The 2021 PFL Playoffs roll on Thursday evening, Aug. 19, with PFL Playoffs 2, live from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
This week, it’s all about the heavyweights and women’s lightweights as competitors make their push toward the biggest night in MMA: The $6 PFL World Championship. The event airs live on ESPN+ and ESPN.
Atop the fight card is a high-profile showdown between No. 2-seeded women’s lightweight Kayla Harrison and No. 3 seed Genah Fabian.
Undefeated at 10-0 with eight stoppages as a professional, Harrison represents a dominant force inside the cage. She’s a two-time Olympic judo gold medalist and the 2019 PFL Women’s Lightweight Champion, and now she’s looking to add a little more gold to the mantle with another championship run in the 2021 PFL Playoffs.
Standing in her way is Fabian, who went 2-0 in the 2021 PFL Regular Season with one knockout.
Previously, Fabian was set to face Harrison in the 2019 PFL Semifinals, but she was forced to withdraw from that bout due to injury. Now, their paths cross once more on the way toward the $1 million prize.
Before those two take the cage, another high-level women’s lightweight showdown takes place on ESPN as No. 1 seed Larissa Pacheco takes on No. 4 seed Taylor Guardado.
While Harrison has long been the PFL Women’s Lightweight queen, it’s Pacheco who strolls into the Playoffs as the top-seeded competitor. The distinction is well earned, too.
Pacheco went 2-0 in the 2021 PFL Regular Season with two finishes, including a 51-second knockout of Julija Pajic which set the record for the fastest knockout in PFL Women’s Lightweight history.
That wasn’t her only first-round finish of 2021, though. Pacheco’s one-punch knockout of Olena Kolesnyk June 25 at PFL 6, 2021 made SportsCenter’s Top 10 –– and for good reason:
All that plus can’t-miss action from Bruno Cappelozza, Denis Goltsov, Kaitlin Young, and more begins with the ESPN+ card, airing live at 5:30 p.m. ET. The broadcast then shifts at 9 p.m. ET for the ESPN card. For additional broadcast details, click here.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the matchups through the eyes of PFL President Ray Sefo, a six-time world kickboxing and Muay Thai champion and three-time combat sports Hall of Famer.
Note: This post reflects the betting odds at the time of posting. Visit DraftKings, the official sportsbook of the PFL, for the latest odds.
Women’s Lightweight: Kayla Harrison (No. 2 seed, 10-0, -1600 favorite) vs. Genah Fabian (No. 3 seed, 4-1, +900 underdog)
It’s a classic grappler-versus-striker matchup atop the PFL Playoffs 2, 2021 fight card, as Judo specialist Kayla Harrison faces Muay Thai machine Genah Fabian.
Winner goes to the PFL World Championship. Loser goes home.
Ray’s Take: Nobody has cracked the Kayla Harrison code to date. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has dominated everyone since making her PFL debut back in 2018, and it’s fair to wonder what it will take to actually defeat her on fight night.
How about a Muay Thai practitioner with legitimate knockout power?
Fabian is the underdog in this bout, but if there’s one thing you can never count out in a fight, it’s that type of one-shot, fight-changing power. And Fabian has it. Will she land it on Harrison Thursday evening and shock the MMA world?
Heavyweight: Bruno Cappelozza (No. 1 seed, 12-5, -210 favorite) vs. Jamelle Jones (No. 4 seed, 11-6, +175 underdog)
The second PFL Heavyweight Semifinal of the night features No. 1 seed Bruno Cappelozza against No. 4 seed Jamelle Jones –– and fight fans can expect a knockout in this one.
All 12 of Cappelozza’s professional victories came via knockout –– eight in the first round –– while Jones is on a three-fight winning streak by first-round KO of his own.
Ray’s Take: What’s that saying about an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object?
We get the PFL version of that question Thursday evening when Cappelozza takes on Jones. We’ve only seen Cappelozza for 3:07 combined in two fights during the 2021 PFL Regular Season, while Jones qualified for the Playoffs after just one fight –– a first-round knockout of Klidson Abreu at PFL 6, 2021.
These men look for the finish, and they get it more times than not. You know I love that. I’ve had this fight circled on my calendar since it became official. I have no idea who’s going to win it, but I feel confident it ends in a flash.
Women’s Lightweight: Larissa Pacheco (No. 1 seed, 15-4 -290 favorite) vs. Taylor Guardado (No. 4 seed, 2-1 +230 underdog)
It’s a No. 1-vs.-No. 4 showdown on ESPN, as top-seeded Larissa Pacheco takes on Taylor Guardado with a shot at the PFL World Championship on the line.
Pacheco enters the bout with significant momentum thanks to two first-round knockouts in the 2021 PFL Regular Season, but Guardado is no easy task for anyone –– a point evidenced throughout her impressive amateur and professional career.
Ray’s Take: Taking the top seed in the women’s lightweight division as Pacheco did turn heads –– mine included! She looked utterly dominant throughout the 2021 PFL Regular Season, but Guardado is the type of grinding, relentless fighter that can give high-level strikers fits inside the cage.
Let me tell you from experience: There’s nothing more frustrating for a striker than being pressured, grappled, and squeezed to the point you just can’t get your standup game flowing. If Guardado can do that to Pacheco Thursday evening, we could be in for a major upset.
If not, though, look out. We’ve seen what Pacheco can do, and she’ll happily do it again to punch her ticket to the PFL World Championship.
Heavyweight: Denis Goltsov (No. 2 seed, 27-6, -200 favorite) vs. Ante Delija (No. 3 seed,18-4, +170 underdog)
The August 19th, 2021 PFL Playoffs main card opens up on ESPN with a heavyweight banger between No. 2 seed Denis Goltsov and No. 3 seed Ante Delija.
Both fighters have won four of their last five, with Goltsov going 2-0 during the 2021 PFL Regular Season and Delija splitting his regular-season matchups with two first-round knockouts –– one in a win and one in a loss.
Ray’s Take: Logic says the man with a spotless 2021 Regular Season run –– Goltsov –– will defeat the man who went 1-1 in 2021.
But logic doesn’t apply to heavyweight fights. When these two men step into the cage Thursday evening to open our fight card on ESPN, anything can happen.
And I mean anything.
In 14 career finishes, Delija has registered seven knockouts and seven submissions, making him just as dangerous on the ground as he is on the feet. Ditto for Goltsov, who scored back-to-back TKO victories in the 2021 Regular Season but who squeezed Kelvin Tiller out with an Ezekiel choke during the 2019 PFL Regular season.
These are two well-rounded heavyweights who will be looking to make the PFL World Championship by any means necessary. For the fans, there’s nothing better.