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Kayla Harrison on first MMA loss: ‘I lost in front of the whole world, and it hurts. It’s going to hurt for awhile’

Kayla Harrison is taking her first MMA loss on the chin.

On Friday, Harrison suffered her first career defeat, losing a unanimous decision to Larissa Pacheco in the lightweight tournament final at the 2022 PFL Championships in New York City. It was a shocking loss for the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka, and in the aftermath, Harrison offered no excuses for what happened.

“I’m super grateful for the opportunity to do what I love everyday,” Harrison said at the post-fight press conference. “I didn’t get the result that I wanted tonight. Larissa was the better fighter. I don’t have an excuse, I don’t have a reason. I believe in my team, I believe in my preparation. I feel like we did everything right in order to prepare for this fight, and it just didn’t go my way tonight. I made some tactical errors. A lot to work on. Failure is inevitable. Some days you’re the nail, and some days you’re the hammer. I feel like I’ve been the hammer for a while, and today, I experienced being the nail. This is an opportunity for me to grow as a fighter and as a person. ...

“I’m very fortunate that this isn’t the first time I’ve lost in life or in a sport setting,” Harrison continued. “I’ve lost many times in judo. It’s a little different in MMA, obviously. It’s the world’s biggest stage. I just lost my title, so that hurts. It’s going to hurt for a while. But it’s also kind of silly, right? I’m not curing cancer, I’m not changing the world. What I do is very selfish, and I do it because I love it. And again, I’m really grateful for my team, for everyone who makes sacrifices for me, they’re away from their families during the holidays, they’re in the gym with me every day, putting in the work just as much as I am. I’m grateful for my family, for all the sacrifices they made in order for me to be here, for my kids, and I know that I have a really blessed life. So although it hurts, I know that I’ll come back stronger.”

Prior to the loss, Harrison was 15-0 in MMA and had twice before won the PFL tournament, including two dominant wins over Pacheco. The turn of events clearly hit the former champion hard as she fought back tears multiple times throughout the press conference. However, she said she wanted to speak afterward to set an example for her kids and for others who might look up to her.

“I just think that I talk a lot about legacy, and to me my legacy isn’t just what I do inside of the cage but how I carry myself outside of the cage,” Harrison said. “I think about what I want my kids to know, and I’m not ashamed of myself tonight. I’m proud. I went out there, I fought, I lost, but I can hold my head high and carry myself with dignity. I think that a real champion shows up in the good times and the bad, and I want kids everywhere to know that, listen, I fell down tonight. I fell flat on my face. I lost in front of the whole world, and it hurts. It’s going to hurt for awhile. But it’s also an opportunity for growth, it’s an opportunity for me to become a better fighter, a better person, and that is part of my legacy. Not just the wins, but what I do during the losses as well.”

Though Harrison and Pacheco had fought twice before, this was by far their most entertaining contest: a 25-minute back-and-forth battle that saw the scorecards tied at two rounds apiece heading into the final stanza. Harrison said she knew she needed to win the fifth round to seal the fight, but simply was unable to do so in the face of a dramatically improved Pacheco.

“I felt like I needed to win the fifth round,” Harrison said. “She was doing more damage than me. Even on the ground, some of the shots from the bottom I was like, what the hell just hit me? I felt like I really needed to find a way, and I was even thinking that before the fight. ‘Twenty-five hard minutes, I’ve got to find a way.’ And I just didn’t find a way tonight...

“She was just extremely physical this fight. I feel like it was a different person in there, to be honest. I don’t know. She was much bigger, much stronger than I recalled. Much more patient, obviously. There were a couple times she flurried and blitzed, but she kept her conditioning really well. She did a great job. She’s a champion.”

The loss now raises questions about what’s next for Harrison, who only has two fights left on her current PFL deal. The 32-year-old fighter said she had intended to take some time off after this fight but suggested that the loss might change that, and also noted that she wants the chance to avenge the loss at some point. Because though this isn’t the first loss she’s ever suffered, Harrison said it’s still every bit as painful as any of her previous ones.

“It’s different in the sense that there’s $1 million on the line, and I feel like I’m the face of the promotion, so I dropped the ball a little bit,” Harrison said. “But losing is losing. For me, it’s like I want to crawl out of my skin. I can’t stand it. So it’s painful.”

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