Kayla Harrison tired of regular free agency but hopeful for Cyborg fight, finally, in growing PFL
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The PFL is where Kayla Harrison got her MMA start, and it sounds like loyalty is a value she puts a high price tag on.
Perhaps ironically (or coincidentally, instead of ironically?; let’s ask Alanis), Harrison says that loyalty isn’t financially motivated, but her loyalty to herself and her family takes top priority. If putting herself and her family first matches up with loyalty to the PFL, bonus.
“At this point, it’s not about money, so I’m going to do what I think is best for Kayla,” Harrison told MMA Junkie backstage at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., this past Friday after she beat ex-UFC fighter Aspen Ladd in a 150-pound contract weight fight that was part of the PFL’s 2023 Championship pay-per-view.
Harrison (16-1) said typically, her fight contracts have been short ones. She’s been part of three PFL seasons and won her first two women’s lightweight titles and $1 million each time. But in 2022, she was upset in the final by Larissa Pacheco (23-4).
Pacheco on Friday won back-to-back titles – and became the first fighter in PFL history to win titles in two weight classes, since the promotion ditched women’s lightweight and went with women’s featherweight for 2023.
After the announcement a week ago that the PFL had purchased Bellator, and champion-vs.-champion fights are on the horizon in 2024, Harrison hoped she’d get a big one with Bellator women’s 145-pound titleholder and all-time legend Cris Cyborg (27-2 MMA, 6-0 BMMA). But instead, it sounds like Cyborg will fight Pacheco first – even though the talk for years has been about getting a fight put together between Cyborg and two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Harrison.
That could leave Harrison itching to get back in there while she waits for Cyborg – or less exciting to her, a potential fourth fight with Pacheco. She’s 2-1 against her, but that 1 was when Pacheco pulled off the big upset for the $1 million a year ago.
“I feel like every two years I’m single – I’m going to stay single in my personal life, but every two years professionally, I become single,” Harrison said. “I don’t know how I feel about it anymore. I’m tired of my contracts running out. Look, life is good – I’m back in the ‘W’ column. I’ve been training hard. I feel like I’m finally getting into my prime, into my peak, where anything is possible. I’m starting to feel comfortable – I’m not just a judo player inside of a cage. I’m a fighter, and I feel comfortable anywhere the fight goes. I have lots of room for improvement, which I think is a great thing. I have so much I can go back to the gym and work on come Monday. So everybody watch out, because I’m still hungry. I still have a desire to prove myself and get better and better and better and better. And who knows where that ceiling is.”
Harrison has been hoping against hope that the ceiling includes a chance to topple the women’s MMA giant that is Cyborg. But given Cyborg’s been in the UFC and Bellator at the same times Harrison has been in the PFL (and WSOF before that), and co-promotion isn’t common in MMA, the talk has been mere speculation about what might happen in a fight.
Harrison even implied the fight may have happened already had Harrison’s side been willing to do a crossover bout. And in Harrison’s own free agency a year ago, she had conversations about going to Bellator before she ultimately stuck with the PFL. If the Cyborg fight is on the table or within reach in the near-term future thanks to the PFL purchase of Bellator and the direction the company is heading with the recent partnerships with ex-UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and boxing megastar Jake Paul, it sounds like Harrison is in.
“I’ve never once doubted the PFL’s desire and ambition to bring the best fights inside the Smart Cage,” Harrison said. “I’ve never once thought PFL’s messing with me or playing me wrong or anything like that. They’ve always tried to the best of their ability to put on great fights and to get me great fighters. It really has to do with, do I think Cyborg is going to fight me or not? Is she going to? That’s what it has to do with. I’m hopeful now that we’re under the same banner that it’s possible. But never once have I doubted the PFL’s ambition – it’s about she who must not be named.
“I love the PFL. I started my career here. I’ve been here from Day One. I’ve been here longer than all of the employees – I was signed when it was World Series of Fighting. To see what it’s become, to see the leaps that they’ve made, to see Francis and Jake and now acquiring Bellator and the tournament growing into what it’s grown into, them adding women’s divisions, the PFLW initiative – all of these things are so awesome to see.
“But no matter what, I have to do what’s best for me, and I don’t know what that is. I would love for it to be the PFL. I would love for it to be. This is my home, but I want to go where I’m going to make the biggest mark. They know that and I know that, and I love them regardless. It’s not like I’m unhappy here and I yearn for more, like the big fights. So if they can do that, then let’s do it.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for 2023 PFL Championship.
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