PFL World Championship Recap: Kayla Harrison defeats Aspen Ladd in her return to the Smart Cage

2023 PFL Championships Ceremonial Weigh-Ins at The Anthem in Washington D.C., Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

Tonight on the main card of the PFL World Championship event, we saw the return of a former multiple-time world champion. Former PFL champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Kayla Harrison (15-1) was fighting for the first time this year as she took on Aspen Ladd (11-4).

Starting with Ladd, this was her fourth appearance with the promotion after signing last year. She was stepping in on short notice to replace Julia Budd who pulled out of the fight against Harrison. Thus far in her PFL career, Ladd had gone 2-1 in three fights.

Heading into the championship event last year, Kayla Harrison had never experienced any challenges in her MMA career. She was a perfect 15-0 and was a massive favorite to win her third world championship. However, she was knocked off by Larissa Pacheco and then decided to not compete in the season this year. It’s been almost a year off for Harrison who was looking to make a big statement tonight.

PFL World Championship Recap

Round 1

The PFL World Championship bout kicked off with both ladies running to the center. Both throw hooks and neither lands. Huge left straight lands for Harrison. Another left hand from Harrison and now a combination from Ladd. Ladd pushing forward and Harrison throws a kick.

Harrison trips and Ladd rushes but rushes right into a huge takedown from Harrison. Harrison gets immediate side control and she’s looking to get a crucifix position here. Big shots from Harrison and Ladd is looking to get out of this dominant position. Ladd looking to buck here and she is able to reverse the position and she pushes Harrison against the fence.

Ladd going for a takedown here but Harrison uses a beautiful judo throw and gets here back to the ground. Two minutes left in the round and Ladd is remaining composed on the bottom here. Big right hands land from Harrison and Ladd works things back to the guard. Harrison goes for a huge left and just misses the mark.

Ladd works her way back to the fence and now Harrison gets her back. Big shots against the fence from Harrison and the former PFL champion looks to be in full control at the moment. More right hands from Harrison and Ladd tries to get some wrist control. The round comes to an end and it’s a round for Kayla Harrison.

Round 2

Entering the second round at the PFL World Championship and Aspen Ladd needs to keep things standing if she can. Ladd takes the center and throws a right hand immediately. Harrison light on her feet and she pops the jab. Huge left over the top from Ladd. Another left from Ladd and that got Harrison’s attention.

Harrison now moving forward with her own shots and she’s working her way in for a takedown. Ladd lands a nice shot but Harrison gets in on a double and she gets the takedown. Right into the guard goes Kayla Harrison. Ladd’s corner wants her to try and force a scramble here. Two big left hands land from the top position for Harrison.

Ladd opens her guard to try and force a scramble, but Harrison gets to side control. Ladd creates a scramble and gets to her feet. Harrison has her pushed against the fence and starts working the knees. Duck under and Harrison gets the back of Ladd. Ladd scrambles and gets things back to the feet. However, Harrison still has ahold of her and immediately dumps her with a judo toss.

Side control now for Harrison with 90 seconds left in the round. Big shots from Kayla Harrison. Ladd looks to turn and gets Harrison back to half guard. Now full guard. Solid work from Ladd but she cannot fully get away from Harrison. Ladd gets up but Harrison goes right back to controlling her against the fence. Knees from the former PFL champion and that’s where the round will end. 2-0 for Kayla Harrison after two.

Round 3

Entering the final round and it’s going to take a finish for Aspen Ladd here at the PFL World Championships. The final round starts and Ladd immediately starts pushing forward. Big shots to open the final round for Ladd and Harrison seems content to strike with her. Now big shots land for Kayla Harrison.

Both ladies are throwing heat in the opening minute. Big time combinations now from Kayla Harrison and now a huge right hand. Ladd is pushing forward but she runs right into a left hand. Now a check left hook from Harrison. Great striking in the third round from Harrison. Halfway through the final round and there’s the takedown attempt.

Big double leg from Harrison and she gets the takedown. However, Ladd forces a scramble and she gets the top position. Huge moment here from Ladd and she is working towards getting the back of Harrison. However, Harrison reverses the position and now she gets on top. Big shots from Harrison and Ladd looks to scramble.

Ladd gets back to her feet but Harrison pushes her against the fence. Huge knees from Harrison and these are doing serious damage to the body. Ladd drops to her back and Harrison looks to land big. Ladd gets back up but again Harrison has her against the fence. Knee and then a foot sweep from Harrison. The final bell sounds and it’s a dominant win for the former PFL champion.

Kayla Harrison def. Aspen Ladd by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)