MMA Awards 2023: Why Larissa Pacheco won Women’s Fighter of the Year

How does one follow up one of the biggest upsets of 2022? Ask Larissa Pacheco, who brought her momentum to 2023 and dominated the competition this past season for the Professional Fighters League.

Pacheco exceeded expectations in a year replete with upsets in the MMA.

Alexa Grasso won the Submission of the Year for her massive upset win over Valentina Shevchenko to become UFC flyweight champion at UFC 285. However, she fought Shevchenko to a questionable draw in the rematch.

Meanwhile, Erin Blanchfield went 2-0 in the UFC this year, but both were non-title bouts. Stamp Fairtex also ended her 2023 by winning the ONE atomweight title. 

However, Pacheco was in a league of her own. 

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After losing to Kayla Harrison for the second time in 2019, Pacheco has gone on a ten-fight win streak. Last season, the Brazilian dominated against Harrison to win the PFL’s lightweight tournament. Pacheco didn’t falter under pressure after beating the PFL’s golden goose and went 4-0 in 2023. 

She beat former Bellator champion Julia Budd via decision and sent Amber Leibrock and Olena Kolesnyk into other dimensions, requiring less than a minute to take them down. The Kolesnyk fight only lasted 14 seconds.

Pacheco then mowed down Marina Mokhnatkina for five rounds in the finals to win the PFL’s featherweight tournament, becoming a two-division champion.

During her run, Pacheco averaged 6:10 of ground control time. Pacheco also bullied her opponents with strikes, landing 71 of 117 against Budd, 34 of 43 against Leibrock, four of six against Kolesnyk, and 155 of 203 against Mokhnatkina.

Can she keep up her dominant ways, especially with the return of Harrison and the PFL’s purchase of Bellator in 2024? Pacheco has a game plan for next year and beyond.

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“I’m the first Brazilian woman to become a PFL champion. I could become the first woman double champion. That would mean the world to me. I want to build a legacy that goes beyond money,” Pacheco told Combate via Bloody Elbow. “I want to make MMA history. We’ve got Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg up there. I want to be the third Brazilian among the legends in Brazilian women’s MMA. 

“Next year I’ll turn 30, and it’ll also be the 15th anniversary of my MMA career. I want to stick around for five, six or seven years more. Then I want to enjoy life: travel, [see] new places without having to work. I want to enjoy life, my wife, and live a more relaxing life.”

Pacheco’s consistency and ability to adapt to a new weight class and win gold for a second straight year is why she earned her place as The Sporting News’ 2023 Women’s MMA Fighter of the Year. 

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