Fabricio Werdum is a former UFC heavyweight champion. He is a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. On Thursday night, he began his quest to be a PFL champion.
And that quest might have, in effect, ended before it got started. At the hands of ... another Fabricio Werdum?
Fellow PFL newcomer Renan Ferreira, who recently portrayed Werdum in a movie about a jiu-jitsu star in Brazil, got the better of his opponent in the most dangerous way possible, escaping two tight submission attempts within the opening minutes to knock out Werdum in the first round of their main event at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The end came at 2 minutes, 32 seconds, earning Ferreira 6 points for the first-round finish, and putting him in second place in the PFL heavyweight standings behind Bruno Cappelozza, who earlier in the evening had a 46-second KO.
The finish was controversial, as it appeared that Ferreira, trapped in a triangle choke, tapped Werdum on the shoulder before starting to drop punches to the side of his head. Referee Keith Peterson, situated on the other side, did not see a tapout, so the fight went on, and Ferreira proceeded to knock out Werdum.
Werdum cried foul afterward.
"He tapped," he said. "I have to respect my opponent. I have to stop. Maybe I break his arm, put him to sleep. I have to stop. When he tapped, automatically I stop the fight."
One problem with that explanation: Werdum did not let go of his triangle. It remained locked in as Ferreira landed punch after punch to the side of the 43-year-old's head, loosening only as the punches took effect.
While New Jersey has an instant replay rule on the books, it was not in effect for Thursday's PFL card.
"New Jersey does have the option for the promoter to provide replay for the commission," a source with the PFL said shortly after the fight. "However, the PFL has not instituted replay and it was not available tonight. The organization has chosen not to use it because not every jurisdiction we have gone to allows replay, and we want to remain consistent in how the League operates no matter where PFL fights are held.
"The commission was clear that they will hear an appeal should Werdum choose to file one."
Werdum has filed an appeal with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) over the result, his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, told ESPN. Abdelaziz said he has already spoken with NJSACB counsel Nick Lembo, and the PFL will send over the footage for review.
"PFL does not utilize instant replay, which is available in New Jersey, so we will review the declared outcome and explain our findings," Lembo told ESPN.
Ferreira (7-2), who is 31 and stands 6-foot-8, is in good position in the four-fighter heavyweight picture -- provided things stand as they ended on Thursday night.
For now, Werdum (24-10-1), who reigned in the UFC in 2015 and 2016 and left that promotion following a submission of Alexander Gustafsson in July, ends his first night in the PFL in a hole in the playoff race with just one fight left in the regular season.
The evening's other big attraction, 2019 women's lightweight champion Kayla Harrison, has no such problem. She smashed her opponent, Mariana Morais, in less than 2 minutes, putting herself in good position for another playoff run.
Marc Raimondi contributed to this report.
Women's lightweight: Kayla Harrison (6 points) def. Mariana Morais (0 points) by first-round TKO
Same as it ever was. Harrison, who rolled through the 2019 PFL season to the women's lightweight championship, opened the 2021 season with another dominant victory.
Harrison (9-0), a 30-year-old who won gold medals in judo at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, showed one new wrinkle from her work with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Right out of the gate, she threw a head kick.
The kick missed, so Harrison went right to work the way she always has. She engaged Morais in a clinch against the cage and quickly took her to the canvas. Forty-five seconds into the fight, she was in side control. Before the bout was a minute old, she was in full mount. From there, Harrison rained down punches -- hard punches, the kind that make an opponent cover up and a referee hover, ready to intercede. Gary Copeland waved off the bout at 1:23.
The quick finish for Harrison, who had a 28-0 edge in strikes, earned her 6 points. But she ended the night in second place in the lightweight standings because Larissa Pacheco had earned a 51-second TKO earlier in the night. Harrison defeated Pacheco twice in 2019, the second time in the championship fight.
Morais (16-11), who is 26 and from Brazil, saw a three-fight winning streak end.
Heavyweight: Brandon Sayles (5 points) def. Mohammed Usman (0 points) by second-round submission
The name was familiar, but the result connected to it was not. With his UFC welterweight champion brother, Kamaru, in his corner, Mohammed Usman was knocked down twice in round two before Sayles finished him with a rear-naked choke, rendering Usman unconscious and prompting referee Keith Peterson to jump in at 3:42.
Sayles (6-1), a 40-year-old Hawaiian who is an active duty Army sergeant on leave from Fort Benning, Georgia, earned five points for the second-round finish. He made his PFL debut and competed for the first time since January 2018.
But Sayles showed no ring rust, peppering Usman's lead leg with kicks from the start. Each man landed big punches but mostly kept out of trouble until Sayles dropped Usman for the first of two times in round two. Usman was resilient, and despite fighting back to his feet briefly, could not escape his fate.
Usman (7-2), a 32-year-old Nigerian who fights out of Arlington, Texas, saw a four-fight winning streak end.
Women's lightweight: Larissa Pacheco (6 points) def. Julija Pajic (0 points)
Pacheco wasted no time erasing the last memory PFL fans had of her, when she lost in the 2019 PFL women's lightweight championship to Harrison. To do that, the 26-year-old from Brazil erased Pajic with haste.
