Kayla Harrison is the first American Judoka to earn a gold medal in Judo, and she did it twice. In October she signed with World Series of Fighting, and will serve in multiple roles including brand ambassador, commentator, and, eventually, fighter.
Harrison spoke recently with Victor Mather for the New York Times about her intention to make MMA less sensationalistic. The bitter Twitter quarrels and enthusiastic media coverage are far from the decorous world of Judo she grew up in. However, the greatest amount of media attention the sport has ever seen is directed towards Harrison’s former roommate Ronda Rousey.
“If you had peeked through our apartment window in 2007 and said, ‘One of you is going to win two Olympic gold medals, and one is going to become a sports icon,’ we both would have said: ‘What are you talking about? We’re eating ramen noodles and barely getting by,’” said Harrison.
Harrison hopes, however, to be a different kind of fighter than Rowdy, and to help move the sport in a different direction.
“The World Series of Fighting is looking to bring some legitimacy to the sport, and have real athletes who are treated like real athletes, not WWE superstars,” said Harrison. “I hope to see it go more toward the professional route versus the entertainment route, but I’m not in charge.”
WSoF CEO Carlos Silva is in charge, and he approves of the message.
“I want people to perceive it as a sport, not just a show,” he said. “A big part of that is adding sporting people like Kayla.”
Harrison competed in Judo at 172, but intends to fight at 145. The best female featherweight in the world is, of course, Cris Cyborg.
“I had a dream the other night that I was fighting Cyborg and I got her in an armbar and I broke her arm,” said Harrison. “But she wouldn’t tap, so I choked her unconscious.”
The Judoka is clear on the different between dreams and reality.
“I’m not going to go out in my first fight and fight Cyborg,” said Harrison. “That would be crazy.”
There is no date scheduled for Harrison’s MMA debut, although she will serve as a commentator at WSoF 36 at Madison Square Garden on December 31.
“I’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years,” she said. “Everything I do in judo I learned in the first six months with the Pedros. Now I’m learning new things. I’m learning heel hooks and knee bars and a jab and a hook, uppercuts. It’s invigorating.”
“Judo is controlled violence. Judo in Japanese means ‘the gentle way.’ It’s about disarming your opponent or defending yourself, but never killing them. But MMA is modern-day gladiating. So, yeah, I’m scared. Absolutely. I would be foolish not to be.”