UNIONDALE, N.Y -- Kayla Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said she made "mistakes" in her unanimous decision victory over Larissa Pacheco, and felt like her performance fell short of her expectations in the main event of Thursday night's PFL 1 at NYCB Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Harrison escaped danger multiple times against Pacheco, a Brazilian fighter who has competed on "The Ultimate Fighter," but she felt her performance missed the mark.
"I think people underestimate my desire to be the best and to be perfect," said Harrison, who shed tears after the win. "I'm not just one of those people who says it. I want to go out and I want to dominate and I want to [impose] my will and I want people to beg to never have to fight me again. When I feel like I fall short of that, I'm not happy."
Though Harrison didn't finish the fight, she's behind only Sarah Kaufman heading into the second round of fights for the PFL's women's lightweights -- one of six divisions that will crown a $1 million winner on Dec. 31.
"I thought that Kayla did well," Kaufman said of Harrison's fight. "I think she's going to be really frustrated with her performance, given that she's an elite athlete. ... She was patient, she was collected, she was calm. Everyone makes mistakes in fights. And definitely, she made some mistakes there. You can see some of the inexperience within the MMA game. But overall, I thought that she should be really happy with her win."
Magomed Magomedkerimov, the $1 million winner of the welterweight division last year and one of four returning PFL champions from last season, took care of UFC veteran John Howard with a submission late in Round 1.
"John is very experienced fighter," Magomedkerimov said through a Russian translator. "But I was fighting was much better than he was fighting."
Ray Cooper III took care of business against Zane Kamaka, his cousin, who missed weight on Wednesday. Cooper automatically got the three points awarded to winners and added a two-point stoppage bonus (fighters earn three points for a first-round finish, two points for a second-round finish and one point for a third-round finish), but Kamaka elected to fight to receive his purse for the fight and remain in the competition.
"I just came out there to fight," said Cooper, who lost in the welterweight title fight a year ago. "The animosity was there. Ultimately, I come in here to finish guys and get back to the finals."
Here's how the rest of the night played out:
Kayla Harrison def. Larissa Pacheco via unanimous decision (3 points) (women's lightweight )
The PFL created the women's lightweight division to showcase Kayla Harrison, who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro in judo. No other American had ever won gold in the sport, and she did it twice.
But she's admittedly a novice in mixed martial arts, albeit a promising one who secured three victories in last season's PFL.
On Thursday, Harrison (4-0) dominated Larissa Pacheco with a unanimous decision win. But Pacheco, a veteran who competed on "The Ultimate Fighter 28," had a few interesting moments. She took Harrison's back and fought for a triangle from her back on several occasions. As Pacheco (11-3) went for the rear-naked choke, Harrison stayed calm, and then used her considerable strength to reverse the position and regain control.
Harrison never seemed as if she was in a spot that could cost her the fight, although she was ultimately unable to finish the fight and settled for three points -- putting her in a tie for second.
In fact, Harrison was so dominant that one judge gave her two 10-8 rounds for a final score of 30-25; the other two judges scored the fight 30-27.
Harrison might not have been completely happy with the finish, and while she was emotional after the fight, she showed flashes of her massive potential in her fourth career MMA fight.
"She's a game opponent," Harrison said after the fight. "She's got a lot of experience. And my hat's off to her."
Magomed Magomedkerimov def. John Howard via first-round submission (6 points) (men's welterweight)
Magomed Magomedkerimov looks like the same powerful and skilled fighter he was a year ago when he claimed the PFL's welterweight title and a $1 million payday with a submission victory over John Howard.
From the opening moments of the fight, it felt like Howard never had a chance. Magomedkerimov (24-5) submitted the veteran of the UFC at 4:54 of the first round with a guillotine choke, which was the culmination of a round full of constant pressure from the Russian standout. With the clock winding down, Magomedkerimov quickly went for the finish on Howard (27-15-1) and won the full bonus of three points.
The reigning king of the welterweight division took Howard off his feet in the first 30 seconds of the fight and never allowed him to get back to his feet. It was Magomedkerimov's ninth consecutive win and eighth career submission.
Ray Cooper III def. Zane Kamaka via second-round submission (5 points) (men's welterweight)
Ray Cooper III warned Zane Kamaka, his second cousin, about entering this season of the PFL. Cooper said he viewed Kamaka's decision as a disrespectful move.
The family drama that played out Thursday at PFL 1 was one-sided in the cage as Cooper (18-6), who lost in the finals of last year's PFL welterweight division after winning his first four bouts via KO, took Kamaka (13-4) down, punished him around and, in the closing moments of the second round, ended the fight with a rear-naked choke. With the win, Cooper earned five critical points.
There appeared to be potential of more drama brewing after the two went nose-to-nose before the fight, and Cooper held onto the choke a second or two after Kamaka had tapped, with the referee having to step in. Cooper confronted Kamaka immediately after the stoppage, as well.
But with a moment to cool down, they seemed to reach a truce, as they later embraced one another a few moments after the fight.
"I just said we didn't have to do this but it's over," Cooper said. "I'm past it. I don't care about it."
Kamaka could not win any points in the fight after missing weight by nearly two pounds. Cooper was granted the three points and the potential to win a bonus, while Kamaka competed for only the purse, family pride and a chance to keep Cooper from winning more points.
Cooper aims to avenge last year's loss to Magomed Magomedkerimov in the welterweight title fight. On Thursday night, Cooper looked like the same ferocious competitor he was a year ago.
