American judoka Kayla Harrison won gold in 78 kg weight class in Rio making her a back-to-back Olympic gold medalist. She has proven her identity in the sport and has formally announced her retirement. She has been likened to Rhonda Rousey, but says she’d rather be Kayla Harrison, in an interview with Sports Illustrated. Harrison has given opposing answers as to whether she would turn pro, at 26 years old she’s wise beyond her years and would bring a level of sophistication to the sport.

Rousey and Harrison have been training partners since they were young. After Rousey won bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing she decided to try MMA. It wasn’t until 2010 that she made her amateur debut against Hayden Munoz and beat her by submission in 23 seconds. And so the legacy began with Rousey, she signed with UFC in 2012 as the first female fighter on their roster, and the rest is history.

Harrison has been approached by MMA to turn pro, but in a post-match presser after her win in Rio she said she wants to enjoy the moment and doesn’t think it’s the right decision for now.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a world where you get fights based on how pretty you are and how much you talk, and not necessarily what you’re worth in the ring,” Harrison said.


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In May 2016 The Washington Post wrote a piece on how the Games are a feeder system into MMA, and in the interview Harrison said she would definitely consider it.

“It’s an opportunity that I didn’t have five years ago, six years ago,” she said. “For me, it’d be dumb of me not to consider it. I have an opportunity to make a lot of money, do something that could potentially be a lot of fun.”

Winning another Olympic gold may have given her clarity and opened her eyes as to what’s important to her. Harrison is a sensitive soul and some of her concerns with MMA have to do with being in the spotlight and under constant scrutiny. She noted that after making those comments during the presser there were social media comments supporting her decision not to turn pro because she isn’t ‘pretty’ enough. You have to admit, it’s a lot of negative attention, take the good with the bad, and there’s a lot of bad when you’re in the spotlight.

Harrison also feels that judo is a respectful sport. “After a match you shake the person’s hand and you give them a hug and you bow to them to show respect. In MMA it’s not like that,” she said.

Harrison could be the change that she might want to see in MMA, assuming she cares about it in the first place. It would give her a bigger platform to promote her foundation, Fearless, that works with victims of sexual abuse. Not to mention it would likely result in a decent paycheck and endorsements. Harrison currently is in a Liberty Mutual television ad for the Olympics, someone figured out she’s very marketable, nicely done.

Harrison talked about growing judo in the U.S. in her retirement. MMA has been one of the fastest growing sports in the last twenty years, it’s not all judo, but it is a fighting technique used. If there was a time to be involved in the sport the time is now and the person to help catapult it further is Harrison.

At this point no one knows when Rousey will return to the ring, it could be late 2016, or it could be early 2017. Hopefully she makes it back, but she might not. Harrison has all the credentials to be the poster woman for MMA.

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