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"TUF" vet Gerald Harris' latest victory earned along with his biggest loss

by John Morgan on Apr 12, 2009 at 2:02 pm ET

For Gerald Harris (11-2), there was no more holding back.

Seven days of suppressing his emotions – hiding his pain to help keep his family strong – had taken its toll. Standing in the cage, his hand raised in victory, the time had come to let it all out.

"I didn't cry for seven days," Harris recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "I just held it in. There were times where I was hitting the bag, and it would just pop in my head that my brother was dead and I wanted to cry. But as soon as I knocked that dude out, I busted out in tears."

Honestly, I don't think I was ready

Harris first came to public prominence as a cast member of "The Ultimate Fighter 7: Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest."

Harris earned his way into the house with a victory over Mike Marrello, but he would lose in the next round to eventual-champion Amir Sadollah.

"It was pretty crazy," Harris said of his time on the show. "I didn't have a problem with the TV, but more than that it was just the opportunity. It kind of seemed a little bit unreal, from watching it on TV to actually being in that position.

"It was a really good opportunity. I didn't get the ultimate goal, but it definitely changed my life going through what I went through."

Despite an admirable performance against Sadollah, Harris wasn't asked back for the show's finale. The 29-year-old admits he was a bit surprised, but he now believes it was for the best.

"I was (surprised I wasn't asked back) when I was in that mentality, but I'm not in that mentality anymore," Harris said. "Honestly, I don't think I was ready.

"It was a blessing in disguise because if I would have won that show – and I could have with the talents I had back then – I don't think I would be as good as I am right now."

Harris said it was the reality of his failure that forced him to improve.

"Sometimes when you win, you don't really focus on what you need to work on," Harris said. "You're kind of like, 'I'm getting by.' But I'm a totally better fighter now.

"It was hard to deal with at the time, financially and mentally. One, I wanted to be in the UFC. Two, I needed to make a living. But in the long-run, it paid off. Being on the show, I got great exposure and experience. I'm still good friends with (UFC light heavyweight Quinton) 'Rampage' Jackson. I got a lot of good things out of that show."

Everything happens for a reason

Following his exit from "The Ultimate Fighter," Harris relocated to Arizona Combat Sports. Through his ties to Jackson, he was also invited to assist in training camps at the U.K.'s quickly growing Wolfslair.

Harris said the exposure to such world-class training has helped him evolve as much mentally as it has physically.

"Honestly, I had the wrong mentality going into 'The Ultimate Figher,'" Harris said. "I was all bout wanting to be in the UFC and making money. There's more to it than that. When I was in (UFC middleweight Michael) Bisping's camp and 'Rampage's' camp, I saw a whole different light.

"Back then, I was just kind of like, 'Yeah, I came up short.' But the guy who beat me won the whole thing. Some people, if they lose, they want to see the person that beat them go far because it makes them look good. I never thought like that. I was like, 'Damn, that could have been me.'"

Harris still has great respect for Sadollah. He has come to understand it was simply not time for him to shine.

"I give [sadollah] his props, but everything happens for a reason," Harris said. "That's so easy to say, but it's so true."

I've got to stay strong

Since leaving the show, Harris has won six-straight contests. Fighting in small shows in Oklahoma, Harris said he has endured some strange happenings.

"I've been through some stuff," Harris said. "I've fought six times, and I've had some crazy experiences. Opponents backing out at the last minute. Fighting in the rain. I mean, It's straight up raining outside and I'm fighting this dude. It's funny, but I love it. I just love to get out there and compete after all that hard training.

"Plus, I'm a very humble person. I'll fight in your backyard if it's sanctioned. If the commission is there, I'm kicking somebody's ass. I don't care who's in the crowd."

Of course, when Harris entered the cage on the evening of March 28, he did care who was in the crowd. The events of the previous seven days had guaranteed that fact.

"The Saturday before a fight, at least in my case, is always a very hard day of training," Harris said. "You've got seven days until your fight, so you want to make sure you're ready.

"I had a great day of practice. Everything was just going almost too good. I even saw one of my other brothers at the grocery store. We were hanging out, playing and laughing – wrestling at the grocery store. I get home, and about 10 minutes later, he's banging on my door. He comes busting in the house screaming, 'Corey's dead! Corey's dead!'"

"Corey" was Harris' oldest brother, 36-year-old Georgia resident Corey Williams. A teenage driver making a quick left turn had collided with Williams' motorcycle, killing him instantly.

"It was hard to believe," Harris said. "My brother's yelling, 'Corey's dead!' I'm like, 'What are you saying? Corey who?' I'm trying to psych myself out and not say my oldest brother."

The scene got even more stressful when Harris spoke with his mother.

"I'm like, 'Oh, man, I can't cry,'" Harris said. "The first thing in my head is like, 'I've got to stay strong.' But then my momma calls.

"That was the hardest part. She's screaming, 'My, baby! No!'

