Olympic champion Kayla Harrison is ready to show the MMA world what she’s got.
A two-time gold medalist in judo, the 27-year-old Harrison joined the World Series of Fighting promotion in October 2016, with the understanding that she could potentially compete for the organization. The WSOF became the Professional Fighters League last year and recently released its schedule for the 2018 season.
Harrison announced Monday on The MMA Hour that she will make her professional MMA debut at a June 21 PFL show at the Chicago Theater in Chicago.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison said. “First, it was just me, I wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face and now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. Their stuff is together.
“Their first card is June 7 at Madison Square Garden, so I’m going to fight on the second card. June 21 in Chicago.”
Though she has an opponent, Harrison refrained from naming her as two previously booked opponents have apparently pulled out already. She will compete in the 145-pound division, with the expectation that the PFL will set up a tournament for that weight class in 2019.
Harrison gained international fame at the 2012 Olympics in London when she became the first American to win a gold medal in judo. She repeated the feat four years later in Rio de Janiero before beginning her transition into MMA.
There was much speculation surrounding Harrison’s future in the sport given her enormous success on the mats and the fact that she had previously trained in judo with future UFC star Ronda Rousey, though Harrison would typically deflect questions about becoming a fighter until her Olympic career came to an end in 2016.
Since signing with the PFL, Harrison has done commentary work for the promotion, but she’s eager to get in on the action herself, especially after moving down to Coconut Creek, Fla., to train with the American Top Team. Harrison has made stops at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, as well as at the UFC Performance Institute and Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
“[The PFL] said, ‘You don’t have to fight if you don’t want to, but if you decide this is what you want to do. We have a home for you. And then I started training and now I’m training with one of the best teams in the country.”
One of the reasons Harrison chose to make the move to ATT is the opportunity to train with more females, including two of the UFC’s most successful fighters, current bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
“I went down to American Top Team to train for a week and it was the first time really since I started doing MMA that I just felt like, ‘Okay, this is where I belong. This is what I’m meant to be doing. I felt like I was making progress everyday,” Harrison said. “And the practices were hard, there are so many people on the mat, the coaching staff is so professional and I’m there with two of the best girls in the world training there every single day.
“I think for me, having someone like Amanda and Joanna, who are both such superstars — when I was younger I had Ronda. And I was always watching Ronda and they always gave Ronda all the attention and I was like, ‘I want that. I want to be the superstar. I want to be the golden girl. So having actual people in front of me who I can look at every day and say, ‘That’s where I want to be,’ is a really positive thing for me.”