"Interesting statement from Dave Branch's corner. They said 'five minutes -- it takes you less than that to finish most people.' Gerald Harris isn't 'most people.'" - Joe Rogan, UFC 116
Gerald Harris didn't have an easy road to the UFC. He didn't have an easy road once he got there either. Or after, for that matter.
Harris got into mixed martial arts by chance, more because he needed to than wanted to. He was walking two miles to the gym, when his friend and eventual manager Scott Nickerson told him he could earn $600 by winning a fight.
"I told him I needed to do some roofing, or cut some grass because my car broke down, and I was walking like two miles to the gym," Harris said with a smile you could hear even over the phone. "He said 'why don't you fight?' I said I hadn't fought since sixth grade. He said 'They'll give you $600!,' and I said 'sign me up!' He didn't tell me it was $300 and $300. I had to win the other $300."
With the winnings, Harris was able to purchase a Mustang that barely functioned, but it got the eventual "Hurricane" to and from his job to support himself.
"One door didn't roll down, the windows didn't roll down, the heat didn't work, the AC didn't work , the windshield wipers didn't work. My door was the only door that worked. You had to pull up on it with pliers, but it drove," Harris said
Harris started his career at 7-0, piling up the wins in only eight months. Harris was given a spot in the ill-fated IFL where his undefeated streak would end in a controversial split decision loss to Fabio Leopoldo. A loss to the much more experienced Benji Radach led to Harris having to fight on the regional circuit yet again -- but not for long.
In a matter of months, Harris was selected to appear on the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter reality series. He was selected by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and was featured alongside Matt Brown, Fightful.com's Matt Riddle, eventual big-name nutritionist Mike Dolce, CB Dollaway and others. Harris defeated Mike Marello with relative ease to get into the "TUF House."
Harris lost his preliminary round fight to eventual TUF winner Amir Sadollah, but it was the relationship that Harris formed with Jackson that really paid off. The two became friends, and Harris said that he looked at Jackson as an older brother.
The relationship was an important one for Harris. Back on the regional circuit after coming up short on The Ultimate Fighter, tragedy struck the Harris family. In March 2009, Harris' brother Corey was killed in an auto accident when a driver struck him on his motorcycle. Harris fought only 8 days later, knocking his opponent out in just under 100 seconds. The friendship forged with the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jackson helped Harris personally and professionally.
"Rampage is literally like a big brother to me, especially after I lost my oldest brother," Harris explained. "Rampage is probably 6 months older than me, but the guy took me under his wing, and took care of me. He knew I was never using him, I was always there for the guy. I consider him a brother for real, because of the way he treated me. He saw a lot of himself in me. Rampage is probably one of the realest friends I got. I do thank that guy for all he's done for me. I went and helped him with his takedown defense. I'm a southpaw, and he had a couple of possible opponents that were southpaws. He always took care of me, and he didn't have to."
Harris, who was dubbed "Little Rampage," would fly out to England and train with Jackson for several months, and later be called in to help a couple of Rampage's teammates train for fights. Still, Harris was looking for his shot. He was a 14-2 professional fighter, winning six straight fights since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter. The creative Harris took it upon himself to make sure UFC President Dana White knew who he was.
"What I did was called up (to MMA Junkie radio with Dana White on it.) and (in a British accent) said 'Hello mate, I think you should bring that Gerald Harris guy back, he was awesome,' and he was like 'Yeah! That Gerald Harris guy, I remember him!' and I was like 'man, this IS Gerald Harris.' The whole studio started busting out laughing. Mind you, I called about 50 times to get through. I was like 'what do I do?' I can't just call and beg to get back in, so the prank stuck with him. I will never forget it, he text me about a week later and said ' I'm on it bro.' a week after that, I was signed. I had just knocked out Nissen Osterneck and took a last second fight on six day's notice," Harris recalls.
The aptly nicknamed "Hurricane" didn't disappoint. He knocked out John Salter and earned "Knockout of the Night" honors. He finished the then-undefeated Mario Miranda in the first round. Then the big one -- a highlight reel slam knockout of Dave Branch at UFC 116 that was shown on highlight reels around the world, including ESPN. That one earned him "Knockout of the Night" honors, too.
"That was probably (one of) the greatest nights of my life in mixed martial arts," Harris said. "I worked so hard to be there. Daniel Cormier was my corner man that night, he forgot my banner (laughs)! He taught me so much that week. I've never publicly thanked him, but he's the reason why I slammed Branch that night. That slam alone was a position me and Daniel had worked on against the cage."
Things looked great for Harris. 3-0 in the UFC's Middleweight division with two knockout bonuses. A fight with UFC newcomer Maiquel Falcao at UFC 123 was looked at as many fans by a step back for Harris. As it turns out, it was probably the biggest setback in his MMA career.
