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Kayla Harrison on ESPY nomination: ‘We’re in a new era, and I want to be the spearhead for it’

It’s been a big week for Kayla Harrison, but the two-time PFL champ believes this is the start of something much bigger.

This past week, the two-time Olympic gold medalist turned 32, scored a first-round finish at PFL 6 to advance to their playoffs, and was nominated for Best MMA fighter at the 2022 ESPYs.

Harrison is the first non-UFC fighter to ever be nominated for the award, and the two-time PFL champion says this is only the beginning.

“Sometimes I talk a little bit of smack and I say it’s the Kayla show, but that’s how you have to believe,” she said at the PFL 6 post-fight press conference. “That’s how you have to feel when you’re an MMA fighter stepping in a cage with another human being. You have to have that kind of confidence in order to go out there and compete at your very best.

“So yeah, we’re in a new era, and I want to be the spearhead for it, I want to be the leader, but I understand it takes more than one person to make a movement happen and to grow the sport to reach new heights. So I’m excited to be a part of it and humbled.”

Though the “Best MMA Fighter” award has only been around since 2019, to be the first non-UFC fighter to be nominated shows that Harrison, and others, won’t necessarily be held back from broader recognition just because they aren’t in the UFC. And having recently re-signed a multi-year deal with the PFL, Harrison has plenty of time to continue to grow the PFL’s brand.

Of course, the biggest name that could help her do that is Cris Cyborg. Harrison has courte a fight with the Bellator featherweight champion for some time. With Cyborg’s free agency looming, the superfight is still a possibility, but Cyborg seems less keen on following Harrison to the PFL for the moment, stating she wants to try her hand at boxing.

It’s frustrating for Harrison, who’s repeatedly called Cyborg out. But the two-time champ said for the moment, she just has to focus on herself and the opponents she wants will come.

“I go back and forth on it to be honest,” Harrison said. “I have moments where I’m like, ‘Say whatever you can to get her to fight you,’ and then I have moments where I realize I have to chase the best possible version of me. I’m not in there against Kaitlin Young, I’m not in there against any other girl. I’m in there and I’m trying to be better than I was before, as a fighter, as a person, as a mother, because that’s all I can control.

“I can’t control what X girl does or Y girl does. I’m willing to fight anyone. I want to fight the best while they’re the best, I’ve made that no secret. But at the end of the day, if it’s meant to be, it will.”

In the meantime, Harrison can occupy herself with the upcoming lightweight PFL semifinals, where she will face Martina Jindrová, and the ESPY awards, where she’s competing against Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski, and Charles Oliveira. If she happens to win that battle, it’s another award to add to an already loaded trophy case, but one she seems pretty excited about.

“It would be amazing,” Harrison said. “Just to be nominated, for me, at this point in my career, is very humbling. I still consider myself a beginner. I still believe I’m just getting started, I’m just scratching the surface, and the best is yet to come. So to have that nomination right now is humbling and a huge honor for me, and I’m just really grateful.”

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