Sunday, December 3, 2023

Top storylines heading into the 2023 PFL season, from Kayla Harrison, new signings & more

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Like a new school year, a new season for the Professional Fighters League means a fresh start for several fighters. Whether repeating as champions or new blood looking to make an impact, everyone hopes they have evolved in their own way.

The PFL’s 2023 season starts on April 1, and The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas hosts the first tournament format of the year with featherweights and light heavyweights featured. 

There have been a lot of changes this season in the PFL. From forming PFL Europe, new investors, and new fighters, the organization is ready to prove they are a true alternative in MMA. So far, they have done that by signing more individuals to their roster that can provide a competitive edge.

“We’re compelling fighters to go into free agency whereas, in the past, they really didn’t have many options,” PFL CEO Peter Murray told Insider. “So — it’s on.”

MORE: Sign up to watch the PFL 2023 season, exclusively on ESPN+

What can we expect heading into PFL 1? Here are some storylines to watch for as the PFL gears up to start its 2023 campaign. 

Can former PFL champions repeat? 

The PFL Finals saw the emergence of Brendan Loughnane, Larissa Pacheco, and Rob Wilkinson. Against all odds, they reached the mountaintop by becoming champions within their respective divisions.

Can history repeat itself? 

Only a few fighters have repeated as a champion in the PFL, with Lance Palmer, Natan Schulte, Ray Cooper III, and Kayla Harrison as examples.

Loughnane proved he can be a champion after he wasn’t signed by the UFC. He will have a target on his back. Meanwhile, Pacheco will hope her career-defining win against Kayla Harrison was just a sign of things to come. 

MORE: Explaining PFL’s season, points system and playoff format

What’s next for Kayla Harrison? 

Speaking of Harrison, the face of the PFL was the -700 favorite heading into the PFL Finals against the +500 underdog in Pacheco, a woman she beat twice already. However, the two-time Olympic gold medalist lost via unanimous decision in a fight that saw Pacheco act as the aggressor throughout. With the first loss of her career over with, many have wondered what Harrison will do next. 

Per ESPN, Harrison has two fights left in her current deal with the PFL. She has intentions to fight Cris Cyborg and compete in PPV bouts. Harrison has also shown interest in another Pacheco bout, but that would mean competing in another tournament, which she isn’t too keen on doing.

“I dropped the ball,” Harrison told ESPN. “Now, I’m kind of in this position, do I go back on my word to my kids and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing another season because I can’t handle it?’ Or do I stick to the game plan and fight two more fights and go from there?”

Harrison suffered the first real setback in her career. Eyes will be on her to see how she can rebound. 

MORE: Join DAZN to watch the 2023 PFL season

Will former UFC fighters make an impact in the PFL? 

Fighters from all over the MMA world, regional or homegrown, have managed to thrive in the PFL. However, big signings like Anthony Pettis and Rory MacDonald, known for winning gold and tough fights elsewhere, have failed to secure big wins in the PFL. Can the new class of former UFC and Bellator fighters prove they belong? 

The PFL recently signed Shane Burgos, Thiago Santos, Aspen Ladd, Marlon Moraes, and Julia Budd. These fighters have either fought for, held, or were close to competing for gold at some point in their careers. Budd is already 1-2 with the PFL, while Moraes lost his PFL debut in November. With a new season, what can we expect from these fighters? 

Several of these fighters have something to prove in the PFL, especially those coming off losses. The PFL has invested a lot in them. With Jake Paul’s new Super Fight division promising PPV pay, perhaps that is the motivation they need to step up. 

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