It's been seven months since two-time PFL women's lightweight champion Kayla Harrison has stepped in the cage, but that stretch hasn't exactly been time off.
After claiming her second PFL title in October, the two-time Olympic gold medalist became one of the most sought-after free agents in the sport of mixed martial arts, and she entertained offers from all of the sport's biggest players. Ultimately, the PFL won the bid for her services, and Harrison will return to the cage at Friday's 2022 PFL 3, which airs live on ESPN2 and streams on ESPN+ from Esports Arena in Arlington, Texas.
Harrison admits she's ready to get back to the actual fighting part of being a professional fighter.
"Free agency is fun, but I realize I'd prefer to just be a fighter," Harrison told MMA Underground. "I'm grateful and excited about the season. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to getting back in the cage and doing what I love.
"I'm excited about a new season, new challenges, new opportunities. It's going to be tough. Four fights in five months is no walk in the park, and I'm mentally preparing my mind and body for a hard year and an exciting year, so I'm jacked up. I'm ready to go."
The PFL differs from other MMA promotions in that the company utilizes a season format, with athletes earning points for their performances over two regular season contests in hopes of making the playoffs and then ultimately the championship, where the winner is awarded $1 million.
Harrison has cruised through a pair of seasons thus far in her career and is favored to do so again in 2022. While free agency did take much of her attention as she worked toward resolution, Harrison insists it did not distract her from preparing for another championship run.
"I'm a professional," Harrison said. "I took time off after the finals because I have been doing this – I've been doing two-a-days for 20 years now, you know, since I was 12 years old or 10 years old or something, so I took some time off after the finals and I spent some time with my kids, went to Ohio. I spent time with my family, but November or whatever, I was back to doing training, and then January, I was back to two-a-days.
"Nobody's derailing this train. I'm sorry. That's never going to happen."
On Friday, Harrison (12-0) kicks off her 2022 campaign against Russian sambo specialist Marina Mokhnatkina (6-2), who has shown a penchant for submissions during her MMA run, opening her career with four straight first-round tapouts. Undefeated through 12 professional contests, Harrison said she's taking her opponent seriously but is confident in her own skills.
"I think she's good," Harrison said of her opponent. "She's got some funky kneebars, and she does a spinning backfist. She's a little unorthodox, you know? She's a little wild, so got to be smart. Got to take my time, pick my shots, be patient. Been very aware of the leglocks and all that stuff this camp. Been working with some leg lock maestros.
"I think it's great that I get a different opponent. Now it's a different look, so now I'm working on this different area in MMA that I maybe wasn't focusing on a lot before and tightening up any holes I had there. I think it's good for me. This is what I like. I had never really dealt with leglocks. I mean, in practice, yeah, some of the time Mike (Brown) and I had drilled them on and off a little bit, but I wasn't comfortable there. Now I'm comfortable."
Harrison is a massive favorite with oddsmakers to not only win her bout on Friday but also to make another successful run to a PFL title. But if you find her dominance thus far – or the expectations of continued positive results – as any reason not to watch, Harrison believes you're making a massive mistake.
Harrison has openly stated her ultimate goal before she's done is to be known as the greatest women's fighter in the history of the sport, and she believes you should make sure and follow her journey sooner rather than later.
"This is history in the making," Harrison said. "I'm going to be so good that you can't ignore me, and one day you're all going to look at me and say, 'Holy sh-t, she did everything she said she was going to do, and I missed it because I was talking sh-t and trolling her and doubting her.'
"Don't miss. Love me or hate me, but watch me right now. In a couple of years from now, you can all say, 'Thank you, Kayla. Thank you for that amazing legacy, that amazing career, pure domination and just total badassery. We salute you.'"
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.