Multiple-time judo world champion and Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison has broken barriers both in her personal life and athletic career. And while she entertains comparisons to former training partner Ronda Rousey, she is poised to carve a path of her own.
Last June, she impressed in her mixed martial arts debut by making quick work of Brittney Elkin at PFL 2, using a familiar submission. Before sinking the textbook armbar, she displayed some solid striking and looked comfortable the entire time.
Women’s lightweight isn’t exactly a stacked weight class, which is why Harrison sees a future drop to featherweight and perhaps a date with Cristiane Justino. But for now, she is focused on her formative years in one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
On Thursday, she will step inside the Professional Fighters League cage again; this time, opposite the heavy-hitting Jozette Cotton, another fighter who has long been targeting Cyborg. Cotton, nicknamed “The #1 Headbusta,” is on a two-fight winning streak and has only one loss in nine bouts. Known for her cracking right hand, Cotton is a tough test for the Harrison, and a win over her should set the stage for the former judoka’s road to MMA stardom.
The Harrison-Cotton affair will take place at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Before the awaited tussle, learn about the numbers that have come to define the inspiring Harrison:
6: Years old when she started training in judo. She was introduced to the art by her mother, who is a judo black belt. By the age of 15, she had already won two national gold medals.
16: Years of age when she was promoted by the United States Judo Association to 6th degree black belt, the youngest American to be bestowed such rank.
78: Kilos is the last weight class she competed in as a judoka. Harrison medaled in multiple international tournaments outside of the Olympics, including the World Judo Championships, Pan American Games, and Pan American Judo Championships.
2: Time Olympic gold medalist. Harrison first snatched gold at the 2012 London Games, defeating Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons in the final. She duplicated the feat in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro by beating France’s Audrey Tcheumeo in the last match. Two months after grabbing her second gold, she announced her decision to enter the cage.
22: Years old when she captured her first Olympic gold, the first American to achieve the feat.
26: Years old when she seized her second gold, further cementing her legacy in the history books. For this reason, many regard her as the greatest female American judoka in history.
1: Round was all she needed to dispose of Brittney Elkin. Harrison stopped the Westminster, Colorado, native at 3:18 of the first round.