USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings, Dec. 5: Arman Tsarukyan enters top 5

Check out the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings following UFC on ESPN 52 in Austin, Texas.

The UFC’s latest road trip to Austin, Texas produced a few changes in this week’s rankings update.

In the main event of UFC on ESPN 52, [autotag]Arman Tsarukyan[/autotag] torched Beneil Dariush in just 64 seconds with a furious combination. He now has his sights set on a title shot, and firmly inserted his name into the mix. Entering the week at No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie lightweight rankings, Tsarukyan claims Dariush’s old spot at No. 5 in this week’s update.

Former flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo was also in action at the event, making his bantamweight debut against Rob Font. After a clear decision victory, Figueiredo emerges in the bantamweight rankings at No. 12, with Font dropping from No. 9 to No. 13.

Check out all the latest pound-for-pound and divisional USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings above.

Video: Deontay Wilder? Renan Ferreira? Ryan Bader? Examining Francis Ngannou’s best option

With his name now instantly respected in the boxing world, Francis Ngannou is in the early stages of being a two-sport star.

With his name now instantly respected in the boxing world, [autotag]Francis Ngannou[/autotag] is in the early stages of being a two-sport star.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou dipped his toe into the boxing world’s waters in October against WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in a pay-per-view in Saudi Arabia. And while Ngannou lost the fight by split decision, he landed the 10-round bout’s only knockdown, and scores of analysts and observers thought he did enough to pull off what would have been a monumental upset.

Had Fury taken Ngannou out to the proverbial woodshed in his boxing debut, the Cameroonian heavyweight might have decided to settle back into MMA in his new home with the PFL. There, the 2023 heavyweight season winner, [autotag]Renan Ferreira[/autotag], already has called Ngannou out. And with the PFL’s purchase of Bellator in November, Bellator heavyweight champion [autotag]Ryan Bader[/autotag] is in the mix, too, and wants the Ngannou fight.

But Ngannou looked good in the boxing match. And he reportedly had a career-defining payday from it. Despite his loss, he was ranked No. 10 in the WBC’s heavyweight rankings. He now knows he can compete in a boxing ruleset, and he can be a draw.

So when a name like [autotag]Deontay Wilder[/autotag] starts to surface again, clearly people are paying attention.

But what’s best for him? Boxing? If so, whom? MMA? Ditto to that. Our “Spinning Back Clique” panelists Brian “Goze” Garcia, Mike Bohn and Danny Segura tackle that with host “Gorgeous” George Garcia.

Check out their discussion in the video above, and don’t miss the most recent entire episode of “Spinning Back Clique” below on YouTube or in podcast form.

UFC CEO Dana White ridicules PFL’s Bellator purchase: ‘One sh*tty organization buys another sh*tty organization’

UFC CEO Dana White, not surprisingly, mocked the PFL’s November purchase of Bellator.

AUSTIN, Texas – [autotag]Dana White[/autotag] doesn’t seem threatened by the recent merger between rival promotions PFL and Bellator.

The UFC CEO ridiculed PFL’s recent acquisition of Bellator along with its claim that it’s now a co-leader to the UFC in the MMA space.

“It’s f*cking hilarious, but good for them,” White told MMA Junkie at the UFC on ESPN 52 post-fight news conference. “I wish them all the luck in the world.”

Although some see the PFL’s acquisition of Bellator as a promising move to give the UFC competition, White seemed to disagree. He’s not keen on the prospects of the merger succeeding.

“I’ve covered this before; you must’ve not heard it,” White said with mocking undertones. “One sh*tty organization that sells no tickets and nobody watches buys another sh*tty organization that sells no tickets and nobody watches. It sounds like a f*cking winner to me, boy. Right? Woo! Go, guys!”

The PFL in mid-November announced its deal to purchase longtime UFC rival Bellator two days after Bellator 301 in Chicago. Bellator fighters willl be able to fight in the PFL, as well as in Bellator-branded events while the PFL keeps both brands around. and its entire roster last month in an unprecedented move in the MMA industry. The two promotions were constantly battling to claim that No. 2 spot behind the UFC, but now with their merger, they’ve bolstered their roster under one umbrella and practically solidified that standing.

PFL founder Donn Davis is confident the PFL now is in a position to compete with the UFC and said he thinks White is threatened by the move. PFL recently renewed its deal with ESPN, which also is the UFC’s broadcast partner.

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For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 52.

Video: Which 2024 PFL matchup is most intriguing?

PFL has a few interesting matchups ahead in 2024, but which one are we looking forward to the most?

The PFL is going big early in 2024 with an event that will see its champions take on Bellator’s titleholders.

