For the first time since she became a professional fighter, Kayla Harrison will call another promotion home.
After spending the past six years with the PFL, Harrison is set to debut in the UFC against former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm at the historic UFC 300 card in April. Despite the best efforts of the PFL to keep her, Harrison ultimately decided to move on to the UFC, however it doesn’t appear there’s any bad blood with her former employer.
“Listen, we wish Kayla well,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said on Wednesday when asked about Harrison’s exit. “She’s a two-time champion with us, women’s 155, and she’s moving on to UFC. She’s going to be on a historic card, which I believe is a testament to the level and quality of talent in the PFL. We wish her well.
“It’s going to be interesting to see Kayla fighting in the 135 division, but [we wish] nothing but the best, nothing but love. We’ll continue to be excited about supporting women in the sport. We have some of the best women on the planet in combat sports.”
Prior to Harrison signing with the UFC, there were attempts made to book her against Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg after the two engaged in a war of words for years over a potential fight.
There was hope that perhaps Harrison could face Cyborg on the upcoming PFL vs. Bellator card in February or maybe even later in the year. Ultimately, talks never got that far because Harrison was already considering a move to the UFC.
Murray admitted that’s probably the biggest loss from this entire situation, because he believes Harrison vs. Cyborg would be a marquee main event.
“We’re disappointed that fight between Cyborg and Kayla did not happen,” Murray said. “Kayla chose not to make it happen and move on to her next chapter.
“We had the fight that matters. The fight that matters most. Candidly, the biggest fight in women’s sports, in MMA. Ultimately, Kayla made a decision to move on. We wanted to make that fight, but once again, we’re going to continue building what we’re building. We have a great PFLW roster, and in respect to contract details, it’s all good. We’re supportive of Kayla.”
Murray declined to go into details of Harrison’s contract after PFL co-founder Donn Davis previously stated that he believed the two-time Olympic champion still had one bout remaining on her PFL deal. In the end, PFL didn’t put up any roadblocks once it was clear that Harrison wanted to move on to the UFC.
“We’re not going to get into contract details, but like I said, we’re supportive of Kayla’s next chapter,” Murray said. “Listen, six and a half years, we ushered Kayla into the sport. She’s a champion and we’ll definitely continue to root for her, and representing the PFL and mixing it up with the UFC and their fighters.”
With Harrison gone, Murray also announced that the PFL will be introducing a women’s flyweight division, however women’s featherweight will not take part in the upcoming 2024 season format.
Featherweights will still have a home in the PFL and Bellator, as the promotion now pivots to potentially pitting 2023 champion Larissa Pacheco against Cyborg sometime later this year.
“You think about Larissa Pacheco — Larissa, a two-time PFL champion, women’s 155 in 2022 and she won the 145 championship this past year,” Murray said. “So she holds two belts, two different weight classes. She obviously defeated Kayla in 2022 in that championship. She’s ready. She wants Cyborg, I know that for a fact.
“We have a great division between 145ers and 155 and we’re bringing in women’s 125 up from PFL Europe. We decided to bring in women’s 125 as the women’s weight class alongside the five men’s weight classes [in 2024]. Outside of that, you’ll see Larissa and Cyborg on a pay-per-view card, you’ll them on potential Bellator cards, global events. So we have the opportunity to sort of expand our focus with women and that was the goal.”