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Kayla Harrison sets MMA debut fight after post-Olympic depression

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison will make her MMA debut on June 21 at a Professional Fighters League (PFL) event in Chicago.

The fight, against an opponent Harrison chose not to publicly reveal Monday, will be 20 months since Harrison first announced she joined the promotion and would maybe fight.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said on the MMA Hour on Monday. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison said her first two planned opponents for the 145-pound fight (27 pounds fewer than her Olympic weight) pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” said Harrison, the only U.S. Olympic judo champion, who hopes to fight three times this year. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison also said Monday that she was “very depressed” after the Rio Olympics, knowing she was done with judo, not setting a morning alarm or working out and “laying in bed all day” watching TV.

“I was a little bit lost in my life,” she said. “That high is so high that when you come off of that, it’s like your low. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Her coaches, Jimmy Pedro and Jim Pedro Sr., were against Harrison filling that void with MMA.

“Even if I was a millionaire or independently wealthy and I had no worries and I didn’t have to work, I would still be doing what I’m doing,” Harrison said. “I think at the beginning I was kind of like skittish about it. It’s tough, too, because everyone is always like, well look at Ronda [Rousey], you always have the comparisons. It’s so different from the judo world, but I’m kind of loving it. I’m kind of starting to become my own person in MMA, if that makes sense. In judo, I always had certain expectations. Everyone is sort of like, this is Kayla. This is the golden girl. This is the poster child, and so I always felt like that’s who I had to be. But in MMA, no one really knows me. Nobody cares about judo.”

In October 2016, Harrison announced she joined MMA promotion World Series of Fighting (now PFL) as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter. But she wasn’t 100 percent committed to competing at the time.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said then.

Then in June 2017, Harrison said she would fight starting in 2018. The debut was pushed from February to June.

Harrison had been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Rousey’s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo to MMA.

Harrison took boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential. Since Rio, she’s trained in New Jersey, Las Vegas and now Florida.

Harrison previously said that to compete in MMA she will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competed at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC at the time. UFC added a 145-pound division last year. Harrison said in 2016 that if she fought, it would probably be at 145 pounds.

PFL, which had no women’s weight class when Harrison signed up, planned to develop a women’s program as Harrison readied for a potential debut. Harrison said Sunday that PFL’s plan is to have a full women’s division in 2019.

“I want to be the best, undisputed,” Harrison said. “I want everyone to say, oh, who’s the best MMA fighter in the world? Oh, that’s Kayla Harrison.”

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Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach