Kayla Harrison joining the UFC has been a topic of speculation for quite a while now. Ever since the former judoka became a free agent after PFL 2021, the rumor mill has started churning. However, it soon came to light that while there had been talks, neither party agreed to a contract.
For a while, it seemed that the former Olympian might re-sign with the PFL, but the deal fell through. This recent development has reignited hopes that Harrison might finally sign with the MMA leader. She has also become a familiar sight at almost every major UFC event.
The Ohio native's rise through the ranks of women's MMA has been nothing short of spectacular. In a very short period of time, Harrison has established herself as the dominant force in the PFL women's lightweight division. She has also built a strong fan base. So here are 5 reasons why the UFC should sign Kayla Harrison.
#5. Kayla Harrison would be the most decorated Olympian in UFC history
Kayla Harrison also finds herself in a similar position. A distinguished judo practitioner, Harrison has won numerous international championships. She began training in judo aged six and by the age of fifteen, the Ohio native was a two-time national champion. The 31-year-old has also won gold at the World and Pan-American judo championships.
Harrison's biggest accolades are her 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medals. In fact, the Ohio native was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in judo. Her experience as an Olympic athlete has also helped Harrison evolve as a mixed martial artist. Like Cejudo and Cormier, Harrison plays to her strengths inside the cage and could be a future UFC star.
#4. Undefeated and already a champion outside the UFC
The 31-year-old made her MMA debut in 2018 at PFL 2. Harrison's opponent Brittney Elkins had a background in jiu-jitsu and was more experienced. However, the former Olympian dominated Elkins and submitted her with an arm-bar in round one. Since then, she has amassed a 12-0 record with ten finishes.
So far, the two-time Olympic medalist has looked unbeatable. Nine of her twelve opponents haven't made it past the first two rounds. Years of judo training strengthened her ground game, but at American Top Team, Harrison has improved her striking exponentially.
Within just three years of starting her MMA career, the former Olympian won the PFL women's lightweight championship twice. Harrison's impeccable resume and robust performances have created a lot of hype. Now a free agent, she is poised to step into the big leagues.
#3. Bringing judo back to the UFC
Boxing, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu have arguably become the most dominant disciplines in MMA. Fighters who specialize in these styles have also found the most success. Lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov ruled the division with his wrestling and grappling. Meanwhile, champions like Israel Adesanya have put on striking masterclasses.
However, apart from Ronda Rousey, no other judoka has become a UFC champion. Harrison, a two-time PFL women's lightweight champion, may be able to change that. The former Olympian utilizes judo techniques such as throws and trips to take her opponents down, even from a clinch position.
Once on the ground, much like Rousey, Harrison is a master at executing armbars. Apart from being a submission specialist, the 31-year-old is capable of landing some vicious ground-and-pound. So far, the former Olympian has racked up five wins via submission and five more via KO/TKO.
None of Kayla Harrison's opponents have had an answer for her judo-based ground game. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
#2. Reviving the UFC women's featherweight division
The UFC women's featherweight division has been in limbo since 2021. Amanda Nunes defended her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer in March 2021. Since then, the division has run out of contenders and rankings remain suspended. While Nunes is still the featherweight champion, the division's future is uncertain.
By signing Harrison, the promotion can commence rebuilding the featherweight division. The Ohio native competes at 155lbs in the PFL and will not face much trouble shedding 10lbs. In fact, the two-time Olympic gold medalist has already fought at 145lbs once in her MMA career.
It is often detrimental to cut too much weight. However, at Invicta FC 43, featherweight Kayla Harrison dominated and then TKO'd Courtney King in round two. A recent ESPN interview has only reinforced the notion that she can and probably will fight at featherweight or perhaps even lighter. In the interview, Harrison stated:
''I had considered reaching out to a nutritionist to see if I could fight at 135(lbs).''
#1. A UFC title fight with Amanda Nunes
Kayla Harrison's dominant performances in the cage have led to many speculations. The most notable among those is that the former judoka could beat current UFC women's featherweight champ Amanda Nunes.
Amanda Nunes is arguably the greatest champion in women's MMA history. Until her recent loss to Julianna Pena at 135lbs, she was a simultaneous two-division champion for over three years. While her performance against Pena may have been lackluster, the Brazilian possesses a well-rounded skillset.
A former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, Nunes has a strong ground game. Her striking ability is equally good and she holds knockout wins over powerful strikers like Holly Holm and Cris Cyborg. Interestingly, the featherweight champ is also a brown belt in judo.
However, the hype around Harrison going up against Nunes is due to multiple factors. While it's exciting for fans to see a dominant, undefeated prospect take on an all-time great, the pair also used to be training partners. Both 'The Lioness' and Harrison trained at American Top Team for years before Nunes left after her UFC 269 loss.
Harrison admitted that over the years, the pair learned from each other. A fight between the two would be a historic event for the UFC.