There’s a popular song about coming home that’s been a mainstay for fighter walkout music while competing in their hometowns. Although Kayla Harrison doesn’t hail from the Land of the Rising Sun, it might as well be a homecoming for the American judoka.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist in Judo, Harrison spent the past weekend crossing the Pacific Ocean to visit the home of Judo, the Kodokan Judo Institute. She’s also making the trip to personally thank a very important jeweler. That’s because Harrison was recently gifted a stunning necklace by The Intrepid Wendell and famed Japanese designer Kazuhito Komatsu.
“It has the Japanese cherry blossom which is the flower of the Kodokan, flower of Japan and of course the Samurai,” Harrison said. “It has gold to represent my gold medals. The red and white represent the Japanese flag, the red white and blue represent the American flag. The red and white also represent my promotion to rokudan in judo. It’s this beautiful amazing piece of art that symbolizes my entire career.”
As you can see, the necklace features quite several stories weaved into one beautiful masterpiece.
One story of Harrison’s that hasn’t been told just yet is her foray into the sport of MMA. Harrison has been on MMA fans’ radar since announcing her intention to compete inside the cage. The two-time Olympic gold medalist signed with the Professional Fighters League and has appeared on a handful of events as a color commentator.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Harrison said. “I’m very fortunate I get to work with Bas Rutten, Randy Couture and some of the best to compete in the sport. I get to see an up-close perspective on what it takes to step into the cage and I’m really enjoying my role… It’s very different. It’s something that I’m happy to be a part of and excited to make my debut next year.”
Harrison will of course draw comparisons to her former training partner, former UFC champion Ronda Rousey. It’ll be an easy comparison as both enter MMA with Olympic-level judo credentials. Aiming to create a well-rounded skill set, Harrison will attempt to be more than just a Judoka entering the Decagon.
“I think Muay Thai is becoming my new love,” Harrison said. “Boxing is fun but when you incorporate knees and kicks, that really helps bring in my judo aspect. Muay Thai is becoming a lot of fun for me and something I’m doing every day. It’s something I need to work on and it suits my style very well.”
Harrison admits that witnessing the MMA action cageside and training like a fighter has been an eye-opening experience for the former Olympian. The sport takes an incredible amount of dedication behind the walls of a gym and there’s little margin for error once the cage door closes. It’s not a case of scoring more points to defeat your opponent, it’s a contest to see who can force their opponent to tap out due to pain or sever them from their consciousness. Still, Harrison feels much more at home with fists flying at her face compared to holding a microphone.
“It’s a lot more nerve racking for me to be on a commentary role talking about people getting punched in the face than me doing myself,” Harrison said with a laugh.
The Olympic star will have her chance to showcase her hard work in a highly anticipated debut next year. In the meantime, MMA fans can tune in to PFL events to hear Harrison’s excellent analysis.