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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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