Kayla Harrison Was ‘Really Against’ MMA But Finding a Home in PFL Has Changed Everything

Kayla Harrison admits she was turned off by MMA after winning her second gold medal but now she’s fallen in love with the sport largely thanks to her home at PFL

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Kayla Harrison
Image Credit: Ryan Loco/PFL

When Kayla Harrison won her second Olympic gold medal in judo, she was almost immediately asked about a future in mixed martial arts.

At the time, Ronda Rousey was one of the biggest stars in all of combat sports and she was a bronze medalist in judo before mauling her competition in both Strikeforce and the UFC.

The comparisons were easy at the time because they both came from similar backgrounds but the reality was Harrison was more about the sport and far less about the spectacle.

That’s why she wasn’t sure about getting involved in MMA just after the Olympics because she had no desire to get into a trash talking war with her opponents in order to sell herself as one of the best fighters in the world.

“Listen back in 2016 I was really against MMA and the reasons were because of the entertainment aspects of it,” Harrison explained recently. “Because of the trash talking and the pretty faces get fights and there’s no real rankings system.”

She was eventually convinced to give the sport a try and now Harrison has truly fallen in love with mixed martial arts but a big part of that was finding the right home.

Harrison inked a multi-fight deal with upstart promotion Professional Fighters League where she will help launch a 155-pound women’s division on Thursday night after starting her career there with a perfect 3-0 record.

Professional Fighters League is built like a more traditional sports league where fighters compete in a ‘regular season’ to accumulate points before moving onto a playoff system that’s set up like any other tournament. The eventual finalists meet in December with the winner in each weight class taking home $1 million.

“PFL took all of that and eliminated it,” Harrison said referencing the issues she disliked most about MMA. “You are literally in control of your destiny. If you want money, win. If you want to continue, win. If you want the opportunity to be a millionaire and the opportunity to be a champion — win. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. That’s my dream. That’s what I live for. Put it my hands. Put it on me. It’s my job to make my dreams come true.

“I think PFL is changing the game. I think we’re about to enter into a new era of MMA and I’m excited about it.”

Part of the reason why Harrison is against some of the trash talking and other ‘entertainment’ aspects of the sport is because she hopes to use her platform to reach people on a different level other than just her fight career.

She spearheaded her own ‘Fearless Foundation’, which is a program that helps children who have been victims of sexual abuse. Harrison suffered through her bout with child sex abuse and it took her years to finally speak out about it.

Now she uses her platform to help others in need.

Harrison takes that role very seriously much like she does as any little girl out there inspired by her Olympic gold medals or perhaps her career in mixed martial arts. It all leads back to Harrison carrying herself like a champion, which is why she’s so happy to have found a home like PFL that truly supports her and everything she believes in.

“I never really planned on it. It’s not something I said ‘I’m going to be somebody’s role model one day’ but as soon as the gold medal goes around your neck, as soon as you’re in the spotlight a little bit, your life changes,” Harrison explained. “Whether you like it or not, there are people who look up to you. There are people who are watching and I try to take that into account.

“There are little girls who are sitting right there next to the cage when I train and I can’t cry, I can’t put on a bad face. They’re watching me and they’re seeing what I’m doing and they’re going to mimic me and they’re going to emulate what I do and that’s very important to me. That’s a huge responsibility that I don’t lightly.”