Kayla Harrison would’ve had Cris Cyborg in her sights had she accepted a multi-million offer from Bellator MMA. When PFL matched the ViacomCBS-owned promotion’s deal, she stayed with the promotion she’s fought under since transitioning from Olympic judo to MMA.
The PFL hasn’t given up on booking Harrison vs. Cyborg, however. PFL CEO Peter Murray still wants to make the fight happen via cross-promotion.
“We’re proponents of that,” Murray said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “We’ve been out there and Kayla wants that fight. We believe Cris wants that fight, and if we could make it happen between the two organizations, the PFL and Bellator, as a cross-promotion and joint event, which we’re still open to, we’ll take another path to see if we can put that together.”
Murray may not have to reach across the aisle in the end. Cyborg is slated to defend her featherweight title against Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 279, and afterward, she told ESPN.com, she’ll be a free agent. That could set up another situation where the PFL comes over the top (or the same one in reverse if Bellator has matching rights with Cyborg).
So far, Coker has not appeared keen on co-promoting with the PFL, though he’s repeatedly welcomed the same idea with the industry-leading UFC. A fight between Harrison and Cyborg would represent a matchup of the No. 4 (Cyborg) and No. 9 (Harrison) fighters on the women’s pound-for-pound list in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings.
That said, Murray believes the promotion’s fourth season will present new challenges that could test Harrison.
“[Harrison vs. Cyborg is] one compelling fight, but there are others for Kayla,” he said. “This season will be her toughest season yet with our format and then longer-term, we have some opportunities to put on big fights with Kayla on pay-per-view.”
With PFL extending its broadcast partnership with ESPN, Murray believes Harrison will be a centerpiece of the promotion’s future. He hopes that includes a legacy-defining fight with Cyborg, but either way, the former Olympian will be a force to reckon with. That’s the main reason the PFL went all out to retain Harrison.
“Like every athlete, athletes have options, and in the end, our goal was not only to re-sign with ESPN, but as you said, was to continue with Kayla, and we were very thoughtful in how we approached that with Kayla directly and with her management,” he said. “That’s one of the most dominant fighters in the sport today – of course there was interest in the marketplace with competitors, but in the end, we struck the right deal and got to the right place. I’m really excited that she’s going to continue with the season this year, and she’ll be in our third event [in 2022].”