Kayla Harrison became the first U.S. judoka to win a gold medal in the Olympics back in 2012. On Thursday in Rio, she made history again.
Harrison, an American, defeated Audrey Tcheumeo of France via ippon (armbar) to win her second straight gold medal at 78 kg (172 pounds). There was just seven seconds remaining when Harrison locked in the armbar. She was ahead on penalties at the time.
Harrison, 26, also beat her semifinal opponent Anamari Velensek of Slovenia by armbar and won every match in Rio by finish. Harrison's chief rival Mayra Aguilar of Brazil fell in the semifinals to Tcheumeo and ended up winning the bronze medal. Tcheumeo had to settle for silver. Harrison said after the victory that she is officially retiring from judo competition and will not participate in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
There is a chance Harrison could pursue MMA following this historic victory, much like Ronda Rousey did after winning bronze in judo at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"I know you all wanna know if I’m gonna do MMA or not, but tonight I’m just gonna live in the moment, be an Olympic champion, and tomorrow I’ll decide what my future holds. Maybe a month for now [laughs]," Harrison said after the match Thursday.
Harrison has hired an agent and is already fielding offers, she told SB Nation's Guilherme Cruz last week in Rio.
"Several contracts have been sent to my agent," Harrison said. "He's looked at it, and he's said ‘no' to all of them. He said there's not enough money. And I trust him. But, again, we're not making any decisions right now. We have had offers, we had contracts sent, but I think once the Olympics are over, and everything sorts of settles down, I can decide whether or not I like to punch people in the face."
Harrison, an Ohio native and Massachusetts resident, took up boxing while healing from knee surgery after the 2012 Olympics and liked it.
"For me, it was fun because it was something I've never done before," Harrison said. "And I was pretty good at it. And it was completely different from judo. Like, every day in judo practice I do the same things over and over and over again, and I've been doing them for 10 years. My whole life, this is what I've done. I have mastered the art of basics. I have no pretty judo, I have no flashy judo, but I'm really, really good at the basics. So, the fact that boxing was so different and unique, and something that I've never done before, but was still really hard for me and pushing me, was fun."
Since she competes now at 172 pounds in judo, it's likely Harrison would only be able to drop to 145 in MMA, the class ruled over by Cris Cyborg. But Rousey, who competed in judo at 70kg (154 pounds), has always been an inspiration to her. The two are former training partners and Harrison has always strived to exceed Rousey's achievements.
Rousey was the first U.S. female judoka to ever medal in the Olympics and then went on to become a supernova in MMA, becoming the UFC women's bantamweight champion and the most recognizable MMA fighter in the world. Rousey is in the midst of a Hollywood career and is a multi-millionaire, not something enjoyed by most Olympians.
"I used to train with Ronda Rousey, and I guess I always had a little bit of a Ronda complex, you could say. Anything she does, I wanna do - and I wanna do it better," Harrison told Cruz. "You know, I always tried to be the best at whatever it is I do, and at some point in your life I think everyone has that goal of being rich, being famous, and being a superstar. Who doesn't want that? I think everybody does, and, at the end of the day, I'm a fighter. I love to fight. I love judo because it's a battle of wills, and what is a bigger battle of wills than stepping in a cage with someone and forcing them to your will? Bending them to your will?
"So that part of it intrigues me, and excites me, but on the other hand, do I really wanna start it all over with my athletic career at 26? Do I really want to get in a cage and try to hurt someone? You know, judo is meant to keep people safe from harm's way, but MMA is kind of like... there are some rules, but not many. So, we'll see."
MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz contributed to this report.