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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Danny Segura

Jesus Pinedo reflects on wild 2023 PFL season: Championship win, $1 million prize, securing fight vs. Patricio ‘Pitbull’

The PFL seasons have been host to many incredible stories, but perhaps its most fairytale run came by the hands of Peru’s Jesus Pinedo.

Seven months ago, Pinedo was unknown to the MMA world when he entered PFL’s 2023 featherweight tournament. Not only was he one of the lesser-known fighters, but many might’ve seen him as another body for some of the established names to get easy points and a highlight en route to the playoffs.

Yet, that was not the way Pinedo looked at himself. He willed what many would’ve seen as a cheesy sports movie script into reality.

The 2023 PFL featherweight title

“Honestly, I didn’t think about it until the following week,” Pinedo told MMA Junkie when asked about his remarkable run to becoming the 2023 PFL featherweight champion. “I was laying in bed, and I was thinking for a moment, and I said, ‘I wiped out the entire division.’

“I didn’t just win, I won decisively. I hadn’t thought about that aspect. I finished every fight. I’m happy about that because you can see the fruit of my sacrifice that I’ve been doing for many years. It wasn’t just this year, it’s work that dates years back.”

It was straight out of a movie. Pinedo became this season’s featherweight champion after coming back from dire circumstances.

The 27-year-old lost a close split decision to then-undefeated contender Gabriel Braga in the first of two regular season bouts. That meant he needed a first-round finish in the remaining bout to qualify for the playoffs.

To make matters worse, he was matched up against Brendan Loughnane, who was the champion of the season prior, and coming off a nasty TKO finish over former UFC title challenger Marlon Moraes. Well, against all odds, Pinedo did what few saw coming. He dropped Loughnane with a knee to the chin and then put him out with ground-and-pound. It was a giant upset.

Qualifying to the playoffs in the last spot, Pinedo would then get matched up against the No. 1 seed and last year’s featherweight runner-up: Bubba Jenkins. Again, Pinedo answered the call and stopped Jenkins in less than two rounds.

“El Mudo” advanced to the final as an unlikely underdog and had to face the man who beat him at the start of the season – a confident Braga, who had never tasted defeat. Yet, like a cheesy sports movie, Pinedo went out there and finished him, too.

“I was just thinking, ‘I did it. I did it. I’m finally champion,'” Pinedo said as he recalled what was going through his head the moment he stopped Braga. “It’s something I’ve dreamt since I was a kid. It was a dream come true. That’s what I yelled, ‘I’m the champion.'”

The win meant Pinedo was champion of PFL’s 2023 featherweight season, and that came with a lot more than just a belt. However, most importantly, the win was proof that he’s among the best featherweights today.

“Yes, I feel like I’m one of the best in the world,” Pinedo said. “I mean, I’m champion of one of the best organizations in the world. However, I just don’t want this to stay in words. I now want to be fighting against the best. I’m in the best phase of my career and I want to take advantage of that. I want super fights. I want the best.”

2023 PFL Championships at The Anthem in Washington D.C., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

History for Peruvian MMA

Pinedo’s campaign marked more than a giant milestone for a fighting career. It was a historic moment for an entire country.

Pinedo became the first champion of a major organization to come out of Peru. The Inca nation has had its footprint in MMA with Claudio Puelles, Enrique Barzola, and others standout fighters, but never had a world champion.

“This is unprecedented,” Pinedo said. “I’m the first to achieve a world title in MMA for Peru. Everyone in Peru is happy. The media is talking about it a lot.

“For me, it’s an honor to represent my country. I always try to represent as best as possible. This is a dream come true. It’s an honor. There’s just so many feelings together after so many years of hard work. I’m extremely happy to be able to bring back Peru a world title.”

$1 million prize

If glory and history weren’t enough, Pinedo also took home $1 million, which equates to $3,751,952 Peruvian Soles. This is a lot of money, especially in Peru.

“It’s incredible, right? A million dollars is a fortune,” Pinedo said. “It’s a lot of money.”

Although $1 million is a life-changing sum, and one that unfortunately few MMA fighters ever comes across in the entirety of their careers, Pinedo was never focused on the tournament prize. In the numerous interviews Pinedo did with MMA Junkie throughout the season, the Peruvian would brush off the questions around the $1 million and remind that it was the title that he was after.

But now with a hefty transaction to his bank account, Piendo has some new questions to answer.

“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about what I’m going to do with the money,” Pinedo said. “I guess I will have to treat and buy something for myself. I’ll think about it. For now, I have a week-long vacation with my entire family because this whole year I haven’t really seen them much.”

It’s uncertain where that money will go exactly towards to, but that’s not much of a point of concern for Pinedo. He does hope, however, to remain as hungry as he was in his path to the PFL title.

“I just have to keep a cool head and keep the same level of hunger,” Pinedo said. “I need to keep training the same way I was training for these fights, and I can’t let the money take away my focus or my hunger to be at the top. This is all for passion, glory, history, recognition. I’m going to invest well that $1 million and keep focused on my training.”

2023 PFL Championships at The Anthem in Washington D.C., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

Legacy fight vs. Bellator featherweight champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’

This year’s PFL season came with a new wrinkle. Days before the 2023 PFL Championship, the promotion announced that it purchased Bellator along with the entirety of its roster.

On the night of the championship finals, PFL founder Donn Davis revealed that they expect to run PFL champion vs. Bellator champion superfights in 2024. This pits Pinedo against arguably the biggest and most respected name in Bellator – Patricio Freire.

“Without a doubt the biggest name I’ve faced,” Pinedo said with certainty. “He’s a legend of the sport.”

Pinedo already put himself on the map with his run in the 2023 PFL featherweight season. But if he were to be victorious against ‘Pitbull,’ he would undoubtedly prove to be among the best fighters in the sport. The opportunity to prove just that fires up Pinedo.

“Yeah, I’d be extremely happy if the fight happens, I’m pretty sure it does,” Pinedo said. “It’s just a matter of negotiation. I’m ready, like I said. I’m very happy about the opportunity. I always watched him fight. I’ve been watching him fight for many years. He’s a veteran of MMA.”

Patricio Freire vs. Jesus Pinedo

What’s next?

The 2023 PFL title win just seems like the start of big things to come for Pinedo, at least that’s what he intends it to be.

The PFL plans to run Bellator simultaneously with their regular seasons. They presented the merger as fighters potentially having two options on how to run their careers: Regular matchmaking or season format.

Pinedo is unsure of how negotiations will shake out and what lane he’ll end up competing in. However, either or, he’ll be ready.

“We’ll see what my team decides, how my manager negotiates what’s next,” Pinedo explained. “I’m just going to keep training hard, and I’ll be ready for whatever.

“If it’s next year’s season, I’m totally ready to get another belt. If it’s superfights, I’m totally down for that, too. That excites me a lot, to be fighting against very well-known names. That’s always been a dream of mine, and now I’m ready.”

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