Kayla Harrison: Amanda Nunes’ worst enemy ‘is her own mind’

Kayla Harrison had just barely stepped out of the octagon this past Saturday at T-Mobile Arena before a series of cell phones were shoved in her face, all showing the same social media post.

Everyone had the same question: “Did you see this?”

This was a post from former two-division UFC champ Amanda Nunes, who’d posted a selfie video as Harrison gave her victory speech following a dominant win over Holly Holm at UFC 300. Nunes seemed to expect a callout from Harrison and was disappointed when her name didn’t get mentioned. Later, she posted a graphic touting her long list of victims with a caption “The Goat.”

“I expected her to chat,” Harrison said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I expected her and one other person to [chirp].”

That other person, Cris Cyborg, came very close to booking a fight with Harrison in the PFL. But the fight never came to fruition, and Harrison signed with the UFC, so most of their fighting was done over the internet. Cyborg piggybacked on Nunes’ message, calling for the winner of the fight, an impossibility given her PFL contract and dramatic exit from the UFC.

Nunes was a much more interesting development, however. Harrison thought “The Lioness” was retired, hence why she didn’t issue a callout after beating Holm.

“She’s been retired for a while now, Harrison said. “If Amanda was still here, and she was holding the belt, then I would have been calling for Amanda Nunes. But for all intents and purposes, I thought she was happily retired and living her best life.”

With Nunes hinting at a comeback, Harrison’s UFC career could quickly shift. It’s clear she is a top contender after stomping Holm. But a title fight between current bantamweight champ Raquel Pennington and ex-champ Julianna Pena is expected for later this year. If Nunes does return to fight the winner, that could delay Harrison’s title campaign possibly a year.

Or could it?

“I heard ‘Rocky’ is hurt all of a sudden, so if she can’t fight right now, I’m happy to fight whoever this summer,” Harrison said.

Pennington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from MMA Fighting. But Pena recently echoed Harrison, saying her expected title shot against Pennington could be delayed until October.

What does that all mean? Anything is possible for Harrison’s future. She likes the idea of an interim title fight with Pena at UFC 303 on June 29.

“And then I’ll end up unifying it and fight Amanda,” she said.

If Harrison does end up fighting Nunes, her former teammate at American Top Team, she said there will be plenty of promotional ammunition. The two shared training space for several years as she transitioned from judo to MMA and Nunes dominated the UFC’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

In early 2022, Nunes abruptly left ATT, and speculation immediately pointed to Harrison as one of the causes.

Harrison, of course, can’t speak for Nunes, but she acknowledges that somewhere along the line, they became rivals instead of colleagues.

“Amanda’s worst enemy is her own mind,” Harrison said. “I think that Amanda’s worst enemy is her own mind. She got it in her head that I was coming for her. I think after she lost to Juliana, she thought that I was going to get in the cage and challenge her, which was not true, not the case, not even near true. She thought that everyone at the team was against her. Again, not true, not the case. Everyone on the team was doing their best to keep us in separate organizations, even though I wanted to go [from the PFL to the UFC] then; I was like, ‘I’m out, let’s go.’ I think they were still a 145 [division in the UFC]. I was like, ‘Come on, let’s do this.’

“So I think it just left a bad taste in her own mind. She just had this not true image of what was happening behind the scenes, and she didn’t really ask anybody, she just kind of assumed, and then she left, and I have no ill will toward Amanda. I think she’s great. She’s the GOAT for a reason. She’s awesome. I don’t think that the bad mouthing that she’s done about my team is fair or appropriate, and I don’t respect that, and I have personal beef with that, but other than that… .”

Harrison isn’t sure whether she’ll end up fighting Nunes, or Pena, or Pennington next. Her top priority is capturing the UFC title. If she also managed to defeat the GOAT, that could hurt either.

But yes, she’s gotten Nunes’ message, loud and clear. Whether they end up meeting later this year, next year, or not at all, she’s ready to prove she’s a better fighter than anyone, past or present.