When Kayla Harrison walked into a room full of reporters backstage at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in the early hours of Saturday morning, she hurt.
It wasn’t just the physical toll of her shocking five-round main event loss to Larissa Pacheco (19-4) at 2022 PFL Championships, no. There was an emotional and mental struggle ongoing internally at the podium, but Harrison (15-1) stood tall – even when the tears dripped off her face.
As Harrison put it, her first taste of defeat in MMA made her want to “crawl out of my skin,” but she took on the chin and over the span of approximately 10 minutes of questions and answers, did not make one excuse.
“I just think I talk a lot about legacy, right?” Harrison told reporters on her decision to speak (via MMA Sucka). “And to me, my legacy isn’t just what I do inside the cage. It’s how I carry myself outside the cage. I think about what I want my kids to know and I’m not ashamed of myself tonight. I’m proud. I went out there, I fought and I lost. But I can hold my head high and carry myself with dignity and I think that a real champion shows up in the good times and the bad.
“I want kids everywhere to know that, listen: I fell down tonight. I fell flat on my face. I lost in front of the whole world, and it hurt and it’s going to hurt for a while. But it’s also an opportunity for growth and opportunity for me to become a better fighter, a better person, and that is part of my legacy – not just the wins, but what I do during the losses, as well.”
As for the intricacies of the defeat, Harrison didn’t have an answer as to why she didn’t win. In her eyes, the fight was close, but Pacheco was better – especially better than in the first two meetings, which Harrison won.
“I have a lot to work on,” Harrison said. “Failure is my fuel. Some days you’re the nail and some days you’re the hammer. I feel like I’ve been the hammer for a while, and today I experienced being the nail. This is an opportunity for me to grow as a fighter and as a person.”
Despite a first in MMA, the concept of loss isn’t foreign to Harrison, who had a lengthy judo career en route to eventual Olympic gold. Defeat drove her in her preceding sport and she expects it to do the same in MMA.
“I’m very fortunate this isn’t the first time I’ve lost in life or in a sport setting,” Harrison said. “You know, I lost many times in judo. It’s a little different in MMA, obviously. It’s the world’s biggest stage. I obviously just lost my title. That hurts and it’s going to hurt for a while. … It’s different in the sense there’s $1 million on the line. I feel like I’m the face of the promotion, so I dropped the ball a little bit. But losing is losing, you know. For me, I want to crawl out of my skin. I can’t stand it. It’s painful.”
Harrison initially planned to diverge from the PFL season setting after the 2022 season concluded. Now with this loss, she’s unsure about her immediate future. First, she’s going to spend time with family. Then what? Well, Harrison indicated perhaps fight fans will see her sooner than expected.
“I thought I was going to take a break, but it’s going to be hard now,” Harrison said.
On the topic of family, particularly her children, Harrison said during her break away from competition she plans to use the loss as a lesson for them. Sometimes, fighting mirrors life and this is one of those times.”
“Life hits harder than anything inside of the cage,” Harrison said. “My kids need to know that, too. Life is unforgiving. It doesn’t care how much money you have in the bank account. It doesn’t care what color your hair is or how nice of a person you are. Sometimes life just f*cks you up. My kids need to know that and they need to know how to handle adversity.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for 2022 PFL Championships.