Kayla Harrison’s Unexpected Break from the PFL: What’s Next?

Sep 15, 2023
A. J. Riot

In the tumultuous realm of professional fighting, Kayla Harrison‘s trajectory offers an enthralling narrative. Charting her meteoric rise, an unforeseen detour, and her imminent return, Harrison’s narrative is a testament to resilience. This piece provides an in-depth look at her surprising hiatus from the PFL’s 2023 season, the league’s strategic shifts, and potential horizons awaiting the two-time Lightweight champion.

Why Kayla Harrison’s Glass is Half Full

In the wake of a shocking defeat, the mental and emotional journey of an athlete can be more grueling than any physical battle. The aftershock not only tests their mettle but also reshapes their perspective on the sport and life. Kayla Harrison’s recent experiences serve as a compelling case study in this context.

The Setback and Recovery

The shadow of a demoralizing loss at the Professional Fighters League’s lightweight championship loomed large over Harrison. But, as champions often do, she embarked on a journey of introspection and growth. This period, marked by both emotional turmoil and personal evolution, also witnessed her forging an unexpected bond—with a pet emu.

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Returning to the Ring

After enduring a season away from the limelight, the return of an athlete to their chosen arena is always a highly anticipated event, filled with speculation, hope, and excitement. For Kayla Harrison, her comeback promises to be an electrifying chapter in her storied career.

“I really spent a lot of time working on me — being a better mother, being a better human, just sitting still and being quiet. That’s something I’ve never done — just sitting with myself and meditating, or sitting outside and listening to the birds and watering plants,” Harrison, 33, said of the past eight months via The Washington Post. “It was a beautiful time of my life, and I’m so grateful for it because I feel like it taught me how to breathe.”

Harrison vs. Budd: The Showdown

November 24 stands as a red-letter day for MMA enthusiasts. On this day, Harrison, with a formidable record of 15-1, is slated to face former Bellator MMA champion Julia Budd (17-6) in what promises to be a high-octane face-off at the PFL world championship.

Two Decades in Motion

Dedication, passion, and relentless hard work often characterize the journeys of elite athletes. For Kayla Harrison, the last two decades have been a whirlwind of training, competing, and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

Olympic Glory and MMA Stardom

Harrison’s tryst with judo began early, leading her to train rigorously and earn a spot in her first Olympic trials at a mere age of 14. Her unwavering commitment bore fruit when she clinched an Olympic gold medal in judo in 2012, followed by another in 2016. Transitioning to MMA in 2018, she soon became a beacon of excellence in the PFL, clinching the lightweight title twice.

Personal Struggles and Triumphs

Behind the glitz and glamour of the fighting arena, lies the very human story of an athlete’s personal battles and their indomitable spirit. Kayla Harrison’s life off the ring has been marked by both heart-wrenching challenges and inspiring triumphs.

Survivor and Guardian

The adversities Harrison faced weren’t confined to her professional life. She survived the traumatic experience of sexual abuse by a former coach. Later, in a poignant turn of events, she became the guardian to her niece and nephew, navigating personal loss and responsibility.

The Quest to Be the Best

In the highly competitive world of MMA, being good isn’t enough; one aspires to be the best. For Harrison, this meant not just dominating in the PFL but seeking out challenges that would cement her legacy as the premier female MMA fighter.

Facing Elite Competition

Despite her impressive track record in the PFL, Harrison yearned for more. Her eyes were set on blockbuster bouts against legends like Amanda Nunes and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. But, with Nunes retiring and plans with Justino falling through, Harrison’s aspirations hit a roadblock.

A Shocking Turn of Events

In sports, predictions and odds can often be turned on their head by the unpredictability of the moment. When Harrison faced PFL’s Larissa Pacheco, what seemed inevitable was dramatically overturned.

The Pacheco Upset

Entering the 155-pound championship bout, Harrison was the overwhelming favorite, with odds stacked heavily in her favor. But, in a twist, Pacheco clinched a unanimous decision victory, serving Harrison her first MMA defeat and leaving fans and pundits in disbelief.

Uncertainty in the PFL

Every sport undergoes changes, whether in format or in the structure of competitions. The PFL, too, witnessed significant changes that directly impacted Harrison and her immediate future in the league.

Divisional Changes and PPV Strategy

Navigating the aftermath of her loss, Harrison’s next steps were mired in uncertainty. With the PFL switching its 155-pound women’s lightweight division for a 145-pound featherweight offering, and a pronounced emphasis on pay-per-view events, Harrison found herself in an unfamiliar territory of ambiguity.

Reflecting on Choices and Time

Time is the ultimate luxury and commodity for an elite athlete. As Harrison stares down the final chapters of her storied career, introspection and evaluation of past choices become inevitable.

Past Decisions and Future Prospects

Harrison, in previous interactions, has alluded to the ticking clock, sometimes with hints of regret. She has often wondered aloud if she should have chosen the MMA route sooner over pursuing a second Olympic medal. While such urgency has ebbed, it occasionally resurfaces, especially as major fights approach.

The Road Ahead

Amidst the highs and lows, what remains constant is the unyielding spirit of an athlete. As Harrison prepares for her imminent return, the MMA community awaits with bated breath, eager to witness the next chapter of this remarkable journey.

Anticipating the PFL’s November Finale

With the grand finale of the PFL looming in November, speculations are rife. The end might be on the horizon, but for Harrison, it’s about the journey, the battles, and leaving an indelible mark in the annals of MMA history.

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