Kayla Harrison‘s loss to Larissa Pacheco at the 2022 PFL Championships last Friday was a stunner. It was her first career defeat, and it came against a fighter she had beaten twice before — and against whom she was an 8-1 betting favorite.
Aside from sending shockwaves through the PFL and women’s MMA in general, the result also shined a light on how much of an enigma Harrison has been during her MMA career.
She won her first 15 fights in dominant performances, making great use of the judo skills that had won her two Olympic gold medals. She quickly became the biggest star in the PFL. But Harrison was aiming higher than that. “I am the queen of women’s MMA!” Harrison proclaimed on more than one occasion.
The ESPN panel that votes on our pound-for-pound rankings didn’t go quite that far, but Harrison did find her way into our women’s top 10.
Why not at the very top, a place more befitting a queen?
Because it was tough to gauge just how good Harrison was, considering her level of competition in the PFL. Most of the other fighters in our men’s and women’s top 10s were constantly being tested at an elite level in UFC fights, or had established their legitimacy in other high-level contests.
Much of our pound-for-pound panel, like observers across the sport, were waiting for Harrison to prove herself more conclusively to be the queen she claimed to be.
Then she lost to Pacheco, and the implications of that stunning result are being felt in our latest women’s top 10.
How divided was our panel on Harrison? Prior to the Pacheco fight, she was in the top 10 of all six of our voters; one had her as high as No. 4. But in the wake of Friday’s loss, Harrison appears on only two ballots. That’s not to say the others are disregarding her, just that they considered at least 10 other fighters to be better than her. However, Harrison ranked highly enough on those two ballots where she did appear, that she retains a spot in our top 10, just one spot lower than before.
But now comes the test MMA fans have been waiting for. Does Kayla Harrison have it in her to rise from the ashes of defeat? In MMA, losing is not the end of the world. But some fighters respond better than others. Those who overcome their first career stumble have the opportunity to establish themselves as MMA royalty.
For the ESPN divisional MMA rankings, click here.
Note: Results are current; rankings as of Nov. 30.
1. Amanda Nunes
UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion
Last: W (UD) Julianna Peña, July 30
UFC flyweight champion
Last: W (SD) Taila Santos, June 11
3. Zhang Weili
UFC strawweight champion
Last: W (Sub2) Carla Esparza, Nov. 12, 2022
4. Cris Cyborg
Bellator featherweight champion
Record: 26-2, 1 NC
Last: W (UD) Arlene Blencowe, April 23
Last: L (UD) Amanda Nunes, July 30
Last: L (SD) Carla Esparza, May 7
Last: L (Sub2) Zhang Weili, Nov. 12, 2022
Previous ranking: 8
Last: L (UD) Larissa Pacheco, Nov. 25, 2022
10. Amanda Lemos
Previous ranking: Unranked
Last: W (TKO3) Marina Rodriguez, Nov. 5, 2022
How our panel voted
Brett Okamoto: 1. Amanda Nunes; 2. Valentina Shevchenko; 3. Zhang Weili; 4. Cris Cyborg; 5. Rose Namajunas; 6. Julianna Peña; 7. Kayla Harrison; 8. Jessica Andrade; 9. Larissa Pacheco; 10. Carla Esparza.
Marc Raimondi: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Cyborg; 4. Zhang; 5. Peña; 6. Namajunas; 7. Esparza; 8. Andrade; 9. Amanda Lemos; 10. Seika Izawa.
Carlos Contreras Legaspi: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Peña; 6. Harrison; 7. Esparza; 8. Pacheco; 9. Namajunas; 10. Andrade.
Megan Anderson: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Namajunas; 6. Esparza; 7. Andrade; 8. Ketlen Vieira; 9. Lemos; 10. Peña.
Eddie Maisonet III: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Peña; 5. Cyborg; 6. Esparza; 7. Andrade; 8. Namajunas; 9. Lemos; 10. Pacheco.
Jeff Wagenheim: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Andrade; 6. Peña; 7. Esparza; 8. Namajunas; 9. Fiorot; 10. Lemos.
Men’s pound-for-pound rankings
3. Kamaru Usman
Last: L (KO5) Leon Edwards, Aug. 20
T-4. Israel Adesanya
Last: L (TKO5) Alex Pereira, Nov. 12, 2022
T-4. Francis Ngannou
UFC heavyweight champion
Last: W (UD) Ciryl Gane, Jan. 22
Record: 33-9, 1 NC
Last: L (Sub2) Islam Makhachev, Oct. 22, 2022
7. Leon Edwards
UFC welterweight champion
Record: 20-3, 1 NC
Last: W (KO5) Kamaru Usman, Aug. 20
UFC bantamweight champion
Last: W (TKO2) TJ Dillashaw, Oct. 22, 2022
UFC light heavyweight
Last: W (Sub5) Glover Teixeira, June 11
10. Robert Whittaker
How our panel voted
Brett Okamoto: 1. Alexander Volkanovski; 2. Islam Makhachev; 3. Israel Adesanya; 4. Kamaru Usman; 5. Robert Whittaker; 6. Charles Oliveira; 7. Aljamain Sterling; 8. Francis Ngannou; 9. Deiveson Figueiredo; 10. Brandon Moreno.
Marc Raimondi: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Usman; 4. Oliveira; 5. Ngannou; 6. Adesanya; 7. Sterling; 8. Edwards; 9. Alex Pereira; 10. Ciryl Gane.
Carlos Contreras Legaspi: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Usman; 4. Ngannou; 5. Oliveira; 6. Adesanya; 7. Edwards; 8. Jiri Prochazka; 9. Sterling; 10. Pereira.
Megan Anderson: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Adesanya; 4. Usman; 5. Oliveira; 6. Ngannou; 7. Edwards; 8. Prochazka; 9. Whittaker; 10. Figueiredo.
Eddie Maisonet III: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Ngannou; 4. Adesanya; 5. Usman; 6. Oliveira; 7. Dustin Poirier; 8. Figueiredo; 9. Sterling; 10. Prochazka.
Jeff Wagenheim: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Ngannou; 3. Makhachev; 4. Usman; 5. Oliveira; 6. Adesanya; 7. Edwards; 8. Pereira; 9. Prochazka; 10. Sterling.