"I get like Maiquel Falcao, who was like 26-4 with 25 finishes, with no video, none! I gotta fight these guys blind, but they have video on me. That's why I was so hesitant when I fought, I didn't know if Falcao was orthodox, southpaw, good right hand, good kicks. That's hard, man," Harris said.
The fight was a disaster for almost all involved. It's considered one of the more boring fights in UFC history, going all three rounds. It's a minor miracle that the fight even went the distance. In a testament to his toughness, Harris says he was actually out in the first round.
"I got knocked out in the first round," Harris remembers. "I woke up in the third round, and since I won the third round, I thought I had won the fight. I didn't really wake up until I did my drug test. You go into a trance, just airplane mode. He comes in with this blazing combo in the first round, and I'm out. He woke me up with hammer fist."
The fight was odd for many reasons -- there was a clock error early in the fight, and many thought that Harris had actually submitted at one point.
"I hate this rumor. I watched the fight a thousand times, and I never submitted. Did I grab his wrist? Yeah. I never tapped, I gave a thumbs up. I would never fake tap, ever. I would never disrespect the Gracie family like that.," Harris vehemently said.
Despite the performance and dropping the fight, Harris was 3-1 in the UFC. So when the UFC announced his release three days after UFC 123, the mixed martial arts world was shocked. So was Harris, and understandably so. It was called by many the worst UFC cut of all time. There were rumors that maybe there was more to the situation. If so, that information never surfaced. How could this happen?
"I have so much respect for the people in the UFC, and if I say anything, it feels like I'm bad-mouthing them, but I'll explain. One of the highest people involved in the UFC walked up to me as I go up to my van limping, hurt and says 'You fought your ass off, I've never seen somebody run like that before, you're safe.' Looked me dead in my eye, and that Tuesday I got cut. It was wrong, I didn't deserve it," Harris said, with a sound of disappointment in his voice.
The uproar didn't change the UFC's mind. Harris was gone, and wouldn't return. Nobody from the company has spoken at length on the record about the situation. We were told the company wasn't happy with the fight, and it was a financial decision -- those that would speak out thought it was a warning shot from the UFC. They were making an example of Harris.
"After I got cut from the UFC, I struggled," Harris said, mentioning that he broke his hand several times. Harris continued on. His profession was fighting, but he wanted more out of life, and his career.
Harris' MMA success continued in Legacy Fighting, in Japan for DREAM, as well as Tachi Palace Fights. In 2012, the upstart World Series of Fighting came calling. Harris would drop his first fight against Josh Burkman, but was a part of a blossoming Welterweight division that included Jake Shields, Jon Fitch, Rousimar Palhares and other big names. After a one-sided victory over Jorge Santiago, the WSOF said they had 'big fights' planned for Harris. Those fights never came. Even though Harris said he got along well with the WSOF brass, their priorities didn't match up.
"What was best for them wasn't what was best for me. I signed to fight Jon Fitch and Rousimar Palhares, and both fights were taken away and given to somebody else. I was upset and I retired. I literally signed contracts, training for the fight and got that phone call saying 'Palhares can't take the fight, we have to give him a title fight.' They gave me a little money to get by, but I was tired of being put on the back burner. I know I'm not an A-list fighter name wise, but I felt like I had earned my spot, I wanted to get that big name fight," Harris said. "It left a bad taste in my mouth after what happened with the UFC."
Harris retired from MMA, but it wasn't a sob story. In the years since he gave up slamming opponents through the cage, Harris has taken a completely different path -- making people laugh as a stand-up comedian. He showed off some of that wit and humor when asked about former foe Dave Branch.
Branch, who Harris had his most famous MMA moment against, had went on to great success. Branch, like Harris, signed with WSOF, and became a champion in the light heavyweight and middleweight ranks. Harris joked that even though he made headlines by knocking out Branch, he doesn't want to give Branch a re-match.
"Hell nah! He'd kick my ass now. I'm done. That was six years ago, he was a much different fighter. It's like the Stephan Bonnar/Forrest Griffin type of thing -- don't do a part two. Then he might slam my ass through the mat and we'd have to have a third one," Harris laughed. "I like to leave my legacy where it was."
Harris doesn't really exploit his MMA past or career in his stand-up material. However, he says that comedy is something that comes naturally to him.
"I've been a comedian all my life, class clown since elementary school. I have a bold sense of humor. It's taken me so many years to master my craft. I talk about my life, it's not really punchlines, it's the truth. I'm finally, at age 36, getting that hard laughter. My career's taking off and I love it, and I'm still a high school teacher," Harris said.
It doesn't end there. Harris is also a part-time color commentator and analyst for multiple regional promotions, owns his own training facility, and hosts comedy events. A lot of people say they stay busy after MMA, Harris actually does it.
"I've been getting booked back-to-back-to-back. Even in high school I was a multi-tasker, I had school from 8-3, before school I would work out, we'd have wrestling practice, I would go straight to work from 4-11. I've always been a multi-tasker," Harris told Fightful. "It was in my blood. My mom worked three jobs, my dad was always working."
