Everything to Gain

By: Josh Gross
Nov 20, 2020

Kayla Harrison has been itching to fight all year. The same goes for Courtney King. They will get their chance when the bell rings to start their Invicta Fighting Championships 43 main event on Friday in Kansas City, Kansas.

The three-round featherweight contest features Harrison at 145 pounds for the first time after spending the last two years dominating opponents as a lightweight. The well-known two-time Olympic gold medal-winning judoka and current Professional Fighters League star pushed manager Ali Abdelaziz to secure a fight outside the PFL after the league’s third season was postponed until the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In late September, Abdelaziz put out feelers to Invicta President Shannon Knapp. Might she be open to promoting a one-off bout between Harrison (7-0) and one of her fighters at 145 pounds? At a time when the coronavirus has limited Invicta to a bi-monthly event schedule, Knapp was willing to participate if it made sense for featherweights already on the roster.

“When they approached me and they were looking for an opponent, I thought, ‘Who would match up well with her?’” Knapp said this week. “They were willing to fight anyone. They weren’t selective. Courtney wanted the fight, and she was ready. That’s how it went down. We didn’t talk about it in the context of a huge opportunity. It was more like, ‘This is a fight that’s available for you. How do you feel about this?’”

King, 27, admitted she was excited for all the reasons one can imagine. The chance to fight an undefeated opponent of Harrison’s profile is incentive enough. Knapp went further by confirming that a win would shoot King up the promotion’s list of featherweight contenders and “changes the game” when it comes to giving her an Invicta title shot. As she prepares to make her sixth walk as a pro, King has been an afterthought and an underdog before. In her professional debut, she faced fellow debutant Colbey Northcutt—the sister of headline grabber Sage Northcutt.

“There was a lot of hype around her and it was fine, but I was always kind of sad reading articles and they would mention my last name and that was it,” King joked. “I was like, oh, well, OK. I’ll just wait until I fight her. So, it’s a little similar, I guess. There’s a lot of hype and articles around Harrison.”

In advance of Invicta 43 (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET), King focused on the attitude that preceded her second-round stoppage of Northcutt. She had six weeks to prepare for Harrison, arguably the most accomplished and physically formidable female in MMA, and maintains the confidence of a three-fight winning streak from 2019.

“It’s all up to Courtney,” said Knapp, who argued that the underdog has the skill, the grit and the training to pull off the upset. “I certainly would not have sacrificed one of my own. Their experience in MMA matches well.”

King has succeeded against grapplers and she favors positional control from the top, but this may prove difficult against a true apex predator on the other side of the cage.

“I think I do pretty well, just speaking for myself,” King said. “Most of the time, I just go with it. I actually really like judo. I think it’s fun. Obviously, I’m not an Olympic person, but I love it—the trips, the throws. I like to see where it goes, but I really want a finish. It doesn’t matter to me if we’re standing or on the ground. I just want to get it done.”

Generally speaking, King came to sports late. She wanted nothing to do with soccer or softball when she was a child. During her sophomore year at Colorado State University, a friend of a friend introduced King to Z’s Training Gym in Fort Collins. She has not stopped engaging with MMA since 2014.

Harrison’s path to MMA hits differently. A two-time million-dollar-winner with the PFL who made Olympic history prior to switching tracks to MMA in 2018, she has dominated a relatively thin field of opposition at lightweight. Now 30, it makes sense for Harrison to experiment at 145 pounds, because that is where the money fights for her could get made.

Eager to represent Invicta Fighting Championships, King indicated she would face anyone Knapp offered to her.

“I think definitely Harrison will be a tough opponent, but I don’t think she’ll be the toughest person ever,” King said. “I’ve been hit pretty hard and thrown pretty hard. I don’t view this fight too much as a test. I guess I’m just hoping it’s worthy of being the main event of Invicta. I hope it’s a fun fight for everyone to watch, and obviously, I want to win. I’m going to try to make that happen the best that I can.”
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