Kayla Harrison, after MMA tears, lost toenail, will now fight for $1 million

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When Kayla Harrison finished pummeling her second Professional Fighters League opponent last month, she bolted to the back of the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. She didn’t want to be alone.

“I was crying,” Harrison said Monday.

One of the first people to come across the U.S. Olympic judo champion in a temper tantrum (retired from the sport after repeat gold in Rio) was 71-year-old Jim Pedro Sr.

Pedro, along with his Olympic medalist son, Jimmy Pedro, helped Harrison develop into the world’s best judoka. Harrison also credited the Pedros for saving her life, following suffering from depression and considering suicide after being sexually abused by a previous coach more than a decade ago.

Pedro Sr. — “Big Jim” to Harrison — found Harrison in the Atlantic City casino on the night of Aug. 16.

“What the hell are you crying about?” he demanded.

The question was legitimate, even if Big Jim may have already known the answer. Harrison had just landed 79 strikes to opponent Jozette Cotton‘s 12 to improve to 2-0 in her two-month PFL career.

Harrison got the TKO but was dismayed that it took 12 minutes to put away Cotton. Perspective: Harrison’s former judo training partner, Ronda Rousey, went further than five minutes once in 14 of her 15 wins.

“Big Jim, I want to be best in the world, I want to be dominant, and I just went to the third round,” Harrison recalled saying. “I should have broken her arm.”

To which Big Jim responded, “Shut the hell up. Quit your god damn crying.” Harrison cried some more.

“I’m crying because I want to be better,” Harrison said Monday.

The scene paints the rookie’s view of mixed martial arts after her first two fights, but nearly two years into her PFL deal.

That deal has just been extended through 2019 with the debut of a women’s division (155 pounds) and the opportunity to win a tournament and $1 million. Twelve years ago, Harrison showed up to the Pedros with $250 in her pocket.

“I just always thought the transition would be easy, but it’s a lot harder than it looks,” she said while doing media in New York City on Monday. “There’s just so much you have to think about. If you’re too aggressive, you can walk into something. If you’re not aggressive enough, you’re not going to win the fight. In judo I used to fight multiple tournaments a month. Bu there is something to be said of complete, full contact [in MMA] and focusing on only one person, one fight, one moment.

“The lead up to it is completely different from a judo tournament. It really is every, single fight is the most important fight. At judo if I lost a Grand Slam, it was OK because I was really training for the Olympics. In MMA, there are no second chances.”

Harrison, 28, expects to fight once more in 2018. Her 2019 regular season begins in May. If she stays undefeated, Harrison will fight five times next year.

Recent buzz in the sport has centered on a potential fight between Harrison and Cris “Cyborg” Justino, considered by many (and by Harrison) to be the world’s best fighter.

“My goal is to be the best, but I’ve only had two fights,” Harrison said Monday. “To expect to be able to compete with the best right now is unrealistic. I know she [Justino] has a wealth of knowledge and experience, much more than me.”

Harrison said having a female division in PFL — albeit 10 pounds heavier than where Justino fights in UFC — will help bring the fight closer to reality. For now, it won’t happen with the two women under contract with different promotions and fighting at different weights. Both could change by the end of 2019.

Harrison said she considered not signing her 2019 contract with the PFL in case it means she wouldn’t be able to fight Justino until 2020 at the earliest. And that Justino, who turns 34 next year and whose UFC contract is believed to end in March, could retire before then.

Harrison noted that Justino, once banned a year for steroids, never came down from her 145-pound division to fight at Rousey’s insistence at 135 (or a 140-pound catch weight).

“[Justino] is complaining about me being too heavy already,” Harrison said, noting it’s a bit like the pot calling the kettle black after the Rousey instance. “But I’ll be happy to fight her at 145 just to prove a point.”

Judo is still on Harrison’s mind. It remains part of her Twitter handle. The world championships are wrapping up in Azerbaijan (the U.S. earned zero medals in 2017 and has none so far this year). Harrison watches, but there is no urge to return.

“I miss the security of it,” she said. “There’s something to be said for having the confidence and the experience of being No. 1, trusting that you are the best in the world and having faith in that. I’m sort of in this new realm where mentally I know that I want to be the best and what it takes to be the best, but I still don’t have the confidence yet. Whereas judo, it was muscle memory and ingrained in the system that I knew I was going to win.”

Harrison has been waiting for somebody to ask her about injuries as a fighter. Close friend and Olympic teammate Marti Malloy recently brought it up.

The day that she asked me, my big toenail fell off completely,” said Harrison, who tore her left MCL five months before the London Olympics and underwent reconstructive knee surgery in June 2013, watching Netflix for six weeks in a straight leg brace. “I have no idea how that fell off. I was horrified.”

Harrison sent Malloy a video, joking that she was “seriously wounded.” 

Harrison has learned that MMA is mentally harder than judo. The physical punishment? Just different.

“Judo is hard on your body,” she said. “MMA, you’re getting kicked in the head, so, it’s also very hard on your body.” 

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MORE: Rousey: UFC return just as likely as Olympic return

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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