Larissa Pacheco did a last-minute rewrite of the script to Kayla Harrison’s career, one that nobody saw coming.
In many ways, the PFL women’s lightweight seasons, although a legit competition, has felt like just a showcase, a display for the most promising female talent in recent years. Harrison has a pedigree like none other and is undeniably a special individual. In terms of resume, she’s unmatched.
Harrison is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo and considered the most successful judoka in American history. So when she crossed over to MMA in 2018, Harrison was a must-watch fighter and expected by most to thrive, and that she did.
Harrison went 15-0 in four years. In that span, she won both of the PFL women’s lightweight seasons – comfortably dominating and often times crushing her competition. And Pacheco (19-4) was no exception to the Harrison experience, as she too had fallen twice to the American.
So when the 2022 PFL women’s lightweight finale arrived, it was assumed that Harrison would be crowned champion once again. Entering the 2022 PFL Championships, Pacheco was a +529 underdog on average across major online sportsbooks, according to BestFightOdds.com.
Most fans and media were already discussing potential future fights with Bellator champion Cris Cyborg and UFC two-division queen Amanda Nunes, not taking Pacheco’s chances of winning very seriously.
Yet, against all odds, Pacheco made it happen. On Nov. 25 at the Hulu Theater in New York, the Brazilian did what many deemed impossible and handed Harrison her first professional defeat in MMA.
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It was a massive shock to the combat sports world. But after 25 minutes of fighting, it was pretty clear Pacheco had answered the call as she won a unanimous decision that read 48-47 across all judges’ scorecards. There were few complaints online about the verdict of the title bout.
There’s no question Pacheco leveled up tremendously and gave Harrison by far the toughest fight of her career, making her struggle in ways never seen before. In hindsight, the MMA world should’ve seen the warnings and given Pacheco more respect.
Once a bantamweight, Pacheco had bulked up plenty since the pair of 2019 fights with Harrison and was no longer outmatched in size and strength. She had also picked up three consecutive first-round TKO wins throughout the 2022 PFL season and found herself on a five-fight winning streak.
Pacheco was doubted and looked over by many, and that’s why when she claimed the 2022 PFL women’s lightweight title and the $1 million prize, the MMA world was stunned. Pacheco was a major wrench in Harrison’s career trajectory, and that’s why her monumental win is MMA Junkie’s 2022 Upset of the Year.