Kayla Harrison was determined to compete before 2020 came to an end.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist had originally anticipated at least four fights this year as part of the PFL’s typical season format but the promotion opted to cancel all cards following the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
That left more than a few fighters on the roster rather upset, especially after almost every other major MMA promotion including the UFC and Bellator began putting on shows again once protocols had been established for the health and safety of the athletes. While PFL ultimately decided not to return until 2021, Harrison was able to get permission to venture outside the organization to find a fight.
On Friday night, she will make her debut at Invicta FC 43 and nobody is happier than Harrison that she’s actually competing again.
“I said earlier in the year that I wouldn’t go a whole year without fighting and mark my words and I meant it,” Harrison told MMA Fighting. “The PFL kind of decided they weren’t going to have a season so we had to figure out a way to make it work for both of us. It was a little rough going for a while but we figured it out and got a fight.
“Hopefully, I’m going to have another fight in January and then I’ll finish my contract obligations with PFL next year.”
Harrison didn’t go into much detail regarding her current relationship with the PFL outside of committing to her return to the organization next year.
She hopes to fight for Invicta FC again in early 2021 before then rejoining the PFL roster for the next season, which is slated to start in the spring.
“I will fight this Friday. I’ll fight one more time for Invicta hopefully in January or whenever they say to fight. Like I said, April of next year, I will fulfill my contractual duties,” Harrison said about returning to the PFL. “I’m going to compete in the season.”
Her debut in Invicta FC also comes along with a change in divisions as she prepares to compete at 145 pounds for the first time in her career.
Harrison has only fought at 155 pounds since making the move from judo to MMA following her second gold medal run in the Olympics. While dropping to featherweight was always an option, Harrison has spoken often about her issues with severe weight cutting in MMA, which has been a problem plaguing the sport for several years.
“To be honest, it’s not something I was training for or expecting to do this year,” Harrison said. “As I’ve said very vocally in the past, I don’t believe in weight cutting, especially in a combat sport where you’re getting punched in the head. I don’t believe in it for a lot of reasons. The toll it takes on your body. Physically, I feel like it’s dangerous. I think it sends the wrong message to kids. I’ve never cut weight in my career. The last time I was 145 pounds, I was 16 years old.
“So no, it’s not something I expected but unfortunately or fortunately, depends on how you look at it, it’s been a crazy year. There were no fights to be had at 155 and I kind of had to make a choice. I was either not going to fight or I was going to have to suck it up and make some sacrifices and make the weight cut.”
On Thursday, Harrison hit the scale for her fight at 145.9 pounds and she promises that everything about her weight cut was done the right way.
She worked tirelessly on her diet while adjusting her nutrition in order to make the move to featherweight in the safest way possible while still training just as hard as ever to prepare for her return.
In a perfect world, Harrison admits that she’d still prefer to stay at 155 pounds but the land of opportunity at featherweight is just that much greater with champions like Amanda Nunes in the UFC and Cris Cyborg in Bellator currently competing in the division.
“I think this will hush a lot of doubters,” Harrison said. “Once I make the weight and go out and perform at a high level, it will stop people from doubting. Of course it can open up doors and open up opportunities. It is just a much more competitive weight class. It’s been around longer, had more time to grow.
“My goal for 155 was to make it a competitive weight class and to help grow women’s MMA and grow the sport as a whole and I still would like to do that. I’d like to open up doors for female fighters but I also have to remember I’m in the business of Kayla Harrison. At the end of the day, I have to take care of me and do what’s best for me and my career. For now, I guess this is in my best interest. It’s the only way I could get a fight and it’s in the best interest of my career to fight!”
Following an 11-month layoff between fights, Harrison undoubtedly has a lot of pent up aggression that she’s ready to unleash but just like usual, she promises to be as focused and calculated in her performance.
Considering she previously had to wait four years to get ready for the Olympics, this is nothing new for her but Harrison definitely never wants to sit out this long again.
“It’s been frustrating because I thought I was going to fight four times this year,” Harrison said. “It’s been frustrating financially. It’s been frustrating in other ways but at the end of the day, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.
“My life could be a lot worse. I could be completely out of work or have no money in the bank. Times are tough for a lot of people right now so I’m grateful for what I do have.”