ABU DHABI — Coronavirus has made the past year a difficult path for everyone in the fight game, but it was especially troublesome for a competitor like Kayla Harrison.

The two-time Olympic judo gold medalist was just starting to come into her own in mixed martial arts in 2020. Harrison (8-0) was the PFL’s 2019 women’s lightweight champion, and with seven fights under her belt at that point, she was just reaching the point that she no longer felt like a newbie in the cage.

When the pandemic hit, the PFL had to cancel its season, as, unlike other fight promotions, the PFL’s regular season and playoffs format can’t be condensed in a sport as physically demanding as MMA.

Harrison eventually was able to get a fight in under the Invicta FC banner. Meanwhile, her coach, American Top Team’s Mike Brown, says she used her year showing up to the gym as if she had a fight booked anyway,

“This is someone who, whether she’s got a fight or not, she’s in the gym,” Brown told MMA Junkie during UFC 257 fight week. “She’s there pretty much twice a day, every day, whether there’s a fight for her or not. She’s another very, very, very dedicated athlete who’s made huge strides, huge gains. I mean, you would expect this from somebody who is obviously, I would say, gifted genetically and I would say all in, and fully committed in every way. She lives her life to be the best fighter on the planet.”

With the PFL set to resume operations with the 2021 season, which gets underway in April, Brown believes Harrison, who went down to featherweight for her Invicta win over Cortney King, is ready for higher-level competition.

“She’s made unbelievable gains from Day 1, but now she’s 8-0,” Brown said, “Now she’s had eight fights with all the experience and now very comfortable in the cage, and she’s really at the point, I think, to start fighting anyone they can throw at her. Whoever in the world they got, throw it at her. I think she’s at that point she can take big, big challenges, and she’s at that point she can take anybody, I think. 

Harrison’s PFL contract expires after the upcoming season, and at times it has appeared she’s running laps around the competition. But given recent high-profile signings like former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, Brown is confident PFL will find Harrison real challenges this year.

“The big names, she’s ready for,” Brown said. “PFL has been great. PFL is growing, it would be great to see them bring in some big names. They could bring in a (Cris) Cyborg or somebody of this nature to challenge her. I think she’s in a great spot. I think they’re doing good things, and it’s growing. You got guys like Pettis, world champions in other organizations now coming to the organization. I think it’s going to be a different PFL this year.”