"People did expect me to win, but it wasn’t expected for me to do this
well, because I know a lot of guys who are way more talented than I am
and they didn’t have as good of a run as I’m having right now. But one
thing I can’t do is pat myself on the back and look at the past."
If you look at his driver’s license, it says Gerald Harris. When Bruce Buffer introduces him on fight night, you can add the nickname ‘Hurricane’ to the mix. But to the average Joe on the street, the rising middleweight star is referred to as another name.
“I’m the dude that slammed the dude,” laughs Harris. “They don’t even know my name. They’re like ‘hey, you’re the dude that slammed the dude on ESPN.’”
That’s the price you pay for knocking out Dave Branch with a slam back at UFC 116 in July, an act that earned Harris instant fame after the clip of the finishing sequence made its way into heavy rotation on ESPN. And that’s just fine with the Tulsa native, mainly because with his third UFC victory this year, he was able to erase another, less flattering, image and name.
I used to be that dude who got kneed in the face on that reality show, so I finally jumped over that hump, and very rarely do I get emails about it,” laughs Harris, referring to his ouster from The Ultimate Fighter season seven competition courtesy of Amir Sadollah’s knee. “I needed something to get past that. It’s two years later, come on. (Laughs) I finally got a new ‘dude’ nickname, so I like it.”
Well, he’s earned it. Sent to the local circuit after his TUF7 appearance, Harris didn’t bitch and moan about being passed over. He bit down on his mouthpiece and got back to work to the tune of seven straight wins before getting called to the big show. And when he arrived, he kept the same work ethic and hard-nosed attitude, winning all three of his Octagon bouts (against Branch, John Salter, and Mario Miranda) by knockout. And just like that, this “new” guy has become the odds on favorite as UFC rookie of the year for 2010.
“I’ll be 31 in a couple weeks, so I don’t consider myself a rookie, but I’m a rookie to the UFC for sure,” he said. “I feel as if I was playing football overseas and I finally went to the NFL, I would still be considered a rookie.”
Now he’s in MMA’s Super Bowl, and eager to keep the momentum going when he steps back into action this Saturday night against newcomer Maiquel Falcao. It’s the fourth straight debutant Harris will be welcoming to the Octagon, and he has been far from a gracious host.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea for those guys,” he said, with three knockouts of the previous trio to prove it. Chute Boxe’s Falcao is no fight game neophyte though, as his 25-3, 1 NC record demonstrates. Of course, many of the names on that record don’t exactly jump off the page, but it doesn’t matter to Harris.
“At least he wasn’t 0-25,” he laughs. “He was better than the other guys. But I don’t judge anybody by their record or by who they beat. I can look at a guy who’s 5-0 and he beat five UFC champions and I’m not gonna be any more nervous for him than a guy that fought five guys who were 0-0. You never know who you’re getting in there with.”
And fighting someone who hasn’t been in the big show before makes scouting even more of a chore.
“It’s a lot more difficult because the UFC guys, you can get film on them easy,” said Harris. “All these guys, it’s whatever they put on youtube, and all his stuff’s pretty old. It reminds me of the local show days where you don’t get a lot of video on guys. It doesn’t bother me; we’re going in there kinda blind and they’ve probably got a lot of video on us, but we do what we can. I focus on what I’m gonna do and not on what he’s gonna do.”
With a victory, Harris will move to 17-2 overall and 4-0 for 2010 in the UFC. It’s been quite a run thus far, one that may have snuck up on some people. But not on Harris and his team.
“(It surprised) Everybody except for my trainer (Machoe “Peppe” Johnson), who really believes in me more than anything, and my mom and my dad, and you know how they are. People did expect me to win, but it wasn’t expected for me to do this well, because I know a lot of guys who are way more talented than I am and they didn’t have as good of a run as I’m having right now. But one thing I can’t do is pat myself on the back and look at the past. I want to stay hungry and that’s my main thing.”
His success has also had an added benefit, which is giving his family something to feel good about it after the tragic death of Gerald’s older brother Corey, who was killed while riding his motorcycle by a teenage driver in March of 2009. A week later, Harris fought and knocked out David Knight in a single round.
“I took some time off after that because it was really hard,” said Harris. “I didn’t fight for a long time and they called me and said my next fight (against Nissen Osterneck) is September 12th. I called the family and they were like ‘oh, we get to see you fight again.’ There were like 50 of us. Then I call my mom and she got quiet – it was on his birthday.”
Harris did his brother proud once again that night, knocking out UFC vet Osterneck in just 46 seconds. His next fight would be in the UFC, and he still looks to his brother to inspire him.
“To this day, it provides motivation,” said Harris quietly. “I do wish he was here to witness all this, and that’s the only thing that hurts the most.”
If you get a chance to talk to Gerald Harris, you’ll like him instantly, not only for his sense of humor but for his humble approach to the game. And while he grabs inspiration from his brother’s memory, he gives it back tenfold to younger fighters looking for their big break.
“That’s key to my success,” he said. “It’s not a confidence thing, it’s just the way I am. I think I give a lot of inspiration to the guys on the local circuit to show them ‘hey, you can make it.’ I didn’t win the Ultimate Fighter show, I went back, fought on the local shows, and I’ve got a lot of hardcore fans.”
That fanbase is growing, and by 2011, he hopes everyone’s going to know his real name.
“Next year, hopefully, I’ll be ‘Hurricane,’” he smiles. “But this year I’m gonna be that dude.”