The champion vs. champion event is expected to take place in Q1 2024, with a date and venue to be determined soon. The premise is interesting because it does answer a question that often arises in conversation: Which promotion has the best champion?

We get to answer that question next year between PFL and Bellator, but which matchup is the most intriguing?

[autotag]Patricio Freire[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Jesus Pinedo[/autotag], [autotag]Vadim Nemkov[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Impa Kasanganay[/autotag], and [autotag]Cris Cyborg[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Larissa Pacheco[/autotag] are all possibilities for the event. But the matchups don’t stop there. There’s more fights to be made between the two rosters, and other PFL bouts to be made, including [autotag]Francis Ngannou[/autotag]’s return.

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Our “Spinning Back Clique” of panelists Mike Bohn, Danny Segura and Brian Garcia and host George Garcia discuss which potential fight for 2024 excites them the most.

Watch the video above to see the discussion, or check out the entire episode of “Spinning Back Clique” below on YouTube or in podcast form.

Video: Cris Cyborg vs. Larissa Pacheco appears next, but what about Kayla Harrison?

PFL wants Cris Cyborg vs. Larissa Pacheco in a champ vs. champ fight, but who will Kayla Harrison fight next?

In one of the biggest decisions after the news of PFL’s acquisition of Bellator, the promotion wants [autotag]Cris Cyborg[/autotag] to face [autotag]Larissa Pacheco[/autotag] next.

The matchup would be a Bellator champion vs. PFL champion matchup, which is the theme of an upcoming event the promotion intends to create in early 2024. However, this would leave former two-time PFL champion [autotag]Kayla Harrison[/autotag] out of the mix for one of the biggest potential fights in women’s MMA.

Harrison and Cyborg have gone back and forth over recent years about making the fight happen. Those talks grew louder when Harrison was a free agent, but resigned with PFL. Now that they are both under the same promotional umbrella, the fight would appear easier to make, but the PFL seems to want Pacheco to get a piece of Cyborg next instead.

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Is that the right move? Should the PFL go straight into Harrison vs. Cyborg, skirting around the theme the current PFL champion vs. Bellator champion?

Our “Spinning Back Clique” of panelists Mike Bohn, Danny Segura and Brian Garcia discuss how this triangle should unfold along with host George Garcia.

Watch the video above to see the discussion, or check out the entire episode of “Spinning Back Clique” below on YouTube or in podcast form.


Video: Jesus Pinedo gets hero’s welcome in Peru after 2023 PFL Championship win

Now PFL champion, Jesus Pinedo got quite the reception in his arrival to Peru.

[autotag]Jesus Pinedo[/autotag] made history for his country, and it’s beginning to get recognized.

“El Mudo” won the 2023 PFL featherweight title this past Friday in Washington, D.C., and became the first Peruvian fighter to win a championship belt from a major promotion. Pinedo (23-6-1) stopped Gabriel Braga (12-1) in the third round of their rematch. With the win, Pinedo took home the 145-pound title and a $1 million prize.

After a few days in New York, Pinedo arrived home to Peru on Wednesday and was received by media and a big crowd of supporters.

Watch Pinedo’s arrival in Peru in the videos below.

Braga beat Pinedo by split decision in their first regular season bout. Pinedo bounced back and stopped 2022 winner Brendan Loughnane in the first round to make the playoffs. And there, he finished 2022 PFL featherweight runner-up Bubba Jenkins before he beat Braga in their rematch in the final.

Now champion, the 27-year-old is expected to face Bellator legend Patricio Freire in a PFL vs. Bellator champion vs. champion superfight sometime in 2024.

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For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for 2023 PFL Championship.

On heels of Bellator acquisition, PFL re-ups ESPN deal to stay side-by-side with UFC

The PFL continues to make big moves in its quest to establish itself as the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world behind the UFC.

The PFL continues to make big moves in its quest to establish itself as the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world behind the UFC.

Thursday, the promotion announced it has renewed its broadcast rights deal with ESPN. In 2024, ESPN will broadcast PFL regular season events and playoff events, along with streaming portions on ESPN+. In addition, ESPN will continue as the PFL’s pay-per-view provider in its new “Super Fight Division.”

Less than two weeks ago, it was announced that PFL and its investment backers had purchased Bellator from Paramount. The plan is to eventually fold Bellator’s roster into the PFL’s, though the Bellator brand apparently will be a slow burn before it is officially shuttered.

“We’ve had five successful seasons on ESPN and we’re excited for the next phase of growth for MMA and the Professional Fighters League with this agreement,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said in a statement. “Our innovative sport-season format, elite roster of athletes and the launch of the PFL PPV Super Fight Division, which will feature some of the world’s greatest combat sports stars such as Francis Ngannou and Jake Paul, are ushering in the new era of MMA as a mainstream global sports entertainment platform.”

