Five fights into her fight career, Kayla Harrison has learned a lot about what it means to be a mixed martial artist.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo received a crash course in the sport after deciding to transition to MMA, where she now calls the Professional Fighters League her promotional home. She has worked tirelessly on adding new weapons to her arsenal as she’s sought to become a well-rounded fighter, while also relying heavily on her grappling background.
As much as she wants to have all the tools to win a fight no matter where it goes, Harrison has witnessed a string of high-level fighters from wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo who’ve suddenly abandoned grappling after learning how to throw a few strikes.
Perhaps the most prolific example is Harrison’s former teammate, Ronda Rousey, who decimated her first 12 UFC opponents, fighting past the first round in just one of those bouts. In 2015, after Rousey knocked out Bethe Correia in stunning fashion, she even landed on the cover of ‘Ring’ magazine with this tagline: ‘She conquered MMA. Is boxing next?’
Then Rousey was viciously knocked out by former boxing champion Holly Holm in her next fight.
Of course, Rousey was far from the first fighter to come into MMA with a grappling background, only to fall in love with striking. But as much as Harrison wants to become a complete fighter, she’s never going to forget where she’s strongest.
“It’s not rocket science,” Harrison explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “There’s never going to be a female on this planet who can grapple as good as me. I truly believe that. So I have to stick with what’s effective.
“I want to be well rounded. I want to be an MMA fighter, but at the end of the day, my foundation is in grappling, so that’s probably going to be how the majority of my fights go.”
Harrison admits when she first changed sports, there was a certain amount of fear that went into choosing the right coaches for a fight.
Because she came from such a dominant grappling background, Harrison needed people around her who’d play to her strengths while adding complimentary elements around what she did best.
“I don’t want coaches to make me anything other than what I am, and to bring out the best aspect for me to use,” Harrison explained. “You can’t have a coach wants you to fight the way they fight. You can’t have a coach who wants you to be a kickboxer because they’re a great kickboxing coach.
“I need to have coaches around me who are great kickboxing coaches who can teach me to use what they do to make my game better. It’s an interesting thing in MMA, because you have to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and you have to learn what does and doesn’t work for you.”
With five wins — four by submission or TKO on the ground — Harrison’s strategy has been working so far. She has no plans to change it as she approaches the final two fights in the ongoing Professional Fighters League lightweight season, where the winner of a post-season tournament takes home $1 million.
As Harrison prepares to face Genah Fabian on Friday, she isn’t keeping any secrets about her plans to go out, take her opponent down and work for the finish.
“I’m not ever going to change my style for any fight or any promotion or any specific match,” Harrison said. “Even with my second fight in the regular season, everyone was like, ‘Well if you win in this amount of time, you get the first seed,’ and my goal is to win. Win and be safe, be smart and win.
“I’m sure people will say that’s boring or whatever, but my goal is to go out there and be effective and instill my will. I’m not going to be flashy or crazy or try to show off some spinning back kick that I don’t even know. I’m just going to go out there and be me.”