The PFL women’s lightweight tournament is one to watch this season
Of the big three U.S. promotions, PFL might be the most unique. They offer a different format, opting to feature tournaments spread out over a season as opposed to monthly (or weekly) shows throughout the year.
The promotion features a regular season or non-tournament bouts that allow fighters to earn points in an effort to qualify for the tournament or “playoffs.” The winner of the tournament will be crowned champion of the division for that season, and he gets one million dollars for his efforts. He will not defend his belt ever, but instead will reenter the tournament the following season if he wishes to try to become a two-time champion.
Another unique feature of the PFL is the inclusion of a women’s lightweight division. No other major MMA promotion (by this I mean a promotion with a major TV deal) has this division, which means that the best of the best is currently competing in the PFL.
Just who are the best of the best you ask? Well…
Kayla Harrison is perhaps the most notable figure competing in this tournament. She is an Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo, and though she is in the early stages of her MMA career, she has the sort of pedigree that makes her an exciting prospect. The Ronda Rousey comparisons will be unavoidable, but for what it’s worth – it seems that, Harrison has not relied solely on her formidable Judo game but has instead opted to take a more well-rounded approach. She will likely be the favorite in this tournament, just because of the push she’s received, but time will tell if she has the tenacity to find the same success in MMA that she found in Judo.
Sarah Kaufman is the most experienced fighter competing this season, and it isn’t even close. She is a top-5 bantamweight, and top-10 pound for pound female fighter, but note that bantamweight is TWO divisions below lightweight, so she is taking a rather interesting risk here. Her experience speaks for itself; she is a former UFC and Strikeforce vet, as well as the current defending Invicta bantamweight champion. She has 25 career fights, which is more than twice as many as the next most experienced fighter in the tournament. If I haven’t made my point clear, I’ll say it one more time… Sarah Kaufman has a severe experience advantage, and it’s a real possibility that she will win this tournament if she can deal with the extra size of her opponents.
Genah Fabian is a life long athlete, but she is a relative newcomer to combat sports, and her MMA experience is minimal at best. Heading into the PFL tournament, Fabian hadn’t competed in MMA since 2015. She’s spent most of the time in-between as a competitive kickboxer, and she has a World Muay Thai Council middleweight championship to prove it.
Moriel Charneski could be considered a bit of a long shot to win this tournament, but everybody loves a good underdog story, right? Charneski has prior experience in the PFL, as she competed last season in a non-tournament bout against fellow tournament participant, Kayla Harrison. She has a sub .500 record and has just one win since 2015. In a fledgling division, we will see fighters like this competing until the talent pool deepens. Until then, though, Charneski has a chance to shock the PFL world if she can find a way to win this tournament and the million-dollar prize.
Bobbi Jo Dalziel is another relative upstart, but with a bit of a twist. Her career started as an amateur in 2008, and she then turned pro in 2016. Despite over a decade of competing under her belt, she has just eleven fights to her name, five pro, and six amateur/Semi-Pro. She is undefeated as a professional, but she’s fought only twice since 2016 and I can’t find a reason for that, though I would bet its due to her size and inability to find quality opponents in her weight class. She is 6’0 tall and considering her size and relative success up to this point; it’s possible that she is a dark horse candidate to make a run.
Morgan Frier, a product of California’s Houdini Brothers Jiu-Jitsu, had a similar road getting to the PFL as several other participants. Frier turned pro in 2015 but fought just once a year for the most part until her PFL debut. All of her fights came in the Gladiator Challenge promotion, which isn’t exactly known for putting on competitive bouts, so it’s hard to gauge the value of her career wins.
Svetlana Khautova is Russian, and a two-fight veteran of MMA, beyond that the details are scarce. She was scheduled for a high-profile bout against Kayla Harrison this year, but withdrew due to injury leaving her place in the tournament in question. In fact, she was replaced, and Harrison ended up competing against a different opponent. It remains to be seen if she will fight again.
Larissa Pacheco is the most experienced fighter in this tournament outside of Sarah Kaufman. She is a two-time UFC veteran, and a veteran of 14 pro fights in total. She already has a loss to Kayla Harrison on her resume, but we’ve seen in the PFL that rematches are common if not expected in some situations. At 24 years of age, with nearly 15 pro fights, she has a lot going for her, but much like Sarah Kaufman, she will be moving up in weight for this tournament.
Roberta Samad looks like a cyborg… seriously… If looks could kill, she would be an absolute murderer. She is 5-1 as a pro, with her only loss coming against Bellator featherweight champion, Julia Budd. She could be an interesting participant in this tournament, but as with several others, she will be fighting up a division higher than she is accustomed. Of course, as stated above, lightweight hasn’t always been an option for these ladies, so it’s possible that it’s a more natural weight class for many involved.
Whoever emerges from this tournament as the champion will be a millionaire, as well as the face of a fledgling division, so a lot is on the line aside from just bragging rights. Will it be one of the more established fighters such as Sarah Kaufman or Kayla Harrison that emerges victorious? Alternatively, will we see a dark horse emerge? Tune in to PFL 15 on July 11th to find out!