Coming into the new year, one of the biggest free agents in MMA is Kayla Harrison. The combat sports world continues to wonder where she will sign, with plenty of options on the table.
In October, Harrison won her second PFL Finals title in dominant fashion, beating Taylor Guardado via submission. Undefeated at 12-0, the two-time Olympic gold medalist has gone on a world tour of sorts, appearing at UFC, Bellator and even AEW events. While pro wrestling may not be an option for her as of now, there is plenty of intrigue on who will win the bidding war.
It is time to look at the realistic options.
With the PFL sharing its programming with ESPN/ESPN+ and it being one of the top MMA promotions in the world, a big prediction is that Harrison could join the UFC.
UFC President Dana White spoke to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter and said that he and Harrison’s team are having conversations. The UFC even showed Harrison on the big screen at UFC 269, something reserved for fighters of its promotion, or celebrities. White previously discussed that Harrison needs to prove herself, and he now believes the only fight that can do that is against Amanda Nunes.
Being teammates with Nunes, Harrison would love to face the former double-champion.
“Fighting Amanda, it was something I wanted … it’s such a weird thing,” Harrison said on “The MMA Hour,” via MMA Fighting. “Like, I don’t want to fight her, but I want to fight her. I’m in a position where I want to be the best — she’s the best. It’s not personal, it’s just business. But I also love Amanda, and I think she’s a great person, think she’s a great mom, a great person, a great champion. I have nothing but good things to say about her, so is it like am I going to come out and say, ‘I want to fight Amanda?’”
Nunes lost the UFC bantamweight title to Julianna Pena at UFC 269. That loss shocked Harrison, and it may have derailed those plans. “The Lioness” does hold the UFC featherweight title, however. In a barren division when it comes to talent, Harrison can be the one to step up and give that division some life.
Scott Coker has made it known that Bellator has been in talks with Harrison. Bellator has collected young talent over the years and has turned them into homegrown stars. The promotion would love to add Harrison to the mix.
Harrison has plenty of confidence in her abilities early in her career. Coker believes that joining Bellator or the UFC would be the perfect fit to enhance that confidence.
“We had a really good conversation with her — she’s a sweet girl,” Coker told MMA Junkie. “She is one hell of a fighter and I think really for her to take her career to the next level she’s got to come fight Cyborg or go to the UFC and fight Amanda Nunes or (Julianna) Peña. I think that’s gotta be the next step.”
Cyborg, the Bellator featherweight champion, is on a five-fight win streak. She has defended the title three times. Harrison has called Cyborg a trailblazer before and said she would love to come for her and the title. It is unknown when a matchup could happen if Harrison were to sign, especially when comparing the differences between the two.
Still, there are plenty of fights to make for Harrison, even if she must move divisions. Competing in the featherweight division once, at Invicta FC 43, Harrison can grow by fighting athletes such as Leslie Smith, Leah McCourt, Talita Nogueira and Pam Sorenson.
A dream scenario for the Professional Fighters League is that it keeps Harrison, the golden goose of the promotion. With the PFL, Harrison has grown as a fighter and has won $2 million with the promotion. There is still a chance she signs with the PFL, even for one more year. This comes after the PFL signed former Bellator champion Julia Budd, boxing champion Claressa Shields and other fighters from all over the world.
Still considered a novice in MMA, Harrison can continue to grow with the promotion, potentially earn another $1 million and then test the waters of free agency.
That is what Anderson Franca, her coach, believes should happen. Even after saying that Harrison can mix it up with Cyborg, a return to the PFL might be the right fit.
“Kayla is an Olympic athlete, she accepts great challenges and is ready too,” Franca told MMA Fighting. “If the fight gets done [and we say], ‘Kayla, you’ll fight Cris Cyborg tomorrow,’ she’ll fight her. Myself as a coach, I think she could stay one more year at PFL and go step by step, but I don’t know how the financial part is, if she will re-sign with the PFL or sign with another organization. I haven’t talked to her about that yet.”
Another option could be ONE Championship, but there have been no major reports when it comes to interest in Harrison. Her manager, Ali Abdelaziz, has been looking into all offers, including one from WWE.
Oddsmakers have Harrison as the underdog when it comes to potential fights against Cyborg and Nunes. Harrison will have to look at all aspects of each deal she is offered, whether it be the financial or combat aspect.
Where do you think Harrison will end up?