Rick McCrabb: After first professional MMA defeat, Kayla Harrison's message: 'It's OK to fail. It's OK to stumble.'

Dec. 4—Sometimes we learn more about a person in defeat than in victory.

It's easy to say all the right words when the referee raises your arm after another win and the promoter hands you an oversized $1 million check.

But when you're standing next to your opponent, and that same referee doesn't reach for your arm, the taste of defeat frequently sours your words.

Middletown's Kayla Harrison gave us a glimpse into what makes her special inside — and outside — the cage after she lost an unanimous decision Nov. 25 to Larissa Pacheco in the women's lightweight finals of the Professional Fighters League.

Harrison, the overwhelming betting favorite, was expected to beat Pacheco, as she did twice in 2019 when she won all eight rounds, and capture her third PFL championship and third $1 million prize.

Instead, Pacheco pulled off the massive upset as she claimed the title by unanimous decision with 48-47 scores from all three judges.

It was Harrison's first MMA loss in 16 professional fights the last four years.

In fact, that was the first defeat for Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, since 2016 when she lost in Judo Grand Slam Paris. She won gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and from 2009 to 2016, her judo record was 45-7.

On Tuesday, four days after the loss at Madison Square Garden in New York, Harrison, 32, posted some of her emotions on Instagram.

In part, she wrote:

"I think like the most people when falling short I feel sad. Angry with myself. Disappointed. Heart broken. Nothing stings for me quite like the pain of failure.

"I want every young person reading this to know that it's OK. It's OK to fail. It's OK to stumble. And I see it. I read what everyone is saying. But I am not ashamed. I step in the cage and I walk in life knowing that failure is a possibility.

"I know that I live my life out loud and the consequence of that is to be seen and to be humbled. I'm beyond upset about losing. I can't ever really describe to you how it will haunt me."

These words were accompanied with a picture of Harrison and her niece, Kyla, and nephew, Emery, whom she took custody in 2020.

Now that she's no longer undefeated and the queen of the PFL, it's unclear what's next for Harrison. Earlier said she wanted to step away from the PFL format that requires several fights to reach the championship. She wanted to concentrate more on high-profile pay-for-view fights.

She's unsure now.

"I thought I was going to take a break, but it's going to be hard now," Harrison told the media in New York.

She also left us with this thought on her Instagram post:

"God is good all the time.

"I struggle to find the words right now to properly articulate how I'm feeling.

"But I keep going back to that first sentence. God is good all the time. Not when it's good. Not when it's bad. He's just always there. He's always got us. It's going to be OK.

And I'm not done. Not even close."

People have doubted Harrison before. Like most of her opponents, she proved those people wrong.