Short of Chris Leben, whose win over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116 has inspired a mountain of praise from across the MMA community, it’s hard to think of a fighter who did more for his career this past Saturday night than Gerald Harris.
Yes, Brock Lesnar impressed and surprised us all when he not only survived the deadly onslaught of Shane Carwin to retain his UFC Heavyweight Championship, but showed previously unknown submission skills when he used an arm triangle to submit his rival early in Round 2. Sure, Stephan Bonnar extended his career in the Octagon when he TKO’d Krzysztof Soszynski to avenge a not-quite-deserved loss at UFC 110 and score his first win in three years.
Still, when it comes to career advancement, it’s hard to top the “Hurricane.”
After his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest failed to earn him a UFC contract, Harris returned to the regional circuit and fought his way back into the UFC with an impressive win streak. However, despite seven straight wins outside the UFC and a pair of knockout wins since his return, Harris had yet to crack the main card or get any recognition beyond the hardcore fans who are there from the opening bell.
That all changed last Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
When Harris planted opponent Dave Branch on the mat Saturday night with a vicious knockout-inducing slam, he did more than win his third straight fight in the UFC and 10th straight overall. Harris not only picked up a $75,000 bonus check for the Knockout of the Night. He earned the right to be seen on Spike TV, as his fight was a natural addition to Spike’s live prelims after TUF 10 runner up Brendan Schaub demolished Chris Tuchscherer in little more than a minute, and got even more exposure when his slam landed in the Sportscenter Top 10 Plays on Sunday. All told, of the eight TUF alumni who won their fights on Saturday, Harris got one of the biggest wins.
Harris took a few minutes recently to talk to UltimateFighter.com and Bleacher Report.
Just for starters, give us some idea of what life’s been like since that slam on Saturday.
I got about fifteen minutes of fame, and I’m going to stretch the hell out of it (laughs). I’m just enjoying the moment, but I’m not stopping there. I’m going to bigger and better things in the future.
Did anyone tip you off that you were going to be on ESPN? Anyone from the UFC?
No, it just happened. We were in the hotel that night, just chillin’, hanging out with my family and watching ESPN, and we were like, “OH! LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!” And they showed me slamming the guy. We started jumping up and down. It was a great weekend.
What goes through your mind when you see yourself on TV on ESPN, Top 10 Plays on Sportscenter, slamming that guy?
It just doesn’t seem real. It still doesn’t seem real. When I fight, I’m out of character. I’m just a normal guy. I love working hard, I love winning, but when I get in that cage, I’m a totally different person. So, to see myself in that mode, it’s like…I don’t know. It still hasn’t settled in.
It’s kind of a funny thing, because you’d won nine straight going into this, and you couldn’t get on TV. Now you’re all over the place.
It was a blessing to get on TV, and I told everybody. They asked, “When’s the UFC going to put you on the [main] card?” I said, “The UFC doesn’t give you nothing. You’ve got to earn it.” I earned my TV spot that night.
As for the future, I might be on the undercard again. I don’t mind. I don’t care where I fight, I just want to fight. If it’s televised, I’m going to do my thing. If it’s not, I’m going to get it televised. I was blessed that it happened.
Now, after you were on The Ultimate Fighter , you weren’t one of the guys who was invited back for the finale or to fight in the UFC after that. Was that hard to handle?
At the moment, it was hard financially, because I had no financial security. I was living with my mother. I had children to take care of. It was one of the toughest moments of my life when I received the phone call that I was being released. But, I went from nothing to where I am today. I didn’t choose that path – I was forced into it – but it paid off, because I’m the man I am today.
There have been guys who lost in the same round of the competition that you did – like Matt Riddle – who got into the UFC after that. Was it tough to see people who’d done about as well in the competition as you had get that opportunity?
Nah, I wished them the best. I wasn’t ready for the UFC, and I didn’t realize it until a year or two later. I wanted to be in the UFC, but I wouldn’t have been able to do much. Now, I’m a real mixed martial artist, where back then, I was just a wrestler. I felt like Riddle was ready, and so did the UFC. That knockout he had in the opening round was amazing. I believe that was one of the best on the show. He earned it.
Of course, Rampage Jackson put you in there with Amir Sadollah in the prelims , and he wound up winning the whole thing. After that happened, were you ever upset with Rampage for making that matchup, as opposed to giving you someone else, whom you could have gotten past, and gotten into the UFC sooner?
I can’t blame anybody for losing but me. I could easily have beat Amir, been the Ultimate Fighter, and it would be a totally different story. I wanted to fight Amir. I wanted to fight [from] the first pick all the way down. That may not have been the best strategy, but that was my plan, and it didn’t go in my favor.
Did the experience that you had with TUF drive you when you were on the independent circuit?
Yeah. My whole goal – and I told my manager; I managed myself for about a year and a half – when I signed with my manager, I said, “No offense to any other organization, but I want to fight for the UFC. I’m going to keep winning, I’m going to keep fighting guys, and I’m going to get into the UFC.” He said, “OK,” and we stuck with it. There was a moment where we thought we were going to have to go to another organization, ‘cause I didn’t see myself getting in, but I got my chance.
Now that you’ve gotten back in, you’ve certainly made the most of the time. You’ve won three fights since January. What do you see as realistic by the end of the year? You’ve won three fights already; do you see yourself fighting two or three more times by the end of the year?
I would love to fight three more times this year. I’ll fight four if they let me. My body’s healed from the fight. I feel good, I’m ready to go. Being a former wrestler, we wrestle 45, maybe 50 times in three or four months. A fight is just as grinding as a wrestling match, and I’m willing to fight every month if they let me, but with the roster being so thick, they can’t. So, I’ll wait until they call. I figure I’ll get to fight at least one more time this year, but nothing’s guaranteed, so I’m just going to keep training, keep getting better.
In the meantime, do you have any special plans for the Knockout of the Night bonus that you got?
Nah. Just be smart, is what I like to say. It’s like winning the lottery. You’ve got to be careful. It’s so easy to make something good disappear, and I’m not going to do that. I’m a very smart individual when it comes to money. I can make $100 last a month, so I don’t know what I’m going to do with this.
There’s nothing you’re going to get that you can say, “Oh, I got this when I slammed Dave Branch?”
My buddies are laughing at me right now, because I’ve still got my busted sandals on, and I’m still driving my old rusty Nissan. That’s just me, man. I’m a simple person. I’d rather do for others than do for myself. Obviously, I’m going to take care of my family, but I’m just going to be smart. I can’t fight forever, so I want to get into real estate; I want to get into a lot of things, and I’m definitely working on that right now.