The face of the division, perhaps of the entire league. The headliner of the night. All eyes on her. Pressure?
Kayla Harrison competed in the Olympics twice. She won gold for America in judo twice.
So, headlining the Professional Fighters League’s first event of its second season on Thursday at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum doesn’t quite compare in terms of pressure levels.
"Have you ever trained 20 years for one day? Have you ever done that? It’s literally insane,” Harrison said Wednesday after the ceremonial weigh-ins for PFL 1. “I don’t know why people do that. I did it twice. There’s no pressure like the pressure of an Olympic final. The thing that you’ve dreamed of since you were six years old, all in one day.
“I never feel more alive than when I’m in that cage. I hope the lights are really bright because that’s when I shine.”
Harrison will face Larissa Pacheco in the main event as PFL 1 showcases the women’s lightweight and men’s welterweight divisions.
Harrison originally was scheduled to face Svetlana Khautova until earlier this week. The last-minute opponent change is something that doesn't faze Harrison.
“I don’t care. I’m here to be the best in the world,” she said. “I’m so young in my career that at this point, my game plan doesn’t change. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to be Kayla, I’m going to instill my will. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of me.”
Harrison is 3-0 in her career, which began less than a year ago. Pacheco (11-2) is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist with seven wins coming via submission. Her two career losses came against Germaine de Randamie, who won a UFC featherweight title, and Jessica Andrade, who fights for the UFC strawweight title on Saturday.
“I think I’m a baby. We’ve yet to see the best Kayla in there,” Harrison said when asked to assess where she feels her game is at now. “What’s going to be scary is when I’m actually really confident.
“There’s always that little bit of doubt still just because I haven’t been doing it my whole life. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Am I really? Am I a badass? Do I have what it takes?’ But once I start winning and getting confident, I think it’s going to be scary. Watch out.”
The PFL features a regular season where fighters in six weight classes earn points for wins and additional points for finishing a fight. The regular season consists of two fights for each fighter, and those with the most points advance to the playoffs. Each champion, crowned on New Year’s Eve, earns a $1 million paycheck. Thursday is the first of three PFL events at the Coliseum this season.
It is the first time the PFL, or any major MMA organization, will feature a women’s lightweight division.
“This is stuff that you dream of, you know, shattering that ceiling, opening up doors for women and younger girls and the next generation,” Harrison said of being the face of a new division. “I think the women are going to steal the show. We’re monsters. We have knockout power. We’re going to be slugging. It’s going to be awesome.”