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The PFL signed Ngannou after he left the UFC as its heavyweight champion in a contract dispute. Paul has been front and center in his criticism of the UFC, UFC CEO Dana White and the promotion’s payment practices. So there already are plenty of backstories in place for a UFC vs. PFL showdown as the world’s top two MMA companies.

And making things just as interesting is the fact the UFC’s broadcast deal is with ESPN, as well. That leaves the longtime cable “worldwide leader” in sports coverage pretty stacked in its potential MMA coverage across its many platforms.

The PFL operates with a season format in which fighters earn points toward playoff qualification. Season winners get a $1 million check. With the addition of Bellator’s roster, the PFL says it now has 30 percent of its fighters in the top 25 world MMA rankings – which rivals the UFC.

Kayla Harrison: ‘I don’t have much faith’ in Cris Cyborg pushing for superfight

Now under the same PFL banner, Kayla Harrison called out Cris Cyborg (again) but didn’t get the response she was hoping for.

[autotag]Kayla Harrison[/autotag] cut a promo after returning to the win column but didn’t get the response she wanted from Bellator women’s featherweight champion [autotag]Cris Cyborg[/autotag].

Harrison (16-1) called out Cyborg (27-2 MMA, 6-0 BMMA) after defeating ex-UFC fighter Aspen Ladd at the 2023 PFL Championship this past Friday.

With PFL acquiring Bellator, Harrison is hoping the long-desired Cyborg superfight could finally happen. But Cyborg’s response on X (formerly Twitter) seemed rather dismissive, which disappointed Harrison.

I’m a women. Not a girl. Women don’t refer to themselves as b*tch. You basic.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Harrison said on ESPN’s “DC & RC.” “She only talks sh*t when we’re in different promotions and there’s somewhere to hide. Now that we’re under the same roof, I feel she’s going to get real quiet real fast.

“I don’t even want to talk about her because I feel like every time I do, it’s just like jinxing it. We’ve been talking about this fight since before I made my MMA debut. I’m 17 fights in now. So, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen soon, but I don’t have much faith in her. Easy fight.”

Cyborg is currently gearing up for a boxing match on Jan. 19 and is linked to a fight with 2023 PFL lightweight champion Larissa Pacheco instead, according to PFL founder Donn Davis.

Harrison was asked about seeking big fights elsewhere like the UFC, which she already did two years ago when she was a free agent. The possibility of a fight with the likes of trash-talking Julianna Peña excites the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka, but Harrison won’t look too far ahead.

“I think that that would be a great fight,” Harrison said of Peña. “She’s not afraid to speak her mind. She talks a big talk. She thinks very highly of herself. I don’t know why, but she does.

“So, I think that would be a great fight, but I’m not a free agent yet. The PFL and Ali (Abdelaziz) I know are working on stuff. There is a Cyborg potential there. I’m not trying to stir the pot. I did that free agency thing two years ago. Holy sh*t, it is exhausting.”

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Video: Which 2023 PFL Championship winner had the most impressive season?

The PFL crowned six new $1 million champions at its season finale event, but who amongst the group did it best?

Another PFL season is in the books after six $1 million winners were crowned this past Friday at 2023 PFL Championship.

The final traditional event of the year for the company before it enters a new era following its acquisition of went down in Washington, D.C., and it saw Renan Ferreira (heavyweight), Impa Kasanganay (light heavyweight), Magomed Magomedkerimov (welterweight), Olivier Aubin-Mercier (lightweight), Jesus Pinedo (featherweight) and Larissa Pacheco (women’s featherweight) come away with belts and seven-figure checks.

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Who had the most impressive run through the gruelling season format to reach the end? That was a topic of debate on the latest episode of “Spinning Back Clique,” with host George Garcia and panelists Mike Bohn, Danny Segura and Brian Garcia.

Watch the video above to see the discussion, or check out the entire episode of “Spinning Back Clique” below on YouTube or in podcast form.

USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings, Nov. 28: The impact of 2023 PFL Championship on multiple divisions

The 2023 PFL Championship was the lone notable MMA event this past week, but it offered some relevant results across multiple divisions.

The combat sports slate was relatively thin over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which allowed the 2023 PFL Championship event to become the centerpiece of the MMA world.

After a season’s worth of build to the card in Washington, D.C., six new $1 million champions were crowned at heavyweight, light heavyweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight and women’s featherweight. How did those ultimately impact the global standings in those particular weight classes?

Check out all the latest pound-for-pound and divisional USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings above.