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Let the unfounded expectations begin for Kayla Harrison’s MMA journey

American judoka Kayla Harrisonda category wins heavyweight Weight (78kg) Women's Judo Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016 the Carioca 2 Arena in Brazil and get the gold medal. French Audrey Tcheumo took silver and Brazilian Mayra Aguiar and the Slovenian Anamari Velenek took bronze. (Photo by Geraldo Bubniak/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
(Geraldo Bubniak/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

The next Ronda Rousey is upon us. Or is she?

As Kayla Harrison makes her transition from the Olympic mat to the cage canvas, her ongoing development as a complete fighter is going to be watched closely. The two-time judo gold medalist winner is the newest member of the Olympic crossover group, which includes current world beaters like Rousey and UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Being mentioned alongside prominent mixed martial arts names like that may be an honor or a curse for someone like Harrison.

With no formal professional debut set, the 26-year-old will leave a lot to the imagination moving forward. As Harrison readies herself for an eventual arrival to the World Series of Fighting cage, expectations will be set. People will follow her every move in training, track her progress in other areas than just judo, compare her to the evolution of a younger Rousey and determine if she has the potential to do great things in a sport she has no experience doing.

While Harrison’s Olympic accolades certainly lend a hand in unveiling the type of athlete and dedicated competitor she is, and will be, it means little in the world of MMA. So while Harrison will carry expectations like most other fighters who enter this sport with a name already in tact, Olympic caliber or not (CM Punk), all of those future predictions and presumptions are simply unfounded.

Harrison’s judo background and lone perfected discipline will help her dictate movement, spacing and positioning inside of the pocket and on the ground, but it will do little for her on the feet from distance. The Ohio native has stated that she’s been training boxing and jiu-jitsu leading up to her announcement to compete under the WSOF banner in the near future, but she’s going to need at least a few years to mature her standup and become anything but a one-dimensional fighter. Fortunately, Harrison is young enough to put it all together before her 30s, which at least gives her a leg up if she believes MMA is a long-term scratch for her competitive itch.

Of course, hailing from the same circles as Rousey isn’t going to make Harrison’s journey any easier. Rousey happened to be in the right place at the right time to break out into the MMA mainstream and take UFC by storm. She matched her star power with incredible skill and finishing ability, which stretched anywhere from judo throws to knockout punches. Now while Harrison won’t encounter the same sort of celebrity platform in WSOF as Rousey did in UFC, the judoka legend will be expected to deliver similar results upon arrival. What will make things even more harrowing for Harrison is the fact that she will not bring any amateur fighting experience with her into the WSOF cage. Even Rousey had three amateur bouts (winning all via sub-one minute submissions).

At the end of the day, it really all depends on who Harrison is going to put in charge of her training. As a superb athlete who has proven to be the best at her craft in the past, she packs a lot of potential heading into 2017. But in order to make those expectations a reality and showcase the level of skill it will take to compete alongside the best, Harrison must put in the work. As good as her judo is, she must still work on takedowns and takedown defense. She will have to evolve her striking, which is completely green at this time. She must welcome damage, understand what it’s like to be hit, put herself in precarious positions and find ways to win outside of her judoka skills.

Like any fighter before her and every fighter after her, Harrison must prove her worth on the battlefield. Her level of expertise in judo has gotten her to the doorstep of a major MMA promotion with zero fighting experience, but it’s only the first step in becoming a professional fighter. Harrison will have massive pressure on her shoulders to make an impact at 145 pounds in 2017. Lets see if she can rise to the occasion and slice through MMA.

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