed differently than in boxing. The Shields team, which includes Dmitry Salita and Mark Taffet, knew that the PFL experiment would be a long-term one.

This plan allows Shields to fight in showcase fights during the first two years her three-year contract with PFL, before she moves up to the regular season competition in 2023.

Taffet stated, "Right now we're at the laboratory." "We do it live on television."

Shields will be a strong favorite to keep her unified middleweight title when she returns to boxing on Dec. 11. She'll be back in the boxing ring on Dec. 11, and will continue to improve her MMA skills.

Shields stated that she thought she won the first two rounds. Then, in the final round, she won the ground-and pound. Shields said that she was OK with this. It doesn't affect the gameplan.

Shields has been successful in MMA because she tried something new and found a sliver success. She will need to improve her ground game to be able to dominate in another sport. This will help her avoid the same performance as Wednesday's third round.

She still has two to three fights to go, but plenty of time to practice her skills in the gym before she can make the MMA rounds. -- Mike Coppinger

Ray Cooper III has done all he can in PFL. Now it's time for Ray Cooper III to try his hand in the UFC

Ray Cooper III is the fighter who has made the most of the four years that have elapsed since inception of PFL. For the past few years, the native of Hawaii has been Mr. PFL. He holds a record of 11-2 (1 NC), with nine finishes. He won the $1 million PFL Welterweight title for the second time on Wednesday. He made amends for Jake Shields' loss by defeating Shields twice in 2018. However, he fell just short of the PFL title in the final to Magomed Magomedkerimov.

Cooper won the PFL Welterweight title in 2019. He repeated the feat against Magomedkerimov on Wednesday. Magomedkerimov was the man who defeated him for $1 million in 2018. Rory MacDonald was also defeated on his way to the 2021 title.

Cooper has completed his circle in PFL and done all that is possible in the promotion. Cooper is now a free agent and it's high time that he tried his hand at the UFC. Cooper is only 28 years old and still in his athletic prime. If "Bradda boy" is promoted to the UFC, or to a top-ranked contender, it's not clear. Cooper's qualities are transferable, however: action fights and a never say die attitude. He also has the ability to throw grenades.

Cooper has won more than $2,000,000 in prize money with PFL since 2019. Cooper is now ready to show his skills in the largest MMA promotion anywhere.

Cooper declared, "I know that I'm the greatest," after Wednesday's win. "I would take on the UFC champion and the Bellator champion. We can unify our belts. I will take on anyone, just bring them along." -- Raimondi

Kaitlin Young began strong against Julia Budd. But, once Budd won the second half, she dominated the rest of the fight. Cooper Neill / PFL

Julia Budd must do more to threaten Kayla Harrison

This storyline was the precursor to Julia Budd's arrival. The showcase bout, which saw the former Bellator featherweight champion make her PFL debut early in the evening, was set up to show what could be in store for the PFL's women’s lightweight division. Kayla Harrison has won the championship in 2019 as well as 2021. In MMA, the two-time Olympic gold medalist for judo is unbeaten. In the PFL, she looks unbeatable. Budd was perhaps brought in to challenge that.

Let's not forget that Budd was signed by the PFL to increase the luster of its 155-pound division. Claressa Shields (unbeaten boxing champion in two divisions) competed on the undercard in her second MMA bout. She lost. Shields did show some improvement in her defensive wrestling. She mostly responded well to her coaches but still has a lot to learn. Let's see what Shields does after her first defeat in combat sport.

Budd showed up at her new MMA facility and controlled almost every second of her fight against Kaitlin. She'll have to do much more to stop Harrison. This assumes the two-time champ is not a free agent and will be around for the 2022 season. While Budd displayed no recklessness, she was measured in her approach and still took in more strikes than she should, particularly early on. Budd didn't abandon her ground-and-pound tactics or pursue dominant positions when she got to the mat. Young was beaten by Budd, who fought steady. It would not against Harrison, I doubt it.

All of this because I am the only ESPN voter who placed Budd in his women’s pound-for pound top 10. Harrison received votes from two colleagues and finished tied for No. The rankings ranked 9 This pecking list could be flipped next year. It could. Budd has fought women with more impressive resumes than Harrison (Amanda Nunes Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey) while Harrison has never faced anyone with Budd’s pedigree (except when she rolls in the American Top Team gym with Nunes). But Shields keeps getting better. Shields is quickly closing in on the opportunity to take advantage of her relative inexperience.

Budd will need to get the matchup she wanted, and Harrison would have to be on the defensive. Budd would need more aggression to reach Harrison, who is dangerously close to her. -- Jeff Wagenheim

Chris Wade was beaten by Movlid Khaybulaev for five rounds. This resulted in a unanimous decision in the 2021 PFL featherweight final. Cooper Neill / PFL

Wednesday's under-the-radar best performance

The spotlight shined in several directions on this night, from Kayla Harrison to Claressa Shields to the champion-vs.-champion rematch between Ray Cooper III and Magomed Magomedkerimov. There were also some outstanding performances that didn't get the spotlight.

Brazil was home to three of the six 2021 PFL champions, heavyweight Bruno Cappelozza, Antonio Carlos Junior, and lightweight Raush Manfio.

Movlid Khaybulaev was the fighter that impressed me most, besides the most prominent spots on Wednesday night's card. Although the Dagestani featherweight was not the most entertaining, his five-round victory over Chris Wade was remarkable.

What makes it so amazing? Wade was just coming off a win against Bubba Jenkins in the semifinals. He was unable to overcome Khaybulaev who knocked him down eight more times and controlled every round of the mat.

Khaybulaev did not threaten to have a flashy end like those of Cooper, Harrison and Carlos Junior. He was nevertheless eye-opening. Sometimes, the best performance is one where you completely shut down your opponent's best. -- Wagenheim

Rory MacDonald didn't have a successful debut season in the PFL, but he will be back in 2022 to try again for $1 million and a PFL title. Cooper Neill / PFL

What could the PFL look in 2022, with the 2021 championship already in the books?

PFL made a splash in the beginning of the year with high-profile signings from other promotions, including Fabricio Werdum, Anthony Pettis and Rory MacDonald. Pettis, a former UFC lightweight champion, was well-known enough less than a decade ago that Wheaties boxes had his image printed. MacDonald, a former Bellator Welterweight champion, was part of some the most memorable action fights ever recorded in UFC history. Werdum is an ex-UFC heavyweight champion.

Pettis, Werdum, and MacDonald were a sign that PFL was not going to shy about signing big-name agents and that the promotion had firmly established itself as one the best in MMA. It didn't work out the way it was planned. Pettis and MacDonald were a combined 1-4 this year in PFL. Werdum lost just one fight, but the result was declared a draw. Pettis failed to qualify for the lightweight playoffs. It is obvious that having those men on a card increases the event's value. It wasn't the influx of championship-level talent PFL had hoped for.

Good news: Ray Cooper III and RaushManfio took advantage of their victories over MacDonald, Pettis and made a name for themselves and earned good money. There is more good news on the horizon. Promo spokesperson Greg Savage stated that MacDonald and Pettis will both be back in the PFL for the 2022 season. Werdum's status remains unknown.

These names are paired with new signees like Budd, the former Bellator women’s featherweight champion who defeated Kaitlin Young on Wednesday. Returning champions also make up the PFL roster. PFL will likely have its best-stacked roster yet next season, even if Harrison doesn't resign. -- Raimondi