Andre Harrison is a true rarity in today’s sport of mixed martial arts: a 17-0 fighter who is arguably flying under the radar.
The 31-year-old, who faces Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Jumabieke Tuerxun (20-5) of China in the Professional Fighters League season opener on June 7, will be looking to extend his perfect record as he works towards PFL’s million-dollar grand prize.
As global MMA has become more and more connected online, the early 2000s days of message board murmurings about some mysterious guy named Lyoto Machida -- or was it “Ryoto” -- and arguing over whether Antonio McKee was actually any good, have largely gone away. The UFC has scoured the pool of accomplished regional prospects to the point that its flagship scouting vehicle, “The Ultimate Fighter” has resorted to gimmicky casting for years, while Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series routinely spotlights fighters with fewer than five career bouts. In today’s MMA scene, for Harrison to open his career with 17 straight wins over fighters such as Lance Palmer and Steven Siler, whose names may be more recognizable to a casual fan than his own, without becoming more of a household name, is a rare occurrence. Asked point-blank if he feels he is the most overlooked fighter in the sport relative to his accomplishments, Harrison demurs.
“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that,” the undefeated New Yorker told Sherdog.com. “I could be! But at the same time, there are guys like Ben Askren, there were people talking about him fighting [Georges St. Pierre] and who would win, yet he wasn’t known to a lot of fans.”
If Harrison was ever puzzled by the lack of popular recognition of fellow wrestler turned mixed martial artist Askren, or of his own accomplishments, he claims to have come to grips with it at this point in his career.
“I feel like the fighters, they know,” Harrison said. “Because I’ve sparred with all levels of guys, from all different [promotions], and they know what I can do. I get my credibility from them, but I feel as though [for fans] it’s like, if you aren’t fighting for the UFC, then who are you? And it used to bother me, because there were guys fighting there [in the UFC] that I knew for a fact, I could go right now on a week’s notice or whatever, and beat them.”
While that may have bothered Harrison in the past, he appears to made peace with it, to the point that he signed a new contract with Professional Fighters League when it rose from the ashes of World Series of Fighting last year. PFL is booking its fighters in a regular season format followed by a playoffs and championship, something like a stick-and-ball sports league, with a $1 Million purse for the champions. Harrison saw something in PFL’s innovative model that appealed to him, and at the same time may have crystallized what motivates him in his MMA career.
“At the time [of the transition] I had had three fights with World Series of Fighting, and I had literally one fight left on my contract. I could have [fought it out] or you know, let the time frame run out or whatever, and gone and fought elsewhere. But when I got the hints of what was going on [with the new format], I distinctly remember around that time, Demetrious Johnson, who I think is an amazing champ, after one of his fights, he was like, ‘I want to fight for a million dollars in my next fight.’
“So I’m like, for whatever reason, Demetrious Johnson doesn’t get the [credit] he should either. And the dude is an amazing mixed martial artist. So if he, after defending his title, what is it now, 10 times? If he has to ask in a post-fight interview for a million dollars? Then [I know that] if you aren’t one of the favorites of the UFC, clearly you aren’t going to make those big amounts of money. So if I have that chance to [earn $1 million] now, in a different organization, I don’t see why I wouldn’t take it. I’m not in this sport to be famous. I’m in this sport because I enjoy doing it, but it’s a job, and I want to make money.”
As for his fight against the veteran Tuerxun, Harrison’s ideal outcome is one that moves him towards that financially-motivated goal, but does so in style.
“I’d like a knockout or submission,” Harrison said. “Either-or would be good for me. My prediction is either a knockout or submission in the first or second round.”