Kayla Harrison could be the next WMMA star if she beats Holly Holm

Kayla Harrison has UFC gold at her fingertips if she plays her cards right at UFC 300.
Kayla Harrison
Kayla Harrison / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

UFC 300 may introduce the world to women's mixed martial arts' next big star. When Kayla Harrison steps into the Octagon on April 13, she will be the first two-time Olympic gold medalist to ever compete in the promotion. Those familiar with Harrison know making history is nothing new for the 33-year-old former judoka.

Harrison became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in judo when she went undefeated at the 2012 London Olympics, a feat she would repeat at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer games.
Like Ronda Rousey before her, Harrison decided to retire from judo competition and transition to mixed martial arts.

Harrison began training at American Top Team for her debut. There she would have access to championship level coaching and training partners. She would be training daily with the greatest fighter in WMMA history, Amanda Nunes.

In judo, Harrison competed at 78 kilograms, roughly 172 pounds. At the time, the highest weight class for women's mixed martial arts in a major promotion was featherweight, a maximum of 145 pounds. In a surprising move, Harrison joined the PFL, then known as the World of Series of Fighting, as a commentator and brand ambassador. This would be a way for her to introduce herself to the mixed martial arts world while preparing herself for her first fight.

Without any women's divisions, the PFL staged one off fights for Harrison at lightweight, a weight class with a 155 pound limit. Just over two years after retiring from judo competition, Harrison was 3-0 in MMA, having competed in the only three women's fights in the PFL's history. Most telling about her star potential was her spot on the PFL World Championship 2018 event. Of the seven fights on that card, Harrison's was the only one to not have a belt on the line.

Kayla Harrison will be competing at 135 pounds for the first time

Realizing they had a budding superstar on their hands, the PFL created an entire division for Harrison. Starting in 2019, women's lightweight was included in the PFL's season format. Harrison would rule the division, headlining multiple cards and not losing for over three years. When she finally did lose, it was via decision to a fighter she had already defeated twice, Larissa Pacheco.

During that stretch, Harrison would use her smothering grappling and ferocious ground and pound to stop all but two of her opponents. Harrison has the skills to back up the hype, but in an entertainment-based industry, just being a dominant fighter will not make you a star.

During her run in the PFL, Harrison was the face of the promotion. Watch any of her interviews and her charisma immediately jumps off the screen. Whether it is cutting a WWE-style promo, joking with the interviewer, or candidly speaking about her experiences, Harrison always comes off as authentic and endearing. She has even appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter, an honor reserved for the sport's biggest stars like Conor McGregor and Rousey.

Harrison had displayed the combination of personality and dominating performances needed to be a superstar, but she was competing in a weight class that did not exist in any other major promotions. There was always the question of how she would fare against the best in the world. On April 13, that question will be answered.

Standing across from Harrison will be former UFC champion and the woman who dethroned Rousey, Holly Holm. Holm's head kick to end Rousey's domination in the UFC is a moment forever etched in the sport's history. However, since that fight and despite women's mixed martial arts currently having more talent than it ever has, no fighter has been able to break through to mainstream stardom like Rousey.

The stage is set for Harrison to take the mixed martial arts world by storm. She has the perfect dance partner in Holm and their fight will taking place in primetime during the ESPN broadcast portion of UFC 300. She finally has the opportunity to showcase her skills and then stand in the Octagon with Joe Rogan to announce herself to the world as the sport's next big star.