As a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, Kayla Harrison knows all about making the transition from one sport to mixed martial arts, and the public perception that comes with it. With a successful judo career on her resume, Harrison began her MMA career in 2018 with the Professional Fighters League and has since gone 9-0, while also becoming the organization’s lightweight champion. So when boxing champion Claressa Shields won her MMA debut at PFL 4 earlier this month, Harrison was proud of her.
Shields, who made the transition from boxing into MMA and began training less than a year ago at JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and while no one doubted her hands and striking, her skills on the ground were unknown. It made for an interesting matchup when Shields met Brittany Elkin, who Harrison also made her PFL debut against, and for most of the fight, Elkin was leading the way until Shields came back in the final round. After getting the fight to the ground, Shields was able to finish Elkin with ground-and-pound for the first victory of her MMA career.
During an appearance on the On The Mic podcast, Harrison spoke about the debut of Shields, saying she was surprised by the matchup of the opponent, the fact that it was the main event, and more.
“She was able to go out here and do what winners do, which is find a way to win. I’m impressed with her, I’m proud of her.”
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“I think that we all knew what her holes were gonna be, we all knew what she was going to struggle with. I was surprised with the matchup intially, because I know that Brittany [Elkin] has a grappling background, she was my first fight. I was surprised that made her in a main event, it’s a lot of pressure in your first fight, listen this is not boxing, this is completely different. We all knew she was going to struggle with the grappling aspect of the sport, I think she did a good job staying composed, I think she overcame a lot of early stepbacks, she was able to go out there and do what winners do, and that’s find a way to win.”
Overcoming those struggles and the early adversity showed a lot in Shields, and Kayla Harrison says she’s proud of her, but the biggest thing for the boxing champion to figure out is how she will handle both boxing and MMA schedules.
“I’m impressed with her, I’m proud of her. I think that the biggest struggle for her is going to be, in order to be as successful as she wants to be in MMA, she’s going to have to devote a lot of time to learning that side of the sport. She’s not going to be able to devote the time that it needs, if she continues to box and do MMA at the same time. She’s only human. I applaud her for this and making the transition into MMA in the peak of her boxing career, I just think it’s going to be too hard to do both effectively.
I’m not trying to talk shit, I have a lot of respect for Claressa. She embodies everything that I applaud in a human. She came from nothing, she worked her ass off, she literally willed her life into existance, and I think that’s the most badass thing that you can do in this world. But, we’ll see, it’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here. This is why I said I always felt more like her mentor than potential opponent.”
If there’s anyone who knows about the transition into MMA, it’s Kayla Harrison. Shields did enough to garner her attention, but Harrison knows, there will be some decisions that the boxing champion will need to make for the best interest of her career.
Full Kayla Harrison interview:
Mike Pendleton is a current contributor to MyMMANews, BJPenn.com, and TheScrap.Co while also hosting his “On The Mic” podcast and works as an Associate Producer on Sirius XM’s Fight Nation channel.
With a special passion for interviewing and talking to some of the very best around the fight game, you can read or listen to Mike’s work across his multiple outlets.
Follow me on Twitter: @MP2310