Laura Sanko: Kayla Harrison joining the UFC is exactly what women's MMA needs right now


Kayla Harrison (16-1) may not be the main event of UFC 300, but her debut is definitely one of the most talked-about moments of Saturday's historic event.

The two-time Olympic judo champion has already conquered the PFL several times. Now she's trying to do the same thing in the UFC, and she's being tested at a level she's never experienced in combat before.

Not only is she cutting down to 135 pounds for the first time after fighting at 155 pounds for almost her entire career. But she also starts her UFC career with a showdown against a former champion in Holly Holm.

Harrison, 33, will not be handed anything. But UFC color commentator and analyst Laura Sanko believes her UFC entry is exactly what women's MMA needs right now.

“This is the story of Kayla Harrison coming to the UFC,” Sanko continued The fighter against the writer when asked about her most anticipated fight. “I can't emphasize enough how big a fan I am of hers, not only in terms of her fights but also in terms of her as a person. She's just a great person.

“The bantamweight division needs someone like Kayla Harrison to come in here and make some noise, and quite frankly, women's MMA in the UFC needs a bit of a breath of fresh air right now. “Hopefully she can come out of here and make this insanely difficult cut without that it affects her too much in the fight, and I think the UFC is putting into practice the idea that a lot of people have for her for what she can do.”

In addition to being the UFC's premiere women's division, bantamweight was once considered a preeminent weight class, largely thanks to the star power of Ronda Rousey. Since Rousey's departure, Amanda Nunes has made plenty of headlines, but hasn't been as magnetic as her predecessor.

The bantamweight division has been largely stagnant of late; The belt remained vacant for several months after Nunes' retirement. Now division vet Raquel Pennington holds the belt, but there aren't many new and exciting faces waiting to welcome her to promoteable fights. That changes if Harrison can defeat an established veteran and former champion like Holm.

Beyond her fighting skills, Sanko also believes Harrison has another skill that has been sorely missed since Rousey made headlines every time she had a microphone in her face.

“I was working at the desk last weekend and before the fights this was the point we were all thinking about – this fight between Germaine de Randamie and Norma Dumont, the winner here, could be a real injection of life, especially Germaine de Randamie. Sanko explained. “When she came back, the former champion had only ever lost to Amanda Nunes and it just didn't quite work out in that regard. Now we look at Kayla Harrison.

“What I love about Kayla is not only is she able to go out and run through people like we've seen from her, she's also great on the mic.” That's something that's lacking in women's MMA. I'm not a big fan of the vile s*** talk that has become popular lately. I hate that. But I do think that you have to be able to take advantage of the moment when you have a microphone. It's part of the business now. Often the female fighters tend to be very respectful, which is great, but doesn't always lead to the greatest fights. You name Julianna Pena and Kayla Harrison, we're already seeing it on Twitter, these two are going to pick a fight if that's in the stars for them.”

Harrison's heavily hyped debut doesn't mean she's guaranteed anything, especially if she's facing a perennial contender like Holm in her first UFC fight. Still, Sanko can't wait to see what Harrison can do on martial arts' biggest stage, and she's perhaps most excited about one particular weapon that will finally be at her disposal.

“What I'm excited about because I saw it once when she came to Invicta, I called that fight and she had a fight at 145 in Invicta where she was allowed to use elbows,” Sanko said. “She can’t use elbows in the PFL.

“I'll tell you what she did to that poor woman in Invicta when she finally got to the top and could use her elbows, [her opponent] looked like she had been shot in the face with an axe. I’m happy to see Kayla Harrison with elbows.”

For Harrison, who has often said she wants to go down as the greatest female fighter in the history of the sport, the stakes couldn't be higher. Reaching the top of this mountain will require a move to the UFC.

“I think Kayla Harrison actually has a lot to lose if she comes out here and performs poorly,” Sanko said. “Like, where are you going? If you don't look good at 135 or she's lacking weight, there's no such thing as 145. So there's certainly a lot at stake for her.

“Can she find Holly in that big pay-per-view sized octagon? Given Holly's incredible footwork and ability to remain elusive, this could be a real problem for Kayla. It's a very tough test for her from the start, going up against a former champion and someone who has the necessary footwork. This could really cause problems for her.”

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