Middletown native Kayla Harrison was understandably exhuberant after winning her professional mixed-martial arts debut Thursday night.
“Yeah, man what a rush, huh? Crazy,” she said in a post-fight press conference.
Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, submitted Brittney Elkin in a Professional Fighters League 155-pound lightweight bout in Chicago.
She got Elkin on the ground early and dominated the fight, finishing it off with an armbar 3 minutes, 18 seconds into round one.
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“Have you ever stepped in the cage and let them lock the door behind you?” she asked a reporter, who replied he has not.
“I highly suggest it,” she said with a huge smile and a laugh.
Although she made fairly quick work of the more experienced Elkin (3-5), Harrison said she was far from being in a comfort zone in her first competition since she won her second Olympic gold medal almost two years ago.
“Obviously my judo and my instincts from years of doing the same thing over and over again took over, but I don’t want to just be a judo player who gets in the cage,” she said. “I want to be the best MMA fighter in the world. I have a lot to work on. I already told my boxing coach, ‘We’re working every day. That’s it.’ I don’t care if he’s got plans. Forget about ‘em!
“It was a lot of fun. I”m just grateful to my team and everyone who has supported me along the way.”
She was also happy to have supporters in the Windy City from Middletown.
“I grew up in Ohio, so there were a lot of people here from my hometown,” Harrison said. “They like rented a bus or something from Middletown and drove over so this is awesome to fight here.”
Kayla Harrison’s father, Kenny Harrison, said he debated whether to even watch his daughter’s first MMA match.
“Nobody wants to watch their daughter get her arm broken or her face punched,” Harrison said.
But he watched the fight Thursday night in his Middletown home. He said the fight didn’t last long enough for his daughter to get hurt.
“Not a scratch on her,” he said.
He wasn’t surprised by Kayla’s dominating, first-round victory.
“She’s an amazing girl,” he said. “When she puts her mind to it, she can do anything she wants.”
About 40 people attended a Watch Party Thursday night at Canal Pub at the Landing in downtown Middletown. The party was organized by Jay and Linda Moorman, owners of BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studio, in the same building as the bar/restaurant.
Jay Moorman said he wanted to watch the fight live in Chicago, but he was too busy at work. He has met Harrison a few times and calls himself “a big fan.”
Before the fight, someone wanted to place a bet, but nobody wanted to bet against Harrison, Moorman said.
Moorman said he has followed boxing most of his life. He was worried that Harrison, a two-time Olympic champion in judo, wouldn’t have the boxing skills.
But once Harrison got her opponent on the mat, Moorman said the fight “was over.”
Linda Moorman called Harrison “a good, positive thing” for Middletown.
As for when she might fight again, she replied, “The sooner the better.”
The Professional Fighters League is a new MMA promotion that held its first event earlier this month.
While a full season of competition is scheduled for men in the PFL, the promotion is still accumulating female fighters and Harrison is their marquee name.
“I think it’s in my contract to fight every four months so maybe October?” she said. “I’m ready. I don’t have time to mess around. I think the more I fight, the more experience I get the more comfortable I’m going to get inside that cage.”