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PFL champ Kayla Harrison has ‘jitters all over again’ kicking off potential two-fight Invicta run

With a pair of Olympic gold medals to her name, along with PFL’s 2019 women’s lightweight championship, Kayla Harrison knows a thing or two about competing at an elite level. But ahead of her Invicta FC debut, Harrison admits she’s feeling a few butterflies.

“Listen, I’ve got those jitters all over again,” Harrison told MMA Junkie. “It feels like the first time all over again. It’s been 11 months. It’s been a long time.”

Undefeated in her MMA career thus far, Harrison defeated Larissa Pacheco this past December to claim the PFL 2019 season title, as well as the $1 million prize that comes along with it. But the 30-year-old American Top Team product has been forced to the sidelines since with the PFL scrapping its 2020 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Harrison admits the time away from competition has provided some benefit in allowing her to continue developing her full skillset. However, the highly driven athlete in her has also struggled with no fights on the calendar.

“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten a lot better, just focusing on me, my game, finding my holes, closing them up,” Harrison said. “Not having the stress of having a fight and worrying about an opponent, someone across the cage from you, has definitely – I’ve gotten a lot, lot better. At the same time, I’m the kind of person that needs a goal, so not having a goal, not having a fight, has mentally been torture. But in every other aspect, I feel I’ve gotten better.

“I’ve used the time. I didn’t stray off the course. I stayed focused, hoping that an opportunity would arise.”

Now, one has.

With the permission of PFL officials, Harrison (7-0) faces Courtney King (4-1) in the co-main event of Friday’s Invicta FC 43, which streams live on UFC Fight Pass from Kansas City, Kan.

For Harrison, who is ranked No. 13 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie women’s pound-for-pound rankings, it’s her first time competing outside the PFL. Perhaps even more intriguing, it’s her first time at featherweight after opening her career at 155 pounds.

Harrison, who has long stood against weight-cutting in combat sports, admits she’d prefer not to go to 145 pounds but says she wasn’t able to find any willing opponents in what she considers her more natural weight class.

“I still don’t believe in weight-cutting,” Harrison said. “I still think it sends a bad message to young kids, young fighters coming up. I still think it’s super dangerous, but I had to make a sacrifice, and I had to decide either I fight this year or I sit on the sidelines and I watch everybody else fight. I’ve been dieting really hard. I’ve been very focused, very disciplined … so the weight cut’s not going to be too, too tough.

“Do I agree with it? No. Do I think it sucks? Yes. Am I willing to suck it up and do what it takes to be one of the best in the world? Yes. If that means I don’t get any Halloween candy, then I don’t get any Halloween candy.”

Should she prove successful at 145 pounds, Harrison could see even more opportunities arise moving forward. She’s aiming to compete once more before the PFL resumes operations in April, currently eyeing January for another booking, though she says the details of that lie fully with her manager, Ali Abdelaziz.

“I think it’s going to be for Invicta,” Harrison said. “Ali is the miracle worker with all this. I just show up and fight.”

But for now, Harrison is simply focused on the task at hand, which means showing that the past 11 months on the sidelines have not been wasted and that she’s developed as a more complete MMA fighter – albeit one who has a pretty reliable tool in her back pocket.

“I think I’m going to go out there and dominate,” Harrison said. “I think people are going to be surprised to see me throw a little more this fight. I think I’m going to not be afraid to stand on my feet. I don’t think I’m in danger anywhere. I think I’ve got some power now. I’m developing my striking. I think it’s going to be – if all else fails, I’ll shoot a double, obviously.

“So who knows what the hell is going to happen? I might get in there and bullrush. Who knows? But my goal is to go out there and be confident, composed, do a little bit on the feet and get a feel for what it really feels like to punch somebody in the face with all my might and not be shy, not be afraid to stay in the pocket and get hit. The goal is to hit and not get hit, but it’s time for me to start becoming an MMA fighter, not just shoot the double.”

To see the full interview with Harrison, check out the video below.

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