In tonight’s 2001 PFL Season finale, the undefeated Kayla Harrison will compete against Taylor Guardado in the main event. All the buzz surrounding this bout has been in one direction, that of soon-to-be free agent and PFL‘s current franchise star, Kayla Harrison. The expectations heading into this headliner can be summed up in two words: “Why bother?” But for Taylor Guardado, like all the overlooked underdogs before her, the real questions are: “Why not?” and “Why not me?”
As an amateur, it started off always being her. She was the woman continuously getting her arm raised while adding to her undefeated record, including a victory over future UFC title challenger Raquel Pennington. Then, at 6-0, Guardado ran into the woman who Kayla Harrison is often compared to, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey.
Guardado suffered her first loss to Rousey, but like all first defeats, this was a learning experience. And unlike most first defeats, it came against an Olympian and future UFC Hall of Famer. Rousey remains the only fighter to finish Guardado at either the amateur or the professional level, and even this stoppage was disputable.
At the end of the contest, Guardado refused to tap out to Rousey’s fully applied armbar and was not provided any time to work out of it. You can catch the full fight below.
That fight was 10 years ago. The woman Guardado faced that night in Las Vegas would later have something else in common with her opponent tonight. Both Rousey and Harrison were viewed as locks to win each of their fights while undefeated. If Guardado can do the unthinkable tonight, she will add one other piece of comparison between Olympic judokas Rousey and Harrison: both falling victim to historic upsets.
Like all of us, Guardado isn’t the same woman she was 10 years ago. Her story isn’t as widely known as the Kayla Harrisons and Ronda Rouseys of the world. You won’t find extensive coverage about her career or many interviews that document her journey. But just her making it to the main event of an ESPN card with a chance to win $1 million is already a piece worth writing.
After her final amateur bout in 2011, Guardado had not competed in MMA until last year. During that time away from competition, she suffered through injuries, fractured relationships with coaches, and post-partum depression. Now, after going 3-0 in the PFL this season, she has a chance to make and change MMA history tonight when she faces Kayla Harrison.
A Kayla Harrison victory tonight seems inevitable, with the unbeaten star entering the fight as a -3000 favorite. Those are Serena Williams numbers. You’re not supposed to see lines like that outside of an early-bracket tennis Grandslam match or an Alabama Roll Tide home game against an overmatched squad. Yet, here we are.
By comparison, Ronda Rousey closed as a -750 favorite over Holm, and that upset is regarded as the biggest championship fight upset in WMMA history. Should Guardado do the unthinkable tonight, that historic landmark would now belong to the PFL.
In fact, a Guardado victory would be the biggest championship fight upset in the history of the entire sport, regardless of gender. The current #1 upset belongs to Matt Serra’s victory over Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. St-Pierre was the -1300 favorite coming into that fight. A crazy figure, to be sure, but still not even half the favorite that Kayla Harrison will be tonight.
It’s to the point where the conversation around tonight’s main event isn’t even about how Harrison will perform or if she will win. The narrative is, “Will she stay in PFL, or will she take her undefeated record with her to another promotion?”
A victory for Harrison tonight is viewed as elementary, but that was also the case with Rousey, St-Pierre, and other “locks” who were picked off by overshadowed bandits who crossed the lines, leaving house residents with empty pockets in search of explanations. Taylor Guardado will look to pull off the biggest heist in MMA history tonight. If it goes off as she plans, she’ll exit the casino $1 million richer and spread the wealth to all the crazy rebels who backed her.