Gerald Harris had won three fights in a row in the UFC. One of them featured a highlight reel slam, a moment so memorable that it was immortalized on ESPN's Sports Center. And while the top plays from other sports appear routinely on the venerable ESPN clips show, for MMA it's not yet par for the course. It's something special. But not special enough to save Gerald Harris.
Gerald Harris was beaten Saturday by an unheralded Brazilian prospect Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves. Falcao demolished Harris in the first round, so badly that only an early end to the proceedings kept Harris in the fight. He didn't make the most of it. By the third round, Harris and Falcoa were simply staring at each other. Matchmaker Joe Silva was reportedly beside himself with anger. UFC President Dana White was also furious - and sent a message to Harris and other fighters: this isn't the Ultimate Staring Championship; this is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Thrive or die. Gerald Harris was taken around back and shot. Metaphorically speaking of course, cut from his UFC contract earlier this week.
I asked Josh Nason, a MMA journalist who has written for FIGHT! Magazine and CBS Sports and is spearheading an effort for ESPN Boston to cover MMA, for his thoughts on the Harris firing:
"When I first got word Tuesday night that Gerald Harris was cut from the UFC, I was immediately surprised. Sure, he had a bad fight but it seemed like the cut went against the previous grain of what the organization has previously done in not terminating fighters after one bad fight if they've shown some fire in previous fights.
In Harris' case, he went into Saturday having won his last ten fights (3-0 in the UFC) and had won Knockout Of The Night twice, the most recent of which got on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays of the night, aka mainstream fan territory. Perhaps Harris wasn't going to be the next breakout star but he did his time on the indie circuit and is a great voice for the sport outside the cage."
The problem for Harris, as it is so often in life, is timing. As I mentioned earlier today, there have never been as many great fighters as there are right now. There are ten fighters as good as Gerald Harris out there looking for a chance. That creates an environment where the UFC has the freedom to play the field a bit. If Harris doesn't deliver, he's out. There's another guy just as good who's chomping at the bit. Todd Duffee causing trouble behind the scenes? Gone. There's more where he came from.
That's the new UFC. Until the fighters reach a certain level of performance they are disposable commodoties. Send one packing and call up the next guy on the list. Even established stars like Jon Fitch are potential casualties if they lose a boring fight. Swallowing the WEC means the UFC has more contracted fighters than ever. It also has fewer bouts than ever in which to showcase them.
Sports is a brutal business. How often have you seen your favorite team cut an aging great when he couldn't get it done anymore. Players struggling in the minor leagues or practice squads are handled even more cavalierly. Gerald Harris learned the hard way that the UFC is a big time sport. Dana White wants all his fighters to learn from this incident. Perform, or get the hell out of the way so the next guy can. The next few shows should be very interesting indeed as fighters battle for more than a win - they'll be fighting for their roster spot and their future.