[Reprinted with permission from MMA Junkie.]
It sucks regardless of where it happens, how it happens and how much money you make in the process. It sucks even when all the odds are stacked against you.
So, yes, it did suck for Gerald Harris to get submitted by Rafael Lovato Jr. in a little more than a minute at Bellator 198. Even if, just a few days before accepting the bout, Harris was sitting on his couch, doughnut in hand, setting up a reminder to catch the fights on TV.
“They could have paid me $10 million that night, and it still would have hurt me just as much to lose,” Harris told MMAjunkie.
Still, when it comes to the week in which Harris ended his retirement to debut in Bellator, it isn’t the part that sucked that he focuses on.
“People don’t understand, I grew up so poor,” Harris said. “I grew up in projects. I had my toes bucking out my shoes, hand-me-down clothes. So for me to be on Bellator 198 with Fedor Emelianenko, man? Come on, that’s insane. I was just in awe at the moment. I still wanted to win. I wanted to knock (Lovato Jr.) out. But I just – I had so much fun.
“Even fighting, I was so relaxed. My coach is proud of me. He said, ‘I’ve never seen you that loose and excited to fight.’ I was just like, ‘Man, I wanted to capture the moment.’ It could have been my night.”
But there’s something to be said for moral victories. And Harris got his fair share of them on April 28.
Despite the quick ending to the catchweight bout, Harris (25-6 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) went on to sign a multiple-fight deal with Bellator. It continues Friday at Bellator 202 in a MMAjunkie-streamed welterweight prelim against newcomer Yaroslav Amosov (19-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), which takes place at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla.
There were less quantifiable, but certainly not less important consequences to that night, too. Like the fact that more than a decade – and a pair of separate retirement announcements – after his pro MMA debut, Harris still got to enjoy a first-of-its-kind experience.
“This is going to sound so fake, but I never enjoyed fighting until I fought Lovato,” Harris said. “And the reason why: It was the first time in my career that I didn’t feel pressure to win or lose. I felt like the Bellator contract allowed me to have fun. The reason why I retired is because I was fighting on local shows. I was selling tickets. My career wasn’t going anywhere.
“I tore my Achilles tendon, which a lot of people know is a career-ending injury. And I just said, ‘Babe, I’m done. I’m not making any money on these local shows. And I’ll focus on my gym.’ But when Bellator called, it was the call that I needed. I wanted to fight for a major organization. I wanted to make enough money to support my family. And everything happened in one weekend.”
In some ways, Harris didn’t need to come out of retirement. Between a rapidly expanding gym business and his comedy, he was doing OK financially. His pro record wasn’t too shabby, either, with stints in major organizations like the UFC, WSOF and DREAM. He was on a three-fight streak and had managed them even after the type of injury that some high-level athletes never truly bounce back from.
But, with his body back in shape and his name back in conversations, Harris realizes that he did need it in other ways.
Amid the discoveries of his return, for instance, he’s even found out that he has “super fans” – including one who’d passed away from cancer, as Harris would go on to hear from the deceased man’s son.
“You don’t understand the impact you have on people,” Harris said. “And I was about to give that all up. I think I was being a little selfish in my retirement. And not looking forward to what could be.”
It’s not every day that a fighter gets to experience a career resurgence at 38. And yet, here Harris is, fresh off his 20-year high school reunion, with a kid who just graduated, set to unleash his “old man strength” against an opponent who’s only 24.
So far, the thing that’s made this experience so enjoyable is feeling that, with the pressure on specific outcomes gone, Harris can focus on enjoying himself. He gets to, quite simply, have fun – and a fun version of himself, he warns, means bad news for his competition.
Which is not to say that Harris hasn’t set goals for himself. More immediately, he says, he aims to be able entertain people for as long as he can. And, hopefully, that will translate into an post-MMA future in which he’s financially secure.
Between those two things, though, sits a very specific ambition.
“I tell you this, and hopefully we interview another week, another day, another time, is that welterweight grand prix, that would probably – I won’t say probably – that would be my life’s goal, to be in that grand prix,” Harris said.
Harris hasn’t spoken to Bellator brass about the idea of joining their recently announced eight-man tournament. In fact, no names have been officially confirmed, although the likes of Paul Daley, Michael Page and former Bellator champions Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov have been linked to it in early reports.
With only one Bellator outing to date – a losing one, at that –, Harris knows a win on Friday would help. But he also knows better than thinking much further ahead than his tough, unbeaten opponent.
“I’ve got a guy who’s 19-0 and damn near half my age,” Harris said. “I’m focused on him first. I know that’s a possibility, but I just want – like I said, I want to have fun.”
Should he pull it off, though, securing a spot amid the best that Bellator’s 170-pound division has to offer?
“To me, it seems like an honor,” Harris said. “I look at the heavyweight grand prix, and every single one of those guys is considered a legend. I know it’s kind of crazy after a loss. Everybody came up to me: Matt Mitrione had a long talk – I didn’t even know Matt Mitrione knew who I was. And he talked to me, and he was giving me all these good words. ‘Rampage’ (Jackson) and Renzo Gracie, all these big guys were coming up to me like, ‘Hey, it happened. You took the fight on short notice, you’re going to come back stronger.’
“And I’m just like, ‘Man, I want to be a part of this.’ So welterweight grand prix, for me, to be in there? We already know those six guys that are in there. But for me to be put in there? That means Bellator thinks highly of me.”