As Kayla Harrison prepares for Professional Fighters League season 2 to start on Thursday night, her path towards a championship and a $1 million grand prize is clear.
If she wins and keeps on winning, she will wear that belt and cash that seven-figure payday.
Now that sounds easy enough but obviously mixed martial arts is an incredibly difficult sport to predict because one errant move can mean the difference between victory and defeat. A single mistake can often lead to a shocking upset.
Thankfully, Harrison knows all about what it takes to make the impossible seem possible after she became the first woman in American history to not only win an Olympic gold medal in judo but she managed to do it twice.
“You’re 0.1 percent of the population if you become an Olympian. To be an Olympian you have to have a type A personality, you go in there expecting to win and you have all these high hopes. For me, the Olympics I was very fortunate. It takes a little bit of luck to be an Olympic champion but it takes a lot to be an Olympic champion twice,” Harrison explained when speaking to MMAWeekly.
“Statistically, I was not supposed to happen, let alone twice. What I did was a miracle and it was all about the right people around me at the right time and everything fell into place at just the right moment.”
Harrison put the Olympics in her rearview mirror after winning a second gold medal and then turning her attention to fighting but that experience is invaluable, especially with the PFL season kicking off on Thursday night on ESPN2.
The way the Professional Fighters League system is structured is that fighters are rewarded for winning and winning impressively heading into the playoffs later in the year.
From there it’s a tournament where the athletes are paired up in a winner take all format that leads to the finale in December with the champions in each division taking home the $1 million grand prize.
A background in judo obviously prepared Harrison for her career in mixed martial arts but it was the Olympic games that actually gave her the best possible experience to get ready for what she’s about to face in the PFL season ahead.
“A lot of people are like ‘main event, headlining the division, lots of pressure’ but for me when you have trained 10 years for one day for 16 minutes of your life, there is no pressure like the Olympic pressure and I did it twice,” Harrison said. “Obviously it’s a big deal and obviously I have high expectations for myself but I’ve already been through this.
“There’s no one mentally tougher, there’s no one more mentally prepared than me. It’s just time to go out and shine. Under the lights is when I show up.”
Thus far, Harrison has been flawless in her fighting career with a perfect 3-0 record but that was all leading to this season where the PFL introduced the 155-pound women’s division.
Every fight up until now was a litmus test to find out if Harrison was really ready for a career in mixed martial arts but this season and eventually the playoffs will begin to define the legacy she will leave behind one day.
When it’s all said and done, Harrison wants to leave fighting as one of the best to ever do it just like she proved in the sport of judo. To accomplish that, Harrison needs to win convincingly and her first test happens on Thursday night in New York.
“Every fight is like the Olympics for me at this point,” Harrison said bluntly. “That’s how I treat it.”