Kayla Harrison’s second match of the regular season in the Pro Fighter League went about as predictably as the betting odds predicted – leaning heavily in her favor.
Harrison, who has won the PFL women’s bantamweight title in each of the past two seasons, needed just two minutes, 35 seconds, one body kick and a flurry of strikes Friday night to dispatch Kaitlyn Young and qualify for the postseason.
On August 20 in London, Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, will face Martina Jindrova for a place in the PFL finals.
Beyond that fight, prospects for a high-profile matchup with Amanda Nunes or Cristian Justino (aka “Cris Cyborg”), two of Harrison’s most famous fighters in the division, remain murky. Nunes is under contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and is scheduled to face Juliana Peña on July 30, while Justino is signed to mixed martial arts promotion Bellator.
A series of fights involving Harrison, Nunes and Justino remains an attractive, if remote, possibility, and Don Davis, chairman and co-owner of the PFL, has said he would promote an event with Bellator or the UFC, but for now , needs existing contracts. Precedent and Harrison said he is focused on transforming from a judo expert to a well-rounded mixed martial artist.
“I’m just a much more developed fighter. I’m a much more developed person,” Harrison said at a pre-fight press conference. “I’m getting better every day and I’m still only scratching the surface.”
Harrison, who is now 14-0 in professional MMA, was scheduled to face Julia Buddy, whose kickboxing expertise said she would be Harrison’s toughest professional opponent. But Budd pulled out of the bout after suffering an injury late in training camp and the PFL replaced him with Young, 36, who entered Friday’s bout with a 12-12-1 record.
After touching gloves at the opening bell, the fighters carefully circled each other. Harrison, in a southpaw stance, stepped forward, feinting and gauging Young’s reaction.
And then he charged, throwing Young into the fence before slamming him to the mat. Then came a grappling sequence that helped Harrison, a judo expert, and finally punches that forced the referee to stop the bout.
“The goal is to go out there and dominate,” Harrison, who turned 32 on Saturday, said in a televised interview after the game. “Sometimes you just feel it.”
At the start of the fight, which took place at Atlanta’s Overtime Elite Arena, broadcasters noted that the betting odds were lopsided, with one gambler betting $2.7 million on Harrison winning.
Given the circumstances — a two-time Olympic champion versus a last-minute replacement — that seven-figure pledge was less a gamble than an investment. Shortly before the opening bell, oddsmakers had Harrison as the minus-6,000 favorite, meaning a $6,000 bet would have returned $100. At those odds, a $2.7 million bet would be worth $45,000.
The PFL hopes the money it has poured into Harrison’s career will pay similar dividends in the long run.
Harrison’s contract spans two seasons and pays him about $1 million per fight. Back-napkin math suggests he made about $6,450 per second on Friday night, not including his training time. The PFL believes the money is worth it considering the benefits Harrison has to PFL’s profile.
The UFC is to MMA what the NFL is to pro football – the biggest brand and money maker and the undisputed leader of the industry. In 2016, talent agency Endeavor paid $4.2 billion for the majority of fight promotions, and the company is now targeting a $10 billion valuation.
PFL aims to consolidate its position in second place.
While the UFC will hold an event at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on July 30, the PFL held its final Dallas fight card at the 2,500-seat arena in Arlington.
Davis notes that the PFL’s broadcast partnership with ESPN gives it the same wide distribution as the UFC, but admits it’s an underdog benefiting from Harrison’s contract. According to him, Harrison is ready to become the sport’s next brand of fighter.
“Imagine if the USFL discovered and developed Tom Brady,” Davis said in a pregame interview, referring to the United States Football League.
Still, the clashes that could take Harrison and the PFL to the next level remain elusive and hypothetical.
Nunes, a former training partner of Harrison’s, said he would welcome the bout provided Harrison signed with the UFC and Nunes himself is a former champion, who is scheduled for a July 30 rematch with Peña, who won the UFC title last December.
Justino, who last competed in April, is a spread Negotiating a boxing match Undisputed lightweight boxing champion against Katie Taylor.
“I train and train for boxing for one fight. “I’m looking for one fight,” Justino told reporters after his last MMA bout. “I did everything. I was doing wrestling. I did jujitsu. I did a Muay Thai fight. That’s the only thing I haven’t done is box. This is one of my dreams.”
Next up for Harrison is a semifinal bout against Jindrova and potentially a spot in the 2022 PFL Finals.
The only guarantee beyond these bouts: another season of Harrison’s PFL contact.