Kayla Harrison Takes Judo Gold in Rio; Is Following Ronda Rousey to MMA Her Next Stop?

August 11, 2016

American Judoka Kayla Harrison won her second Olympic Gold Medal on Thursday. Is a move to mixed martial arts next?

Harrison won gold at the 2012 London Olympics and added the 2016 Rio Olympics to her resume with an ippon victory, ending her match with France’s Audrey Tcheuméo via armbar.

Sounds a little like another female Judoka who has already made the move to MMA. Ronda Rousey won bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but rocketed to stardom as the first female champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. She quickly became the promotion’s top star, defending the belt several times before losing via head-kick knockout to Holly Holm late last year.

Harrison and Rousey were training partners in Judo, so it’s not all that far fetched to assume the Rio medalist might follow in her friend’s footsteps. In fact, it’s something she has strongly considered.

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“I never say ‘never,’” Harrison said on TeamUSA.org. “Judo is my first love. It’s my passion. But who doesn’t want to be famous? It takes a special kind of person, but I think that I could step in the cage and beat somebody up for a lot of money.”

Kayla Harrison Team USAHarrison said that her agent has talked with the UFC, but she has another option that might prove difficult for MMA to compete with. As she said, Harrison’s first love is Judo, and the International Judo Federation might have a role for her once she is done competing.

“The one question I ask myself is, ‘Do you really want to start from the bottom again? Are you ready to start all over? You’re going to be 26 years old. Are you going to completely reshape your whole life and reinvent yourself?’ Because that’s what I’d have to do (to compete in MMA),” she said.

One thing she’d have going for her, however, is her relationship with Rousey. They have a long history together, and Rousey has long been supportive of Harrison, as a friend as well as an athlete. If Harrison makes the jump to MMA, she would certainly be able to count on Rousey to help her along.

“To be quite honest, there were days when I had no money and she would go buy the groceries,” Harrison said. “And then I could eat for a week. Yeah, there’s this big, tough Ronda persona out there for the world, but the Ronda I remember is the Ronda who would buy me groceries or make sure I had a ride to practice.”

There’s always been a friendly rivalry between them, but if Harrison makes the move to MMA, she doesn’t foresee herself ever fighting Rousey. For one, she’s a good deal heavier, and doesn’t believe she could make the drop to 135 pounds. (Harrison competes at more than 30 pounds above Rousey’s MMA weight.) She doesn’t believe they’d ever fight, but if she were to make the move, Harrison could see her “Ronda complex” kicking back into full gear. She’s always used her friend’s success as a motivator to push herself to be just as good or better.

“I think Ronda was in the right place at the right time and she was the perfect person to take women’s MMA to the level that she’s taken it. If it had been me, it wouldn’t have been as successful, because I’m not Ronda,” Harrison said.

“If I do MMA, then I’ll have a Ronda complex again and I’ll have to do everything bigger and better, but for now, I’m happy just being Kayla.”

(Courtesy of Judovision)

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