The Rise of Kayla Harrison: From Judo Queen to UFC Champion

When Kayla Harrison first declared her plans to transition from judo to pursue a career in MMA, no one could help but draw comparisons to Ronda Rousey.

By the time the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka announced she would fight in 2016, Rousey had largely disappeared from the sport. But Rousey’s impact was undeniable; She was a global superstar and one of the most recognized athletes in the sport, defending her UFC title six times.

However, before Rousey’s reign in the UFC, Kayla Harrison was already an Olympic gold medalist in judo. That’s why Harrison kept hearing Rousey’s name when she decided to try MMA. Now that she’s about to make her UFC debut, she’s heard all those same comparisons. But she’s not really offended.

“Look, Ronda is a pioneer in this sport,” Harrison said during the UFC 300 media day. “She’s the only reason I’m sitting here today. Comparisons between her and her do not bother me, nor do I feel insulted by it.

“I think the hardest part is that I am my own person. I am my own person. We’re just different, but I have a lot of respect for her and I’m grateful for everything she was able to achieve in this sport and for helping it grow for women and break ceilings.

“Now my job is to stand on their shoulders and continue to do so.”

At her peak, Rousey didn’t just decimate her competition: She didn’t care about creating viral moments outside the cage. Whether through interviews or post-fight speeches, she transcended pop culture with the perfect combination of brutality and dominance in the cage. It didn’t hurt her to have that same energy in front of a microphone.

Harrison appreciates that she has a similar skill, though he knows her style still differs from Rousey’s, no matter how many times their names end in the same sentence.

“I’m not comparing myself to anything or anyone,” Harrison said. “I am my own person. I have my own way. I try to keep walking every day, one foot in front of the other. Of course, everyone wants to be a star. The goal is not to be a star. The goal is to be a UFC champion and be so fucking good that you can’t ignore me, and then use this platform to change the world the way I want.

“The new Queen has arrived at the UFC”

“There are steps to achieving it, and actually being a star is not part of it. It’s something I guess everyone wants to talk about, but I just want to be so good that you guys have no choice but to call me queen.”

Interestingly, Harrison’s UFC career begins against the same opponent who ended Rousey’s undefeated streak. Holly Holm dethroned Rousey in 2015 with one of the cruelest head kick knockouts in the history of the sport.

Nearly nine years later, Holm is still ranked among the best bantamweight fighters in the world, and Harrison was honored to receive that name as her welcome to the UFC.

“I don’t say legend lightly,” Harrison said of Holm. “I think it takes a special type of person to be a UFC champion, be in the top 10 for so long, stay relevant and evolve as much as she has. She has a super high fighting IQ. She has excellent footwork.

“We know she has an amazing background, but she has evolved into a very complete mixed martial artist. “I think she is probably the toughest test of the division for me.”

If all goes well on Saturday, Harrison could set the tone for a big year in his career. He made it clear that moving from PFL to UFC is about legacy. The first step is to get past Holm and then send a strong message to the bantamweight division.

“I look at the division,” Harrison said. “I’ve been taking notes. I’ve been keeping an eye on the pulse. They need a new queen.

“The court is now in session. The queen has arrived. Saturday night will be my coming out party. “Everyone will be notified.”

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2024-04-11 07:12:34
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