Kayla Harrison takes her first MMA loss on the chin.
On Friday, Harrison suffered the first defeat of her career, losing a unanimous decision to Larissa Pacheco in the lightweight final of the 2022 PFL Championship in New York City. It was a shocking loss for the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka, and in the aftermath, Harrison made no excuses for what happened.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do what I love every day,” Harrison said in the post-fight press conference. “I didn’t get the result I wanted tonight. Larisa was the better fighter. I have no excuse, I have no reason. I believe in my team and I believe in my preparations. I feel we did everything right in order to prepare for this fight, and the night didn’t go my way. I made some mistakes.” Tactical mistakes. There’s a lot to work on. Failure is inevitable. Some days you’re the nail, some days you’re the hammer. I feel like I’ve been the hammer for a while, and today, I struggled to be the nail. This is an opportunity for me to grow as a fighter And as a human being….
Harrison continued, “I’m very fortunate that this isn’t the first time I’ve lost in life or in a sporting setting.” “I’ve lost so many times in judo. It’s obviously a little different in MMA. It’s the biggest stage in the world. I just lost my title, so it hurts. It’s going to hurt for a while. But it’s also kind of silly, right? I don’t cure cancer.” And I don’t change 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 over the holidays. They’re in the gym with me every day. They do the same work out. Destiny is me. I’m grateful for my family, for all the sacrifices they’ve made to be here, for my kids, and I know I’ve had a truly blessed life. So even though it hurts, I know I’ll come back stronger.”
Prior to the loss, Harrison was 15-0 in MMA and had twice previously won the PFL Championship, including two dominant wins over Pacheco. The turn of events clearly hit the former champ hard as she fought back tears several times during the press conference. However, she said she wanted to speak up afterwards to set an example for her children and others who might look up to her.
“I think I talk a lot about legacy, and for me my legacy is not just what I do inside the cage but how I carry myself outside the cage,” said Harrison. “I think about what I want my kids to know, and I’m not ashamed of myself tonight. I’m proud. I got out there, I fought, I lost, but I can hold my head high and carry myself with dignity. I believe a true hero emerges in good times and bad, and I want kids to know in All around that, listen, I fell tonight. I fell flat on my face. I lost to the whole world, and it hurts. It’s going to hurt for a while. But it’s also a chance to grow, it’s a chance for me to become a better fighter, a better person, and that’s part of my legacy. Not Only wins, but what I do during losses too.”
Although Harrison and Pacheco had fought twice before, this was their most entertaining contest: a 25-minute back-and-forth battle that saw the scorecards tied in two rounds heading into the final segment. Harrison said she knew she needed to win the fifth round to seal the fight, but she simply wasn’t able to do it against a vastly improved Pacheco.
“I felt like I needed to win the fifth round,” said Harrison. She was doing more harm than me. Even on the floor, I was like some shots from below, what the hell hit me? I felt like I really needed to find a way, and I was thinking about that before the fight. “Twenty-five hard minutes, I have to find a way.” And I just couldn’t find a way tonight…
“It was just a very physical fight. I feel like it was a different person there, to be honest. I don’t know. She was a lot bigger and a lot stronger than I remember. Obviously a lot more patient. There were a few times she was angry and upset, but she kept her conditioning well. She did an amazing job. She’s a hero.”
The loss now raises questions about what’s next for Harrison, who has just two fights left on her current PFL deal. The 32-year-old fighter said she had intended to take some time off after this fight but noted that losing might change that, and also indicated that she would like a chance to avenge the loss at some point. Because even though this isn’t the first loss she’s ever had, Harrison said it still hurts as much as any loss she’s had before.
“It’s different in the sense that there’s a million dollars at stake, and I feel like I’m the face of the promotion, so I dropped the ball a little bit,” Harrison said. But losing loses. For me, it’s as if I want to crawl out of my skin. I can not afford it. So it hurts.”