Sarah Kaufman said she wants to spoil the Kayla Harrison "party" in this season's PFL, but on the opening night of the PFL's second season, she spoiled someone else's. Her arm triangle submission victory over Morgan Frier at 2:22 of the first round -- good for six points -- was an impressive PFL debut for the Canadian veteran.
"It could have been better, but I'm pretty happy," she said. "Six points. Right now, I'm in the lead."
Kaufman (21-4) has been a professional fighter since 2006, winning titles in both Strikeforce and Invicta along the way, along with several appearances in the UFC. That experience against Frier (4-2), who had just five pro bouts on her resume coming into the night, was obvious in the opening seconds as Kaufman quickly gained control of the fight and scored a takedown.
Frier, a military veteran, fought hard to escape the arm triangle, throwing punches at Kaufman's torso, but Kaufman was just too polished and prepared, with Frier ultimately forced to tap out.
�� 1️⃣7️⃣ seconds 6️⃣ points
Sadibou Sy gets PFL 1 on ESPN2 started in style pic.twitter.com/j4WPtYBm28
- ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 10, 2019
Sadibou Sy needed only 17 seconds to earn six crucial points in the PFL with a quick finish of David Michaud.
Sy (8-4-1) landed a vicious kick to the ribs that stunned Michaud (15-5), who went to the mat and barely protected himself. After a few quick punches by Sy on the ground, the official stepped in and called the fight. The finish was so fast that much of the crowd didn't understand how it had happened until replays were shown on the video board inside the arena.
In the aftermath of the fight, the entire right side of Michaud's torso was red.
At 170 pounds, Sy quickly showed he's a force to be reckoned with. He fought at 185 pounds in last season's PFL and reached the semifinals. His leg kicks, as he proved on Thursday, are dangerous.
He calls himself "The Swedish Denzel Washington" due to his acting aspirations, and he looked like a star in his quick victory.
"I know he was going to close the distance and I wanted to kick his legs and start low," Sy said after the fight. "But I saw the opportunity for the left kick, and I just went for it."
Handesson Ferreira hopes to finish (and surpass) what he started last season in the PFL, when he lost to Ray Cooper III in the welterweight semifinals. A dominant decision victory over Bojan Velickovic in the prelims was a solid first step towards that goal. Ferreira (14-2-1), who fights out of American Top Team, was the aggressor early, throwing impactful leg kicks, scoring multiple takedowns and never allowing Velickovic to get an edge.
The two had a weird exchange in the first round when Velickovic (16-9-2) appeared to ask the referee for a timeout. The referee didn't stop the fight and Velickovic took multiple punches from Ferreira, who earned three points in his first win of the season.
In the most exciting fight of the night to that point, and the closest, Bobbi Jo Dalziel -- a former member of the Canadian military -- earned a unanimous decision over Genah Fabian, a former muay thai world champion, while also offering a preview of the challenging slate of fighters Kayla Harrison could face this season.
Dalziel (5-0), an undefeated contender, stands 6-foot. She used her length to control the distance and earn the three points for the decision win. The former volleyball player showed her power throughout as, by the end of the fight, Fabian's face was bloodied and damaged.
Experience helped too. Whenever Fabian (1-1), who was in just her second professional bout, would land a kick or a heavy knee, Dalziel quickly regained control and continued to wear her less experienced opponent down.
Gamzat Khiramagomedov and Glaico Franca didn't waste time getting down to business in their first fight in the PFL men's welterweight division, attacking one another early and engaging before Franca won via submission at 4:06 of the first round. Franca earned the full six points for a win and finish after a bloodied Khiramagomedov tapped out to a rear naked choke. Franca (20-5), a mixed martial arts veteran, used his experience to sustain the pressure against Khiramagomedov, the 25-year-old who entered the fight with a 6-0 record but was fighting outside of Russia for the first time.
Franca was relentless and just never allowed his opponent any room to breathe. The Brazilian, who has fought in the UFC, was on a mission from the opening bell, and he succeeded.
For years, Las Vegas-based fighter Chris Curtis dreamed of fighting on the big stage, but he never complained as he bounced around regional circuits. But the 31-year-old took advantage of his most important opportunity to date when he finished Bellator veteran Andre Fialho at 4:17 of the third round with a vicious ground-and-pound attack.
The exciting bout featured energized exchanges between the two fighters. Fialho's leg kicks and insistence on coming forward helped him control the pace at several points, but Curtis (21-5) landed a flurry of left hands that hurt Fialho (10-2) throughout the fight and eventually bloodied him. Fialho couldn't seem to dodge the boxer's precise combinations, and Curtis pounced after he hurt Fialho late in the third round, earning the finish and a bonus point with a flurry of punches that started standing and ended with a ground-and-pound to earn the TKO.
"Guys, I think I deserve an extra point for style," Curtis said after the fight, in which he earned his eighth consecutive win, dating back to 2016.
You could see some of the rust with Roberta Samad, who hadn't fought since 2015 after having a baby, but she still won decisively by unanimous decision over Moriel Charneski in the opening bout on the prelims. The Brazilian remained aggressive throughout and controlled the fight through all three rounds, with all three judges scoring the fight 30-27.
She grounded-and-pounded Charneski from full mount position and went for multiple submissions. Samad (5-1) threw a hard punch in the second that hurt Charneski (3-6) and followed it up with a pair of leg kicks. Samad was more impressive in later rounds, and seemed to get more comfortable as the fight moved along.
Samad earned three points for the decision win.