Harris went the traditional MMA fighter route, post-career, too. He opened a gym, it didn't work out. Fortunately for him, the persistence led to Harris opening a new training facility in June, and quickly gained over 100 members. Even though he has a slammed schedule and is doing well, he briefly entertained the idea of an MMA return on Facebook around the time The Hurricane Training Center opened. Some thought it was a publicity stunt, others thought Harris genuinely missed the cage.
"Financially, I'm doing good," Harris explained. "But I come from a fighting salary where I make more money in one night than I do all year teaching or getting paid once a month doing shows here and there. It was a financially motivated move, I was like 'I'll go to the UFC, knock a few guys out, make some money,' and I was talked out of it by a friend. If I do a fight, you always have another fight in you. If you win you say 'I can still do this.' If you lose, you say 'I gotta win one more."
Harris said that a friend reminded him that he broke his hand in his last fight in WSOF, and that being around and healthy for his children ultimately outweighed the potential money involved in an MMA return. For now, Harris will stick to splitting sides instead of breaking faces, teaching boxing instead of utilizing it in the cage, and educating instead of fighting.
"I'm of the belief that if something bad happens, something good happens. If I hadn't been cut by the UFC, I don't think my comedy career is where it is now. I love comedy more than I love fighting. Me getting cut from the UFC pushed me back to the microphone. I love what I do." said Harris.
It's easy to say that Gerald Harris got a raw deal in MMA– because he did. But for all of the valleys Gerald Harris experienced, he's found even more peaks. You won't catch people crying for Harris, you'll catch them laughing along with him.
That was to be the end of Fightful.com's long-form feature on Gerald "Hurricane" Harris. We'd planned a July release to coincide with the launch of the site. As has been the story throughout his entire career, MMA and Gerald Harris had different plans. The TUF alumni, the WSOF and UFC standout came out of retirement shortly after we spoke to him.
Harris was inspired. Fighting didn't have to be his whole life. He has a wife, a budding comedy career, a new gym. He's happy teaching, not allowing his happiness to depend upon the outcome inside the cage. Oh yeah, he may or may not have been inspired by former Cleveland State University teammate Stipe Miocic becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
"I went so crazy at Buffalo Wild Wings, people probably thought I was his biggest fan ever. Stipe was the toughest training partner I had in my life in wrestling," Harris said. "We pushed each other. He didn't want to fight, he wanted to box, I think that helped him. I'm so proud of that guy. He's the same dude. He wins a UFC Championship then will call you one day."
It would appear seeing his friend succeed put Harris at ease.
"To me, fighting is not ‘do or die.’ When I was fighting in 2010, every fight, I was just paying bills, and I was afraid to lose. That’s why my fights weren’t so exciting. I was afraid to lose. A lot of guys can relate to that," Harris told MMA Junkie when he announced his return.
He petitioned to get on The Ultimate Fighter season 25 -- it was rumored to feature welterweights and former UFC talents at that.
"I need my friends, family, and fans to help me prove that I am qualified for this upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter. A closed mouth never gets fed, so I am making a public plea to the UFC for the opportunity of a lifetime. This season will feature former UFC fighters in a "Comeback" season which was one of their most watched season ever followed up by Matt Serra's upset of George St. Pierre," Harris wrote.
No word. He offered to take no fewer than a half dozen different fights on short notice. Nothing. It appeared as if event after three years away from the cage, Harris was still in the same boat.
Former friends and foes took notice. Fightful's Matt Riddle -- and TUF 7 castmate -- spoke about Harris' return on an October edition of the Fightful.com podcast saying. "If I'm anyone, and I take a fight against Gerald Harris on late notice, I'm worried I might not win that fight"
But Harris wasn't getting that fight, at least in the UFC. Instead, Legacy Fighting Championships, which will soon merge with Resurrection Fighting Alliance to become the LFA, gave Harris a shot. Harris' opponent, Aaron Cobb, has faced a layoff of his own. Fighting for the first time in years, Cobb has won three of his last four fights, all by finish. Between his time as a pro and amateur, Cobb has put together a 9-4 record.
Cobb may have woken a sleeping giant, however. When Harris was seeking a fight, Cobb called "Hurricane" out on Twitter. It didn't stop there, however, as Harris felt Cobb was disrespectful in the way he tried to gas up the fight.
On December 2, in front of his hometown fans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harris will shoulder the weight of main eventing in front of friends and family on a nationally televised event. Harris will seek redemption, at least inside of the cage. Most people would have just let it slide. Gerald Harris isn't most people.
Update 4/25/18-- After defeating Cobb -- who showed up grossly overweight and forced Harris up two weight divisions, Gerald would go on to defeat two more opponents in 2017 before retiring. However, this week, he was presented a short-notice opportunity to replace John Salter against undefeated Rafael Lovato Jr. in a 188-pound catchweight bout at Bellator 198.