Kayla Harrison disappointed with her PFL title fight: ‘I’m usually the person that digs deep and finds a way’

Kayla Harrison says she didn’t perform well enough to win at the PFL Championships.

This past Friday, Harrison faced Larissa Pacheco in the 2022 PFL lightweight tournament finale, and things did not go her way. Harrison was unable to make it 3-0 against Pacheco, losing a unanimous decision in back-and-forth battle. The loss was the first of Harrison’s MMA career and a few days removed from the defeat, the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka says that she simply did not do her best on Friday.

“It was just not a great night for me,” Harrison told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I take pride in normally, I normally shine under the bright lights. I’m usually laser-focused and I have super clarity, and that night I really just didn’t. Normally I don’t hear the crowd, I don’t hear anything, and it was almost like I was watching me fight. It was a s***** experience for me, I’m not going to lie. I did not fight my best.”

Harrison went on to say that she did not underestimate Pacheco, and that she was fully prepared to get her hand raised yet again on Friday, but admits that this time around, things were different. Harrison says Pacheco was much improved since their second fight, and when they were all tied up heading into the fifth round, she simply got outworked.

“She was physically much different…” Harrison said. “Obviously, it’s been three years since we fought, and she was strong then. I think that’s also why I lost the fifth: I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. And that’s a hard pill to swallow…

“I’m usually the person that digs deep and finds a way, and I don’t know that I’ve ever not been able to find that next gear or find a way. That fifth round is what I lost, and that’s hard. That’s a hard pill to swallow that I didn’t have what it took that night.”

And for a woman whose career, and life, has been defined by winning, Harrison says that dealing with these feelings and the loss, has been very difficult.

“It just keeps me up at night,” Harrison said. “I think too, part of what has made me tick for so long — if you ever do any research and you look at super successful people, a lot of it is fear-based, or worth-based, and for a long time, very much, my success was fear driven. I needed to be loved, because I didn’t receive the love that I wanted as a child. So I needed to be the straight-A student, I needed to be the superstar athlete, I needed to have two Olympic gold medals, I needed to do that in order to feel worthy of love.

“As I get older, obviously in my conscious brain I can understand that winning and losing doesn’t define who I am, but in the subconscious part of the brain… it’s still very much a real thing for me, that, ‘Ugh. I’m a worthless piece of s*** now.’ It’s something I have to deal with. I’m a human being and I struggle with these things the same as any other person, so losing for me makes me question my value sometimes. Not just dealing with the loss, but reminding myself that my worth isn’t based in my performance. It’s who I am as a person and the people who love me, love me no matter what…

“This is so silly. It’s a fight. What are we talking about? Nobody died. My kids don’t give a s***. They love me. So it’s all kind of silly.”

Harrison’s loss now raises the question about what comes next for both her and the PFL. While most assume a fourth fight between Harrison and Pacheco is in the offing, Harrison revealed that the PFL is still considering other options, particularly the long talked about superfight with Cris Cyborg, and so while she hopes to get another shot at Pacheco, the two-time Olympic gold medalist isn’t counting her chickens.

“I would very much enjoy another fight with her,” Harrison said. “I not going to say ‘enjoy it’ but I don’t want to not fight her… But unfortunately I might have to earn it. She had to wait three years to fight me again. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I understand I have to work my way back and be prepared.”

If it does happen next, a tetralogy still won’t come for some time, as the PFL now enters its offseason and isn’t expected to hold another event until April. In the meantime, Harrison intends on getting back into the gym soon to start working on her game so she can be ready when the time comes. And when that happens, Pacheco better watch out.

“I have dealt with loss before…” Harrison said. “This isn’t the first time that I’ve failed and fallen on my face. And the good news is for me that history shows I come back like a bat out of hell. I’m just like a tornado. So I know it’s going to be alright. I know I’m going to be alright.”