MMA star Kayla Harrison left Olympics with only $25k but is now 'highest-paid female fighter' and eyes $3m in PFL prizes | The Sun

KAYLA HARRISON was left sofa-bound with $25,000 to her name after leaving the Olympic cycle – but she is the world’s “highest-paid female fighter.” 

The American won her first judo gold medal in 2012 in London and doubled her tally four years later in Rio. 

Harrison, 26 at the time, was then given “a pat on the back and cheque for $25,000” but left questioning herself for the first time. 

She told SunSport: “It wasn’t about the money or like, ‘You’re not going to give me a job’.

“It was more like, that was my true love, so to kind of be discarded like that, it was hard for me. 

“To go from never hitting the snooze button and being super disciplined, super focussed, super driven, super motivated, to then sitting on my couch all day, I didn’t have a goal. 

“I didn’t have something to wake up for and I was depressed. It was like, I’m not Kayla Harrison, the Olympic champion.” 

After six months, Harrison managed to get herself up from the sofa and over to a Muay Thai gym. 

It was only after getting hit in the face during her first sparring session six months later that – at last – she found the next step in her life. 

Harrison revealed: “I was like, ‘Holy s***! This is it. This is what I’ve got to do’. 

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“It was so thrilling to just be like a white belt all over again, to be a beginner all over again.

“To have that fear and that adrenaline and just that challenge again. I was like, I have to see this through.” 

Harrison later turned professional in MMA in 2018 by joining the Professional Fighters League. 

The PFL is a format that consists of a two-fight regular season, where points are earned for method of victories. 

Qualification into the play-off semi-final then follows, where the last two fight in the winner-take-all finale. 

Up for grabs is a $1million prize cheque, which Harrison has twice won and returns this season, eyeing a hat-trick. 

She said: “I’m the highest-paid female fighter in the world right now. I can’t believe that, to say it out loud sometimes. 

“At 16, I was working 16 hours a week at a hardware store, I was walking dogs. 

I’m the highest-paid female fighter in the world right now. I can’t believe that, to say it out loud sometimes. 

“To see the trajectory of my life, the ups and the downs, highs and lows, to see where I am now, I am truly blessed to do what I love, everyday with the people that I love.” 

Harrison, 31, won her opening regular season bout in May, beating Marina Mokhnatkina and now faces Kaitlin Young on Friday night.

A win in Atlanta will qualify her to fight in the knockout last four stages. 

For Harrison, it would also offer her the chance to return to London, with the semis set for August 20 at the Copper Box.

It will be her first time competing in the UK for a decade – marking exactly ten years since her first Olympic medal. 

Harrison said: “I won my first Olympic gold medal on August 2nd in 2012, so to fight here on August 20th, ten years later, almost to the day, would be poetic. 

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“It would be beautiful, I just love the energy in the UK, I love the vibes. 

“It’s a fight town, they say Vegas is the fight capital of the world, but based on history this is a country full of fighters.” 

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