Photos by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
On August 11, Kayla Harrison defeated Audrey Tcheumeo in the finals of the 78kg women’s class to win her second Olympic gold medal in judo. In the minutes following her victory, the 26-year-old officially declared her departure from the sport, saying “I’m happy, I’m retiring. Two-time Olympic champion. That’s it.”
The poor woman barely had any time to enjoy her retirement and reflect on her career as the most decorated woman in American judo history before the MMA-related questions started. In the hours following the win and the announcement, Harrison was already being asked if she would follow in the footsteps of her former training partner, Ronda Rousey. Four days after that, Time Magazine ran a profile on her under the headline “This Gold Medalist Could be the Next Ronda Rousey.”
In a way, this was a bold step forward for women at the 2016 games. In the midst of a glut of reporting so sexist that it would be laughable if it weren’t so exhausting, Harrison, at least, had the distinction of being compared to another female athlete. It was still reductive of her career in general and her thoughts on MMA specifically, though. “US Judo Legend With Very Specific Skill Set Feels Ambivalent About Potential MMA Future” is a far less catchy hook, but it would have been a more accurate description of what’s going on in the athlete’s head right now.
Harrison doesn’t outright reject a move to MMA in the interview—and she admits that a few promotions have reached out to her and her team already—but she does have concerns about the prospect.
Her judo career has far surpassed Rousey’s at this point, and she realizes those skills would give her some advantages in the Octagon, but she’s spent her entire life ….View full article