Wednesday, February 28

How Kayla Harrison’s Transfer From PFL Changes UFC’s Bantamweight Division


  • Kayla Harrison’s signing for UFC 300 is a major coup, as she is considered one of the elites in female combat sports.
  • Doubts arise about Harrison’s ability to make the weight cut to compete in the UFC’s 135-pound division.
  • If Harrison defeats Holm, she could potentially become a top contender in the bantamweight division and even lure Amanda Nunes out of retirement for a super fight.

With UFC 300 due this April, one of the marquee names added to the event is Kayla Harrison. The 33-year-old judoka from Ohio is considered a major coup from PFL, with many deeming her one of the elites in female combat sports. Apart from being a double Olympic gold medalist at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, Harrison has an impressive 16-1 mixed martial arts record.

UFC president and CEO, Dana White, and his matchmakers have her slated to fight Holly Holm. However, there are cynics who doubt if the former PFL lightweight champion can move down from 155 pounds to compete in the UFC’s 135 pound division. That said, Harrison’s signing, once she stays on weight, can shake up the bantamweight realm in a big way.

Can Kayla Harrison Make UFC’s Bantamweight Threshold?

Harrison Doesn’t Like Cutting Down From Lightweight

Now, doubters have every right to question Harrison coming down to 135. She said this was near-impossible in several past interviews. Harrison successfully attempted a cut during the COVID-19 pandemic after PFL canceled its season and exempted hera to fight in Invicta FC 43. While she defeated Courtney King by TKO (punches), Harrison was adamant the toll was too strenuous and that 155 was her true zone.

She returned to that PFL division in 2021, although her last fight there — a win over Aspen Ladd — was a catchweight at 150. Either way, Harrison has never hid how the 145 cut alone was problematic, much less a 135 cut three years later. So far, though, from a training picture at American Top Team (ATT), Harrison does look slimmer and like she has been preparing for the diet and training regime assiduously.

She has even called the move “blessed” in an interview with the New York Post. What’s interesting is her opponent, Holm, made it clear to the MMA Hour she is not likely to pursue the fight if Harrison misses weight before the event. This places extra pressure on a usually-disciplined Harrison, where it feels like it is 135 or bust.

Could Kayla Harrison Become UFC’s #1 Bantamweight Contender?

UFC’s Bantamweight Division Sorely Needs Fresh Title Contenders

  • Harrison’s Olympic gold medals came in the 78 kg category
  • Harrison made her MMA debut in 2018 after training with Ronda Rousey
  • Harrison became the face of the PFL, defeating fighters such as Marina Mokhnatkina, Larissa Pacheco and Martina Jindrová

It’s hard to deny Harrison would be an enticing, experienced bantamweight prospect. She has the brand value, plus the physical tools to back it up. Harrison’s striking, grappling, and takedown defense are all very sturdy, which is why she dominated the PFL for so long. Harrison won the PFL lightweight tournament and million dollar purses in 2019 and 2021, although she had a hiccup when she scuppered a fight against Larissa Pacheco in 2022.

Despite that lone blemish, Harrison remains high-level and someone UFC believes can elevate its landmark Las Vegas card. Should Harrison defeat Holm in convincing fashion, that would put Harrison on the UFC map in a big way. Holm is a legend in her own right, having twice beaten current bantamweight champion Raquel Pennington, former champion Ronda Rousey, and ex-contender, Irene Aldana.

Thus, Holm would be a massive scalp that could position Harrison to face the winner of Pennington and Julianna Peña — the likeliest bantamweight title fight up next. UFC does need to freshen up the division because Pennington has fought all but three of the current top 10. She has beaten everyone, except Holm whom she lost twice to. As such, Pennington would be better off facing a new challenge like Harrison — one whose stock would rise with a UFC 300 triumph.

If Peña emerges victorious, well, the former champion hasn’t faced any of the top 10. But with their name value not as high, it’s pretty obvious Harrison would be the talismanic fight, not just for the money but to place eyes on the division again.

This creates two championship paths for Harrison in a division where there aren’t many stars or high-traction feuds. This can revitalize the bantamweight scene, giving Harrison the push Michael Chandler experienced since coming from Bellator and winning over UFC loyalists with his gung-ho style.

Will Kayla Harrison Lure Amanda Nunes Out of Retirement?

Nunes Could Ignore a Peña Title Shot For a Harrison Super Fight

Amanda Nunes lifts the UFC bantamweight and featherweight belts

Admittedly, Harrison has been vocal about wanting to maximize her remaining stint in the sport. It’s why she wants to challenge herself and fight the best of the best in the UFC. This presents a mouth-watering option for White’s team, should Harrison crush Holm. UFC would now have the chance to put on that “super fight” White loves to talk about, coaxing Amanda Nunes out of retirement.

If Harrison has the belt, even better. But this clash of the titans doesn’t necessarily need an official belt, as it embodies that BMF spirit. White could well create a female BMF title and have the two go at it. Nunes is regarded as the best to ever do it after defending the UFC bantamweight and featherweight championships simultaneously. So, she can fight at 135 or 145.

Given Harrison hates the cut, 145 could be the go-to weight, but if Harrison does feel comfortable and powerful at 135, Nunes won’t have a problem meeting her there. They even have a bit of that Jon Jones and Rashad Evans tension as Nunes left ATT due to the extra attention Harrison got from coaches.

Coincidentally, Nunes recently told ESPN she has that itch again, creating a chance for UFC to show up a PFL/Bellator merger that couldn’t get the much-clamored Harrison vs. Cris Cyborg fight done. With Cyborg begging to return to the UFC as well, this would be rubbing salt in the wounds of the industry “co-leader” in PFL.

Furthermore, it provides Nunes with a chance to remind folks she can beat everyone, placing Harrison as the feather in her proverbial cap. The hype alone would surpass fighting a Pennington that Nunes resoundingly beat in 2018, or a tiebreaker bout with Peña.

Ultimately, it’s a win-win scenario as this sets Harrison up as well to defy the odds, make a great payday and prove that outsiders like herself can come in, dethrone queens, and run the gamut. In the process, once all the drama occurs at 135, UFC gets to boast that it did indeed have the baddest women in the sport settle the score once and for all in what would be the definition of them not being here for a long time, but a good time.

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