Kayla Harrison vs. Aspen Ladd Breakdown

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It’s been quite the week for the PFL as it readies for its fourth championship card on Friday night and the fighters haven’t even gotten to DC yet. Monday morning, four days before the season finale for MMA‘s only league takes place, a rumored merger between the PFL and Bellator MMA was finalized. 

This may be a week where the fights themselves take a backseat to the behind the scenes news of Monday, but there are 12 fights planned for the post-Thanksgiving spectacular in New York City this weekend, including a seven-fight main card. Every single division championship is up for grabs on Black Friday’s pay-per-view, along with a few showcase fights.

Kayla Harrison Returns Friday in Catchweight Showcase Bout

One showcase fight features an anticipated return of the PFL’s former Women’s Lightweight Champion. After dropping a unanimous decision to Larissa Pacheco (22-4 MMA, 11-2 PFL) last year on championship night, Kayla Harrison (15-1 MMA, 14-1 PFL) returns to the scene of her only career defeat when she takes on Aspen Ladd (11-4 MMA, 1-1 PFL 2023).

As per the terms of the contract, the fight is a contracted 150-lb. catchweight. With no championship at stake in this one, it’s an advertised maximum of three rounds at five minutes per round at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds

Heading into this showcase affair, Kayla Harrison stands as the taller contender at 5-foot-8, compared to the 5-foot-6 frame of Aspen Ladd. Both women are level in reach (66 inches apiece), with Harrison owning a two-inch leg reach advantage (41 inches to 39 inches) over Ladd.

As of Monday afternoon, the oddsmakers have Kayla Harrison installed as a -800 favorite on the money line, with Aspen Ladd countering as a +550 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

Will Kayla Harrison Rebound From Last Year’s Defeat?

Kayla Harrison has posted a 4-1 record over her last five fights. A year ago on Black Friday, she suffered her first career defeat inside the cage with a unanimous decision at the hands of the aforementioned Pacheco.

In the wake of Harrison not returning for this year’s tournaments, the PFL eschewed a women’s lightweight competition in 2023. For the former judoka, it’s been a long year of reflection and wondering what would come next.

During an interview earlier this year, she told Ariel Helwani that her loss in the finale was a humbling experience.

“Honestly, [it was] one of the best things to happen to me in terms of my career,” Harrison began. “After I lost, there [were] a lot of underlying things happening, health-wise, personal-wise,  family-wise, and after I lost, I sort of had like a crisis, like a little bit of a crisis. I was this undefeated fighter, I’m the sole provider for my family, I had what I felt like was the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I kind of got to that point where in my opinion, real growth happens. That’s when you just totally say like, “[Expletive deleted] it, I can’t do this on my own anymore, like, I would say surrender. I surrendered.”

12 months after the first loss of her MMA career, can Harrison get back in the win column on Friday night in PFL 10? Watch and find out.

Ladd Ready to Do Battle on Short Notice

In the other corner, Aspen Ladd has gone 2-3 over the last five fights and split her appearances in the regular season this year. Back in June, she stopped Karolina Sobek (4-2 MMA, 0-2 PFL 2023) with a second-round armbar submission as the clock was about to expire.

Initially, Ladd was not scheduled to be Harrison’s adversary on Friday night in New York City. Former Bellator MMA Women’s Featherweight Champion Julia Budd had been slated to fight Harrison until the former withdrew from the card. Subsequently, Budd was cut from the PFL for failure to abide by her contract.

Recently, Aspen Ladd talked about her short-notice fight.

“It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility as far as what we thought could happen,” Ladd said, “like, just in case, we were still preparing for that date. We got the call late last Friday night (Nov. 3). At that point, they still weren’t sure if Julia was fighting or if Julia wasn’t fighting, so they’re basically testing the water with us and getting us ready to go kind of thing. You never know with that, so, obviously we accepted, but we didn’t find out until the day the news broke.”

Having to come in on a few weeks’ notice against a very tough opponent is a tall order. Only time will tell if Aspen Ladd is up for the challenge.

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, this showcase fight looks to favor Kayla Harrison, a former Olympian with a 6th dan black belt in judo, compared to Aspen Ladd’s purple belt in BJJ. Expect the fight to go to the mat.

Kayla Harrison Slick With Submissions

Given Harrison’s background as a judoka, it stands to reason that she’ll try to lock up a submission at the first opportunity. Martina Jindrova found this out the hard way last year.

In the first round of a scheduled three, the fighters bided their time until Harrison snatched a takedown and took side control. It was a refrain that was sung before, as Kayla Harrison kept up the pressure on Jindrova, securing an arm-triangle choke in just over three minutes.

If Kayla Harrison dumps Aspen Ladd just once, this fight is a wrap, but Ladd is a tough customer in her own right.

Ladd Can End Things Abruptly

In the other corner, Aspen Ladd has been known to write a quick, emphatic finish to the story. One need look no further than her 2019 fight against Yana Kunitskaya during UFC Washington.

Right from the command to fight in the third and final round, Ladd knocked Kunitskaya down with a single, crisp punch. Drawing on the advice from her cornerman, she poured it on with copious punches.

Kunitskaya had no answer for Ladd’s attacks and referee Keith Peterson waved off the contest after just 33 seconds of action. All it takes for Aspen Ladd to win on Friday night is to land one solid punch right on the money.

Final Thoughts

While not for a championship, this showcase bout at PFL 10 is just as anticipated. You’ve got two seasoned veterans in the cage fighting for pride. Who takes it?

Prediction: Kayla Harrison by Unanimous Decision. 

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018, coming to MMASucka after stints at Overtime Heroics and Armchair All-Americans. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew is a charter member of the Youngstown Press Club. Prior to beginning his professional career, Drew was a sportswriter for YSU's student-run newspaper, The Jambar, where he supplied Press Box Perspective columns every week.

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