Olympic champ looks to win big, grow upstart league

By Dan Gelston  // AP Sports Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) Kayla Harrison made an Army veteran tap out and moved closer to cashing in on the richest fight of her pro career: her search for gold over, Harrison can stake her claim to $1 million in the PFL (Professional Fighters League) Championship.

Harrison, a two-time judo Olympic gold medalist, has been the face of the MMA promotion that pushes playoffs and a championship format that ends Dec. 31 in New York with a $1 million prize for each of its six weight class champions.

Harrison (5-0) expects to ring in the New Year a champion, and a submission win over Morgan Frier on Thursday night helped clinch the No. 2 seed in the women’s lightweight division. Sarah Kaufman, a former UFC fighter, holds the top spot in the points standings and could be on course for a championship fight against Harrison.

“It’s going to be the PFL’s dream,” Harrison yelled inside the cage, “and I’m going to be a millionaire!”

The PFL held the first of three straight regular-season cards at Ovation Hall (inside Ocean Casino Resort) that would set the playoff field for three fight nights in October in Las Vegas. The top eight fighters in the five men’s divisions have to win two bouts in one night to earn a berth in the finals.

Launched last season out of the ashes of World Series of Fighting, the PFL entered a second season with the championship bouts set to run this year at the Hulu Theatre in Madison Square Garden on ESPN2. PFL, which counts comedian Kevin Hart among its celebrity investors, reached a multi-year deal with the network to air fights on ESPN and the streaming ESPN-plus service‚ the same TV home as industry leader UFC.

The 29-year-old Harrison was the main attraction of an eight-fight card (Kaufman was a walkover winner) that had early bouts run on ESPN-plus and four fights in primetime on ESPN2.

Still very raw in the cage, PFL has built a 155-pound division around Harrison. No U.S. judoka‚ male or female‚ had ever won an Olympic gold medal before Harrison beat Britain’s Gemma Gibbons to win the women’s 78-kilogram and under division at the 2012 Olympics in London. She won gold again four years later at the Rio de Janeiro Games and made her MMA debut last year.

All Harrison cares about is the next fight, and some big bucks in her pocket to go with the gold around her neck.