Kayla Harrison certainly isn’t lacking in confidence.
It’s hard to blame the 28-year-old fighter who has already reached incredible heights in her combat sports career. As a judoka, Harrison became the first American to take home gold at the Olympic games when she conquered London in 2012; she made history a second time, defending her Olympic title at the Rio games in 2016.
Predictably, Harrison’s dominance led to curiosity over whether she would follow in the footsteps of former training partner Ronda Rousey and seek stardom in the MMA world. Harrison deflected the questions for as long as she could before eventually signing on as a commentator for the World Series of Fighting promotion in 2016 with the understanding that she would likely step into the cage herself.
Fast forward to today, the WSOF has become the Professional Fighters League and it is days away from wrapping up its inaugural season. The main attraction for the league has been its structured season and playoffs guaranteeing a $1,000,000 prize to the champions of each division, who will be determined at the PFL’s year-end show on Dec. 31. Meanwhile, Harrison has emerged as an attraction in her own right despite competing outside of the season format.
On Monday, she meets Moriel Charneski in a lightweight bout set for the main card at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. This will be just the third fight of her MMA career, but Harrison isn’t backing down from comparisons to the best in the sport. At a press conference Friday, Harrison was asked where she stands among female fighters especially considering that women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes are throwing down this weekend.
“There’s arguably two of the best female fighters in the world are fighting this week and then two more are fighting on Monday and I think time will tell, but the baddest woman on the planet is sitting right here,” Harrison said.
Harrison has looked sharp in her first two fights, debuting in June with a first-round submission of Brittney Elkin and following that up with a third-round TKO of Jozette Cotton in August. In both instances, Harrison was matched up with opponents who had significantly more MMA experience under there belts.
Still, Harrison has proven to be a quick learner under the tutelage of the American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek, Fla. She attributes much of her success so far to having already been through the rigors of training for and winning at the highest levels of judo.
Whether this means a future confrontation with Cyborg or Nunes is in the cards is unclear given that Harrison competes in a heavier weight class than both of them, but for now she is eager to carve out her own path.
“I’m young, but I’m hungry,” Harrison said. “There is no pressure quite like Olympic pressure, there’s no pressure quite like the pressure that I put on myself. I want to be the best in the world. I want to beat everyone there is to beat. And the PFL has given me that opportunity, they believed in me from day one.
“We’re breaking ceilings, 155 pounds, it’s never been done for women, but we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it in style.”