Kayla Harrison discusses UFC signing, drop to 135 pounds: ‘I was really scared about all of it’

Kayla Harrison is fully prepared to make her UFC debut.

In many respects, she has been the face of the PFL since entering MMA in 2018. But in January, the two-time Olympic gold medalist signed with the UFC and was immediately booked to fight Holly Holm at UFC 300.

It’s a major change for Harrison, who has fought 16 of her 17 career fights inside the SmartCage, but speaking with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, she explained the decision.

“Of course [there was trepidation] – you think I’m crazy?” Harrison said. “It was definitely — it was a really hard time in my life. It was a really hard decision for me to make. I was really scared. I was really scared about all of it. The weight cut and the unknown.

“Whether I like it or not, this is a totally new beast to me. Yes, it’s MMA, but at the PFL, I started with them. I was with them before they were the PFL. I grew with them. I know everybody, everybody knows me. I know that animal. I’ve been there. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar. Fighting is never safe, but it’s probably as safe as it can get. And this is not that. This is not that. …

“I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge. I’m ready for a new chapter. I don’t have a ton of years left fighting. I think that I’m a two-time Olympic champion, I’m a two-time PFL champion, I have plenty of money in the bank. When I started MMA, I wanted to be UFC champion. That’s not a knock on the PFL — it didn’t even exist then — but when I started in MMA, the goal was to be UFC champion. Along the way the goal might have changed a little bit, and I might have felt like it wasn’t as necessary, but I want to be UFC champion.”

Of course, the move to the UFC is not the only major change for Harrison. The two-time PFL champion fought almost her entire MMA career at 155 pounds, but in the UFC she will compete at 135 pounds. It’s a big drop, and one that she previously said would require her to “lose a piece” of herself to accomplish.

But now one month out from the fight, things seem to be going well.

“I’m at about 150 pounds,” Harrison revealed to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour.

“Life is still good,” she continued. “It’s chosen suffering. We all make sacrifices, we all have to pay now or pay later, but eventually we all pay. This is something that I’m willing to sacrifice for. This is something I signed on the dotted line for. It’s my responsibility, it’s my duty.

“Does it suck sometimes when it’s Friday night, and I order pizza for my kids? Yeah, of course. ‘Just one slice!’ You have those voices in your head. [Laughs]. But overall, I feel good. My body feels good, my mind is clear, my heart is wide open and ready for the future, and all of the excitement that’s building. I’m fueled, I’m hydrated, life is good.”

Harrison added that the option of competing at 145 pounds was never on the table during the UFC discussions, but she wasn’t too bothered by that.

Harrison seems supremely confident that weight will not be an issue come April.

“I’m a professional,” she said. “My life is not — I think that people have this misconception that because I fought at 155 pounds for so long that maybe I walk around at 180 pounds or something. But the max I get is 165. I just didn’t cut weight. I don’t love it. I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it sends the right message to kids, and I think it’s probably pretty unhealthy and not safe. But I’m doing it the right way. … I’m a well-oiled machine at this point, and I feel really good. Training is going great. I feel like I’m hitting my stride, I’m about to hit my peak. It’s all coming together.”

And Harrison says that portends bad things for Holly Holm. Because aside from the new promotion and the new weight class, there’s one more new thing for Harrison at UFC 300: She’ll finally be allowed to use elbows. The two-time PFL champion intends to show Holm just how big that change is for her.

“I think, realistically, we’re going to get a nice takedown, and then people are going to see what Kayla Harrison can do with some f****** elbows,” Harrison said. “Some real ground and pound. I’m excited.”

UFC 300 takes place on April 13 in Las Vegas.

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