Gerald Harris laughs when he tells you, “I’m not a fighter.” In fact, he goes even further to say “The last fight I had was in the sixth grade.”
Those are statements the 15 people he’s already beaten in his four year mixed martial arts career would probably take issue with, but as he explains, “I don’t like fighting. I just love winning, I love competition. It’s the closest thing I can get to wrestling, and I can’t explain what a victory feels like. A knockout is like a game-winning shot or touchdown and I’m addicted to that feeling.”
And he’s damn good at finding that feeling pretty regularly these days. Winner of nine in a row dating back to 2007, Harris has also knocked out his last four opponents, including a 46 second blitz of UFC vet Nissen Osterneck, and back to back UFC TKOs over John Salter and Mario Miranda. Not bad for a guy who started fighting just to pick up a couple bucks on the side after graduating from Cleveland State University.
“It was pretty much to pay bills,” said Harris of his early days in the sport. “It wasn’t a hobby, I wasn’t training, I didn’t have a gym. ‘I can make some money on the side,’ that’s what MMA was to me.”
Harris’ wrestling ability got him to a 7-2 record and a spot on The
Ultimate Fighter’s seventh season, but then his roof caved in after
losing to Sadollah.
“I was so ignorant to MMA; all I knew was wrestling, even on The Ultimate Fighter,” he said. “I was training at a high school wrestling gym when I was on The Ultimate Fighter, but when I lost to Amir I made some changes in my life. I made some business decisions and I truly focused a hundred percent on MMA. People always ask me if I want a rematch (with Sadollah) or if I want to get him, and I’m like ‘nah, he did me a favor.’ So after that loss and I didn’t win The Ultimate Fighter, which I wasn’t ready to anyway, I really made a conscious effort toward taking this seriously.”
He hasn’t lost since, and in addition to talent and dedication, Harris has also used a wanderer’s approach to the fight game, traveling around the globe to learn new things to add to his game.
“In the past, I traveled so much and I loved it,” said Harris, who now calls the Grudge Training Center and Ghost Dog Gym his two training homes. “I love learning from different people and I didn’t like being in one place and repeating the cycle over and over. I’ve been everywhere – overseas, all across the country, from east to west coast – and I learn something new everywhere I go. Not to be rude, but I can work with the weakest guy in the gym and learn something, and I can go with the best guy in the gym and learn something. I could be sparring with a guy considered to be weak and he can catch me with something, and I’m like ‘whoa, how’d you catch me with that?’ And now I’ve got a new move. So I’m doing nothing but adding to my arsenal when I travel.”
The call to the UFC came late last year, and as he stepped off the scale the day before his Octagon debut against late replacement John Salter, UFC President Dana White shook his hand and told him the words he had been waiting to hear since 2008: “You got your shot.”
“It wasn’t pressure, I liked it, and he knows how hard I worked,” said Harris. “I built myself up, built a little fan base and you can’t come in there and lose – not by decision, not by tap out. I had to win, and it served as motivation for me. I didn’t freeze up, I didn’t choke, and I felt good out there.”
Harris took Knockout of the Night honors for his third round TKO of Salter, and then took less than a round to halt Miranda two months later. On Saturday, he looks to make it 3-0 when he tackles his third straight Octagon newcomer, Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt David Branch.
“I know Renzo brings the best out of people,” said Harris. “I actually fought a Renzo guy a couple years ago, Fabio Leopoldo, so I know what to expect. I know that nobody in the UFC is gonna be a pushover, and I know that with Renzo and the Gracie family, when you attach that to anybody, you definitely have to step your game up, so we’ll be ready.”
And regardless of Branch’s experience level, the first time Octagon jitters, and all the other factors that may swing the pre-fight prognostications in Harris’ favor, this is one “Hurricane” who is calm not only in the eye of the storm, but everywhere.
“People may not believe it, but I learned from yesterday, I focus on today, and prepare for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t even know how many fights I’ve won in a row, I’m very grateful to be 2-0 in the UFC, but that’s the past; if I don’t keep working, I can’t keep that up. I just go out there and beat whoever they put out there, and I’m gonna keep that attitude the whole time. I’m just staying humble and staying focused.”
Sounds like a fighter to me. But for argument’s sake, what did happen in that sixth grade fight?
“We’re good friends now,” he laughs. “I’m gonna call it a tie.”