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Kayla Harrison explains why calling out Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg is ‘the most respectful thing I can say to them’

Kayla Harrison
Cooper Neill, PFL

Kayla Harrison has become synonymous for dominant performances inside the cage and then almost always unleashing a fiery hot take in her post-fight interview.

Taking full advantage of a captive audience with a chance to address the world following her last big win, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo took aim at future opposition while saying “if those three Brazilians would take off their track shoes and meet me, then you’d find out” that she is the “queen of women’s MMA.”

Harrison will have a chance to vanquish one of those Brazilians with her upcoming fight against Larissa Pacheco at the 2022 PFL Championship card on Nov. 25. The other two — Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg — are seemingly the last two obstacles in her way to ascend to the top spot in the sport but Harrison promises she wasn’t calling either of them out as a sign of disrespect.

It’s actually the compete opposite.

“After you have a big fight and you’re inside the cage and blood is pumping and the adrenaline is coursing through your veins, you say a lot of crazy s***,” Harrison told MMA Fighting. “Obviously that’s been the goal the whole time.

“I don’t mean any disrespect to Amanda and I don’t mean any disrespect to Cyborg. It’s actually the most respectful thing I can say to them. You’re the best, I want to fight you because you’re the best. I can’t be anymore complimentary than that.”

Of course, Harrison counted Nunes as one of her teammates for many years while they were both training at American Top Team in Florida.

She’s had far more tense encounters with Cyborg through interviews and social media but even with that fight Harrison says it’s ultimately always about the competition.

“I don’t really want to talk trash and I don’t want to go that route,” Harrison said. “I’d like to maintain my judo principles and remember that this is martial arts, which is founded in respect. I would like to maintain that but we’ll see what happens.”

As much as she might want to face Nunes and Cyborg in the future, Harrison first has to get through Pacheco for a third time when they clash on Friday.

The first pair of fights ended in lopsided decision wins for Harrison but Pacheco has rarely skipped an opportunity to take a shot at the two-time PFL champion. In the past she’s said that Harrison was “boring” and the hype around her is more about “marketing” rather than a resume worthy of being considered among the best of all-time.

Perhaps it’s all mental warfare as Pacheco attempts to talk her way into a fight that she’s already lost twice previously but none of that seems to matter much to Harrison.

“I think that’s a little bit of fear talking,” Harrison said. “That’s a little bit of insecurity talking. She’s got to pump herself up somehow. I mean if you haven’t won a minute of a round of eight rounds with someone, you’ve got to do something to pump yourself up. More power to her.

“If she wants to talk that s***, talk that s***. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about her and we’ll see on Nov. 25.”

When asked for her assessment on Pacheco ahead of their third fight, Harrison is honest enough to admit the Brazilian definitely possesses dangerous elements to her game that will give problems to a lot of potential opponents.

That said, Harrison has been here before and she has a pretty good idea of what to expect from Pacheco when they meet again.

“I think she’s your stereotypical frontrunner,” Harrison said. “I think she’s a bully. I think she has a lot of power, probably in the first round and I think after that you’re going to see her start to fade.

“She’s a thoroughbred and I’m a work horse and I’m going to go out there and instill my will. She’s a great fighter. But I’m better.”

In almost any other scenario throughout combat sports, Harrison would probably never see Pacheco again considering she already holds two dominant wins against her.

That’s now how the PFL operates, however, with fighters earning their opportunities through a regular season and playoff format, which is how Pacheco got back to a third fight with Harrison.

On paper it might seem like a difficult endeavor for Harrison to get motivated to beat someone she’s so thoroughly defeated in the past but that’s just not how she looks at things.

“I just remember to stay humble and stay hungry,” Harrison explained. “I think that’s kind of been the model of my entire career. In judo, I’ve done this many times. I’ve won a tournament and had to go back to it again next year and the next year and the next year. I won the Olympics and I had to train another four years for it. How did I stay motivated for four years after I had just done it? It’s just a mindset. My mindset is still that young, hungry athlete

“It’s pretty easy for me. I picture her Rocky style coming to kill me and that gets me out of bed in the morning because nobody’s taking me out. I’m taking them out.”

If she’s successful in her bid to beat Pacheco again and claim another $1 million prize, Harrison will become the first ever three-time PFL champion but the fight will also serve as her final appearance in the current season-long format.

Harrison remains under contract with the PFL but starting in 2023 she will be competing in individual fights rather than joining another tournament. That’s when Harrison will turn her full attention towards the PFL delivering her the kind of opposition that will put her among the greatest of all-time but that’s the least of her concern right now.

“I think a lot of the promises hinge on next year and whether they’re going to be able to bring in certain fighters,” Harrison said about the PFL. “But that’s not my focus right now.

“I’m going to be the first to three-peat. The job’s not done. I’m not even thinking about the promises. Now’s not the time to think about that.”

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