"Nobody wants to hear their mom cry. With her crying so hard, it was a little relief to be strong for her. I didn't want to be on the phone crying with her and make her feel worse, so I had to be strong for her."

My brother is "Hurricane"

While his mother and brother traveled to Georgia to attend the funeral, Harris remained in Oklahoma in order to prepare a memorial service so that friends and family unable to travel could also pay their final respects.

"I stayed in Oklahoma by myself, and I worked on his memorial service," Harris said. "I've never done anything like this before in my life, but I had worked on some events in college where I knew how to coordinate things.

"So I got his obituary designed. I got all his information together. I got the church. I got the pastor from the church. I got somebody to sing. And I'm doing this the week of the fight. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking about the fight."

Naturally, Harris had put mixed martial arts in the back of his mind. But a call from his sister-in-law made him reconsider.

"The Thursday before the fight, Corey's wife called me," Harris said. "She talked to me and thanked me for doing the memorial service.

"Corey never got to see me fight. He was supposed to come see me fight one time, but they canceled the event. It was a small show. But his wife said that not too long before he passed away, he called a local radio station. He called in to try and win some tickets to an MMA show because he'd never been to one. He actually won, and they said, 'Why are you so happy?' because he was all pumped up on the phone. He said, 'Man my brother is 'Hurricane.' That's why. I got a brother named 'Hurricane.' Ya'll don't know about him?'

"He was like one of my biggest fans."

With that call, Harris' intentions were clear.

Man, I've got to say something

"Everybody was saying, 'Don't fight. Don't fight,'" Harris said. "I told them, 'I'm going to fight because this is for Corey.'"

Just seven days after the passing of his oldest brother, it was a noble gesture. But the the odds were quickly stacking further and further against him.

"I put everything together, and that Friday I left for the weigh-ins," Harris said. "Corey was also a member of the military, so I went and got him a burial flag from the funeral home. So I weighed in, and then I sat around all night trying not to think about him and instead think about my fight.

"They changed my opponent four times the night before the fight. Then they changed my opponent again the day of the fight. Then there was a snowstorm, and none of my family could make it. This was all the day of and the day before the fight."

Harris found himself alone on the day of the fight. No brother. No family there to watch. Not even a trainer to wrap his hands.

"My mom was coming to town to watch the fight," Harris said. "Everybody was going to watch the fight. And there was a snowstorm. My trainer couldn't even make it. I'm sitting there by myself, with no hand wraps, no nothing. Everything is going wrong.

"Then my trainer calls and says, 'Man, guess what. I'm on my way.'"

With at least one thing going right, Harris got his hands wrapped and walked to the cage with a heavy heart. His opponent, David Knight, only saw heavy hands. Harris earned the knockout victory in just 98 seconds.

"I went out there, and I knocked the dude out in like a minute-and-a-half," Harris said. "It was the first standing knockout I ever had.

"I grabbed the mic from the announcer and said, 'Man, I've got to say something.'

I said, 'Everybody, I've got to let ya'll know my brother just passed away seven days ago. He never got to see me fight in person, but he got to see me fight tonight.'"

Harris held himself together just long enough to make it backstage and release the emotions that had welled up inside him for the past seven days.

"Everybody just gave me a standing ovation," Harris said. "Then I ran out of the cage and cried backstage. I cried. I cried so hard.

"That fight was an out of body experience. I don't remember anything. I've never been that comfortable and focused for a fight. There's always some kind of distraction. But there was nothing that was going to stop me that night."

Looking to the future

Harris has continued to develop his skills since his time on "The Ultimate Fighter."

He recently took first place in the advanced, no-gi division of the NAGA 2009 Arnold Classic Grappling Championship. He's also working in an "old-school" boxing gym right now to hone his striking. A trip to Greg Jackson's is also on the horizon.

"If you put all your eggs in one basket, you're taking a gamble," Harris said. "That's what a lot of fighters do. Their striking is real good, so they go in there and they rely on their striking. But what happens when somebody takes that away?"

With an 11-2 record, Harris hopes to once again get the call from the UFC – a place he feels he's now ready to succeed.

"I would be lying if I said that getting into the UFC wasn't my ultimate goal because it is," Harris said. "That's no disrespect to any other organizations, but that's what we all grew up on. That's why honestly, my biggest career step was on that show.

"So that is the ultimate goal. I've signed a new manager, Jahani Curl of Machi Sports & Entertainment. He's great. He works very hard. And we're very patient."

Patient, determined and courageous. It's the type of qualities that big-time organizations look for in their athletes.

Sharing his story just three weeks after the passing of his eldest brother, Harris showed in a span of seven days why you'll certainly be hearing his name again very soon.

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Gerald, dear, I am moved by the article you've shared and deeply sorry for your loss :( . I hope you'll spend some time reading some of the other posts in this forum, so you'll see that you are not alone in your grief and you'll learn that your thoughts and feelings are normal. When you feel ready to do so, please tell us more about your brother ~ what is special about him, the role you played in each other's lives and so on. You need to tell the details of your story, and we are more than willing to listen . . .

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