Recently, the conversation of Kayla Harrison in the UFC has been a popular topic in the MMA sphere. It all started when Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White claimed he wasn't sure if the Professional Fighters League superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist was ready to compete in the Octagon. It was an opinion the defending PFL women's lightweight champion did not agree with. And since the headline dust up, White has adjusted his stance on the topic a bit.
Harrison, who trains at American Top Team with UFC two-weight champion Amanda Nunes, has received criticism for the lack of tough competition she's faced in the PFL. While Nunes on the other hand continues to lay waste to all her competition and has fans calling for a tougher challenger to arrive. With all of that in mind, MixedMartialArts.com's Mike Pendleton and Jason Burgos took a side to debate the question of is Kayla Harrison UFC ready right now?
Making the case for Kayla Harrison
Mike Pendleton: There really is no doubt in my mind that Harrison belongs in the UFC, and she belongs there right now. Although her contract with the PFL is not up until the end of the 2021 season, Dana White and company should have the deal written up now, and here are three reasons why.
Respect and callouts from former UFC champions
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Joanna Jedrzejczyk being a supporter of the move will have some bias as her and the PFL star are teammates at ATT. However, former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate is also for Harrison jumping to the UFC sooner than later. If two highly regarded UFC women's division alums are saying Harrison can come in and make a statement, they probably are right. Of course, Harrison will have to come in and perform, but those who have "been there, and done that" can see she's UFC ready. Plus, Tate turned some heads when she said she'd be open to fighting Harrison in the future if everything lined up together.
She's that damn good
Harrison hasn't been laying waste to opponents a la Nunes or Ronda Rousey during her championship run, but we're talking about a two-time Olympic gold medalist which that in itself deserves all the respect.
Harrison has grabbed decision victories in her PFL tenure, which has brought some criticism given the level of competition she's faced, but sometimes fighting the very best of the best, brings the best out of fighters and I believe that will happen with Kayla Harrison. She's got all of the external motivation she needs to prove many people wrong, and her talent is good enough to shock the world in the UFC.
The UFC needs Kayla Harrison
This is not a knock on the current UFC female champions: Rose Namajunas, Valentina Shevchenko, or Nunes, but two of them (Shevchenko and Nunes) have fans screaming for real competition as they continue to put away every and all challengers sent their way. The strawweight division is open, but Namajunas looked special at UFC 261.
Harrison would come into the UFC with plenty of questions to be answered, the possibility of facing teammate Nunes, and looking to prove everyone wrong. Especially on the women's side, the UFC needs someone with that much to accomplish on the women's side. There's also a very real chance that Amanda Nunes could retire before Harrison reaches the UFC, in which they would need a new superstar to come in, and she fits the bill.
Making the case against Kayla Harrison
Jason Burgos: Ladies and gentlemen of the MMA fan jury, I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Pendleton. He is a talented journalist, but in this case, he is wrong.
JB: Overruled counselor.
MP: You're not the judge.
JB: In that you are right sir. But wrong on Harrison being UFC ready right now. Let me explain why.
Is Harrison truly a featherweight?
Harrison having dominant wins in all nine of her pro fights would certainly be enough to compete in the UFC's featherweight division. However, all but one of those fights took place at lightweight. She competed once at featherweight in November for Invicta Fight Championship and made the weight. Yet, I am not ready to assume she can go and be an everyday featherweight with no problemo.
This is a woman who won her two Olympic gold medals competing at over 170 pounds. The PFL built this division for her and chose to do it 155 pounds. A weight that did not exist for women in North America previously, is pulling in undersized bantamweights and from an already shallow featherweight pool of talent to make this division serviceable.
There is something to be said about fighters competing at an optimal weight. Sometimes an optimal weight is cutting more than a fighter would prefer. And other times, especially for several stars over the last five years, the less they cut the better. With competitors missing weight for damn near every UFC event these days, I can't just assume Harrison can make 145 pounds without issue, or that it is even her best weight class, until she gets a few more featherweight cuts under her belt and proves it.
A resume foundation built on straw
I think Harrison is a very talented fighter and could certainly do well in the UFC...one day. But that opinion is based on potential from her impeccable Olympic credentials, her serious drive as an elite athlete, and from traning out of a top notch gym in ATT. As my colleague mentioned. Not so much on her resume so far.
Four of those "lightweights" she's beaten haven't even competed in MMA since 2019 or longer, and another former foes record went from 3-5 to 3-8 since her loss to Harrison. Plus, her Invicta FC opponent Courtney King is 4-2 and even less experienced than her. Essentially, in nine fights Harrison has fought two solid veterans in Larissa Pacheco (twice) and Mariana Morais.
It's not a hit-list that matches the hype surrounding Harrison right now. If she wins another PFL title and really has nothing left to prove, then so be it. But I'd rather see all the other PFL options exhausted, every hurdle surpassed (including Claressa Shields in 2022), and every threat crushed before being a believer that she can jump into the UFC's featherweight pond and swim.
Is UFC really the future home for the best women's featherweight fights?
What does the UFC's featherweight division consist of right now? A champion who has to defend a belt in another division--that has better competition--Felicia Spencer and Norma Dumont Viana? The UFC doesn't even have rankings for the weight class--and never has--and currently there are no women's featherweight bouts scheduled in the months ahead. They just let the last title challenger Megan Anderson walk after her contract expired. And even Nunes has gone public saying Dana White wants to "end" the whole division and she is trying to keep it open.
The fight everyone wants to see his Nunes versus Harrison right? Why are we assuming that will even happen. They are not just teammates but friends. Neither woman is pushing hard to eventually punch the other in the face and make things weird at ATT. If the champ chose friendship over titles or retirement, what are we left with at women's featherweight in the UFC then? Is Harrison enough to make White rebuild the division? That's far from a sure thing.
However, Bellator has a few pretty good featherweights, and could very well add Anderson and other UFC talent left jobless if featherweight is shut down. While Nunes versus Harrison is iffy, oh you bet your you know what Harrison versus Cris "Cyborg" Justino is a lock in Bellator. Along with strong matchups against Julia Budd, Arlene Blencowe, and Cat Zingano. When you think about it, is Harrison moving to the UFC about seeing the best women's featherweight bouts over the next few years, or just her getting Octagon moments? Honestly, I rather see her get paid well and have fun fights in Bellator.