Pacheco (14-4) won her third fight in her past four bouts by hurting her young, inexperienced opponent with a left hand and then quickly finished Pajic at 51 seconds of round one, earning 6 points and the top spot early on in the 2021 women's lightweight season.
Pajic (3-1), who is 23 and from Croatia, had won her first three fights, all by stoppage.
Heavyweight: Bruno Cappelozza (6 points) def. Ante Delija (0 points) by first-round KO
Cappelozza absorbed some hard, straight punches at the start, but they did not stop him from marching forward. And when he landed a looping right hand that wobbled Delija against the cage, Cappelozza pounced with a lightning-fast flurry of 15 rights and lefts that left his opponent slumped until referee Gary Copeland jumped in just 46 seconds into round one.
The 31-year-old Cappelozza (11-5), who earned 6 points for the quick finish, has won four of his past five fights. His only defeat during that time was a 2018 knockout loss in the Rizin promotion to Jiri Prochazka, who is now knocking of the door for a title shot in the UFC's light heavyweight division after a highlight-reel knockout of Dominick Reyes on May 1.
Delija (17-4), a 30-year-old from Croatia who trains with Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic, had won eight of his past nine fights.
Women's lightweight: Kaitlin Young (3 points) def. Cindy Dandois (0 points) by unanimous decision
Dandois was forever moving forward, walking down Young for practically the full three rounds of both women's PFL debuts. And when Dandois closed in, Young usually met her with a sharp left jab or straight right hand, then used fluid footwork to maneuver back to distance.
Young did not want to engage in close combat with Dandois, a judoka, and it became clear why late in round three, when Dandois finally got a hold of her opponent and threw her to the canvas. Young appeared to be countering the takedown, but then Dandois clamped on a standing guillotine choke and nearly got a finish. But Young escaped and kept her distance the rest of the way to secure the win and the 3 points.
All three judges scored the bout 30-27.
Young (12-10-1), who is 35 and from Circle Pines, Minnesota, has won five of her past six. Dandois (16-6), a 36-year-old Belgian fighting four months after the birth of her sixth child, saw a four-fight winning streak end.
Women's lightweight: Genah Fabian (3 points) def. Laura Sanchez (0 points) by unanimous decision
At 6-0 and 6-1, both women are used to utilizing size and reach advantages by fighting from distance. But with that advantage neutralized, this matchup spent most of its time with the two clinched against the cage, where Fabian had a narrow advantage in a relatively uneventful 15 minutes.
All three judges scored the bout 30-27, with Fabian earning the decision win and 3 points in the women's lightweight standings.
Fabian (3-1), who is 31 and from New Zealand, landed a few head kicks and some straight punches, but did her most damage with a third-round clash of heads, which drew blood over Sanchez's right eye.
Sanchez (1-1), a 30-year-old fighting out of Milwaukee, became aggressive with just over a minute left, leading to some exchanges and some shots landing. But both fighters were still standing at the final bell.
Heavyweight: Denis Goltsov (6 points) def. Muhammed DeReese (0 points) by first-round TKO
Goltsov softened up his late-replacement opponent with a nonstop barrage of punches and kicks to the head and body, then took DeReese to the canvas with just over a minute left in the round and finished his belly-down opponent with ground-and-pound at 4:21, earning 6 points and an early advantage in the PFL heavyweight division.
Goltsov (26-6), a 30-year-old Russian, got back on track after seeing a six-fight winning streak end in the 2019 PFL playoffs by that season's eventual champion, Ali Isaev. Goltsov landed 41 strikes to just nine by DeReese.
DeReese (8-3), who is 32 and from Titusville, Florida, also competed in the 2019 PFL season, going 1-3. He was booked for this fight on Wednesday after Goltsov's original opponent, Justin Willis, was not medically cleared after making weight.
Women's lightweight: Taylor Guardado (3 points) def. Olena Kolesnyk (0 points) by unanimous decision
Guardado got takedowns in all three rounds, and Kolesnyk (5-3, 1 NC) had difficulty getting Guardado's off of her. In the first round, she pushed Guardado away with her legs, then appeared to knee her in the back of the head, undetected by the referee. But in round two, Kolesnyk was deducted a point after her second eye gouge of the fight.
The judges scored the bout 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27 in Guardado's favor.
The 1-1 record of Guardado is deceiving. The 29-year-old from Las Vegas returned to MMA last year after competing as an amateur a decade ago, going 9-1 with wins over future UFC fighters Raquel Pennington and Ashlee Evans-Smith, with her only loss coming against Ronda Rousey.
Kolesnyk, who is 31 and from Ukraine, has lost three in a row.
Welterweight showcase (non-season): Magomed Umalatov def. Kyron Bowen by second-round KO
Umalatov (10-0) remained unbeaten by dropping a damaged Bowen with his first punch of round two -- an overhand right seven seconds into the round that gave him the win in a non-season welterweight showcase bout he was dominating.
The 29-year-old from Russia landed 91 strikes (to eight for Bowen), all but two of them from the top position after taking the fight to the canvas in the opening seconds. Bowen (9-6), who is 27 and from Springfield, Illinois, defended well for much of the round but ultimately losing his second in a row after being a seven-fight winning streak.