When Kayla Harrison made the transition from judo to mixed martial arts she was determined to become the best fighter in the sport but the money doesn’t hurt either.
Ahead of her fight at the PFL Finals against Larissa Pacheco where the winner will take home a $1 million grand prize, Harrison also inked a lucrative new long-term deal with the only promotion she’s known since she started fighting.
It’s a far cry from the teenager who showed up in Boston with $250 in her pocket, which was just enough money to pay for half the rent as she chased her dream to one day become an Olympian.
“I would work as a landscaper and walk dogs and work at a hardware store for 50 hours a week and go to high school and train full time. Just struggle, struggle, struggle,” Harrison told MMA Fighting. “I can’t believe that this is my life. I can’t believe I get paid so much money to do what I love.”
While details about her new contract haven’t been made public, Harrison believes the terms will make her one of the highest-paid fighters in the sport, which is an achievement all by itself.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the United States earn just 81.4 percent of the wages as their male counterparts in the same industries.
MMA might be one occupation where the gender gap in pay rates aren’t nearly as extreme and Harrison knows she’s a shining example of equality in fighting that isn’t felt in other occupations.
“It’s humbling,” Harrison said. “I believe that this is still a male-dominated sport but the fact that women can make more or the same as male fighters it’s awesome. It’s really good for MMA. It’s really good for the female empowerment movement.
“I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at, the company I’m with and what I’m doing. I’m excited.”
It’s also a sign of the times that Harrison is able to not only make a sustainable living but actually flourish while competing in a promotion other than the UFC and Bellator.
The PFL is generally accepted as the third-biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the United States, and while the organization is still growing, they haven’t turned in the same kind of profits as their larger counterparts.
Still, the PFL has invested in athletes like Harrison, who will hopefully drive more interest in the league as the company continues to build towards the future.
“They take such good care of me. I’m probably the highest-paid female fighter in MMA right now,” Harrison said. “I just can’t believe it’s my life sometimes. It’s a no brainer for me. I get to fight for a company that I believe in. My destiny is in my hands. I’m getting paid a ridiculous amount of money and I still get to grow as a fighter.
“It’s really good for the sport. It’s good to have competition. It’s healthy to have growth. My life could not have worked out better.”
Harrison’s bottom line will grow a lot bigger if she’s successful in her bid to take home the $1 million grand prize up for grabs when she faces Pacheco on New Year’s Eve in New York.
Harrison already defeated Pacheco earlier this season, but she was visibly upset afterwards with her performance as she went to decision for the first and only time in her career.
As much as she would have welcomed a fight in the finals against former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman, Harrison sees the rematch as a chance to right the wrongs she committed against Pacheco the first time around.
“I’m really excited about that part of it,” Harrison said about the rematch. “I’ll just say it was at a really hard time in my life personally. I was dealing with a lot of stuff. I went into the fight and I definitely showed up and I was not my best Kayla that night. I was really upset with how I performed, even though I won pretty dominantly. I just felt like I could have done better.
“So the chance to rewrite that story and go out and win in a dominant fashion is exciting for me.”