Middletown’s Kayla Harrison wins return to ring, eyes fight against Bellator champion

Two-time PFL champion, gold medalist dominates one year after only professional loss.

Credit: Gregory Payan

Credit: Gregory Payan

Now that Kayla Harrison, a Middletown native, has removed what she called “ring rust,” she’s ready for her next MMA challenge and what would be another massive payday.

Harrison, entering the Professional Fighters League SmartCage for the first time since her shocking loss to Larissa Pacheco in the women’s lightweight finals last year, easily deposed of former UFC standout Aspen Ladd Friday night in a non-title fight in Washington, D.C.

Harrison def. Ladd via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

Now 16-1 as a professional, Harrison, a two-time PFL champion and multi-millionaire, took to the microphone after the fight and called for Bellator MMA champion Cris Cyborg to meet her in the PFL next year.

Last week, PFL announced it had acquired Bellator MMA from Paramount, meaning Harrison and Cyborg are under contract with the same company for the first time in their careers.

“I heard there’s a girl in Bellator who thinks she’s a bad b----,” Harrison screamed into the microphone, much to the delight of the crowd. “Why don’t we find out?”

Cyborg (27-2), who is scheduled to box professionally in January, responded on X.

“I’m a women (sic). Not a girl,” she wrote. “Women don’t refer to themselves as b----.”

Harrison, 33, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, also showed a softer side in the post fight interview.

“God is good,” she said. “He’s not just good because I won tonight. He’s good because we’re all out here breathing on this earth. Thank God we are alive.”

She said the MMA has provided a comfortable lifestyle for her family, including her niece and nephew, Kyla, and nephew, Emery, whom she took custody in 2020 and adopted last year.

“They will never want again,” she said. “I’m blessed for that.”

Harrison also took time to promote her cause: childhood sexual abuse.

While training under Daniel Doyle, Harrison was sexually abused by him. Doyle was convicted and sentenced to a 10-year prison term.

She started Fearless Foundation in hopes of providing assistance to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She said one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused.

“So it’s not just me in this room who has been affected by this,” she said. “I promise there is help and there is hope.”

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