Kayla Harrison Admits First MMA Loss Is ‘Going to Hurt for A While’

Kayla Harrison ran into a different verison of Larissa Pacheco at the 2022 PFL Championships, and the end result was her first career defeat as a mixed martial artist.

After Harrison dominated Pacheco over eight rounds in their first two meetings, the trilogy was far more competitive, with the Brazilian emerging with a back-and-forth unanimous decision triumph to claim $1 million and the 155-pound throne.

“She was just extremely physical this fight,’ Harrison said of Pacheco at the post-fight press conference (via MMAFighting.com). “I feel like it was a different person in there, to be honest. I don’t know. She was much bigger, much stronger than I recalled. Much more patient, obviously. There were a couple times she flurried and blitzed, but she kept her conditioning really well. She did a great job. She’s a champion.”

A two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, Harrison entered Friday night with a 15-0 career record in MMA. She was a significant favorite against Pacheco but was unable to impose her will as easily as she had in the past. Harrison says she will draw upon past experiences suffering defeat as a judoka, but that doesn’t make the latest setback any less painful.

“I’m very fortunate that this isn’t the first time I’ve lost in life or in a sport setting. I’ve lost many times in judo,” she said. “It’s a little different in MMA, obviously. It’s the world’s biggest stage. I just lost my title, so that hurts. It’s going to hurt for a while. But it’s also kind of silly, right? I’m not curing cancer, I’m not changing the world. What I do is very selfish, and I do it because I love it. And again, I’m really grateful for my team, for everyone who makes sacrifices for me, they’re away from their families during the holidays, they’re in the gym with me every day, putting in the work just as much as I am. I’m grateful for my family, for all the sacrifices they made in order for me to be here, for my kids, and I know that I have a really blessed life. So although it hurts, I know that I’ll come back stronger.”

For Harrison, it’s still essential to set an example for the people in her life that she cares about the most — even if things didn’t go her way against Pacheco.

“I just think that I talk a lot about legacy, and to me my legacy isn’t just what I do inside of the cage, but how I carry myself outside of the cage,” Harrison said. “I think about what I want my kids to know, and I’m not ashamed of myself tonight. I’m proud. I went out there, I fought, I lost, but I can hold my head high and carry myself with dignity. I think that a real champion shows up in the good times and the bad, and I want kids everywhere to know that, listen, I fell down tonight. I fell flat on my face. I lost in front of the whole world, and it hurts. It’s going to hurt for awhile. But it’s also an opportunity for growth, it’s an opportunity for me to become a better fighter, a better person, and that is part of my legacy. Not just the wins, but what I do during the losses as well.”

Harrison is expected to exit the season format next year in hopes of pursuing one-off superfights as she fulfils the rest of her PFL contract. That could potentially include a fourth meeting with Pacheco down the road. For now, Harrison is still making peace with the feeling of losing for the first time in her MMA career.

“It’s different in the sense that there’s $1 million on the line, and I feel like I’m the face of the promotion, so I dropped the ball a little bit,” Harrison said. “But losing is losing. For me, it’s like I want to crawl out of my skin. I can’t stand it. So it’s painful.”

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