Aspen Ladd: Nobody in UFC Bantamweight Division Will Beat Kayla Harrison

Aspen Ladd has firsthand experience with Kayla Harrison inside the cage, so she wasn’t surprised when the two-time Olympic gold medalist enjoyed a dominant Ultimate Fighting Championship debut.

While Ladd went the distance in a unanimous decision loss to Harrison in a 150-pound catchweight bout at the 2023 PFL Championships, Holly Holm had a much rougher night, as she absorbed a beating from Harrison en route to a second-round submission defeat at UFC 300 on April 13. Making the victory more impressive was the fact that the two-time Professional Fighters League lightweight champion successfully made the cut to 135 pounds for the first time without issue.

Ladd, who will meet Katerina Shakalova at Bellator Champions Series Paris on Friday, expected Harrison to be successful in her first Octagon forway.

“Kayla Harrison did exactly what I thought she was gonna do, especially when I heard the matchup. Obviously people think that’s a tough fight, or Holly will do the same thing that she did to Ronda [Rousey],” Ladd said during a recent media call. “[Harrison] ragdolled her, and I thought she was going to make it look easy. There’s not currently anybody in that division that’s going to be able to beat her, in my opinion.

“And yes it’s definitely a very, very hard cut. She did it, she made it and I’m sure she will again.”

Ladd initially made her name as a bantamweight in the UFC, but she transitioned to 145 pounds when the cut became too difficult. The 29-year-old Folsom, California, native made her PFL debut in 2022 and took part in the season format last year. With no featherweight division available for the 2024 campaign, Ladd has transitioned to Bellator, which was purchased by the PFL late last year. Ladd admits to missing the regular schedule that the PFL provides, but competing for Bellator has its perks, as well.

“I would have preferred to have the option of another season. Last year was my first one. I loved how busy it kept me. I loved the seasonal format. I loved knowing when I was going to fight, when the next fight was going to be,” Ladd said. “But there are some tradeoffs. Now I’m on the Bellator side, and I get elbows back. So that’s pretty awesome. There’s give and take in each one, but I definitely prefer to be more active. Ideally [fighting] three times would be great. That’s the cool thing about the season format is I know I’m gonna be fighting.”

Shakalova enters the fight on a seven-bout winning streak and is coming off a split-decision triumph over Dayana Silva in her Bellator debut last August. The 26-year-old Ukraine native is known for her grappling, but that’s where Ladd is most comfortable.

“So far, she’s a dominant grappler, and that’s how she wins her fights. That’s where I’m world class,” Ladd said. “So she is not gonna have a good night, but I’m sure she’ll continue to do well after.”

Ladd is no stranger to facing big-name opposition, with fights against the likes of Harrison, Julia Budd, Raquel Pennington and Germaine de Randamie on her resume. Thus far, she is taking a realistic approach when it comes to matchups that intrigue her under the Bellator and PFL banner.

“The name that was coming up as far as the Bellator side was Leah McCourt. She’s a fantastic grappler. I’m aware of her already. That was the one,” Ladd said. “But Larissa [Pacheco] was obviously on my horizons last year as far as a potential opponent.

“[Cristiane Justino] too, but it’s like she’s coming into the picture and she’s still struggling to get the fights she’s calling for. I was like, Eh, that’s probably not going to happen before one of the other ones is.”

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