You can sign up for a free seven-day trial of ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream PFL and the UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
Andre Harrison entered the first season of the Professional Fighters League as a favorite to take home the million-dollar check and the featherweight championship. Though he did not achieve his goal, he did walk away having learned much about success in the PFL. The Long Island, New York, native will use what he learned and apply it to pursuing the featherweight championship once again. His new road to the championship begins with his upcoming PFL 2019 2 bout at home inside the NYCB Live at Nassau Coliseum.
Entering the semifinals of the PFL playoffs, Harrison, 30, seemed on-course to attain what many predicted – a berth in the PFL finals. He was undefeated and set to collide with Lance Palmer, a man whom he had beaten soundly a year and half earlier. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Then it all changed.
After three rounds of action, Harrison was not advancing to the million-dollar fight in Madison Square Garden; instead, Palmer avenged his previous loss and defeated Harrison. Despite having a great deal of confidence going into the rematch, Harrison wasn’t surprised that he lost. He knew that Palmer was a talented fighter and that the fight would boil down to who could perform up to their potential. In the end, Palmer reached his potential. Harrison did not.
“I’m not one of those guys where I would say, ‘Well, the reason why I lost was because of this, or the reason why I lost was because of that,’” Harrison told Sherdog. “I know I’m going to be asked this all season long by everybody, because everybody is going to want to see a rematch between me and Lance. They’re going to put a whole bunch of hype around it. I’m going to say I lost because I didn’t perform as best as I think I can. And the next time [we] face each other, I’m going to perform to my complete best, and I think that will be enough to get the W.”
Although the loss wasn’t shocking, something did turn out to be more difficult than he anticipated at PFL 8, namely competing twice in one night. The bout with Palmer followed 30 minutes after a quarterfinal win over Alexandre Bezerra. Even though he felt prepared for that scenario, it ended up getting the better of him.
“I think the two fights in one night were a lot tougher than I may have [realized],” Harrison admitted. “You win the fight, but we were there throwing some serious shots at each other. Just because you throw a good shot, it doesn’t mean it [won’t] have any effect on your hands, or anything like that.”
Before the playoffs in October, Harrison told Sherdog that he was “the best [featherweight] on the planet.” When asked if he felt the same way after coming up short in winning the Season One championship, Harrison’s self-confidence had not diminished one bit.
“Just because I lost this one time doesn’t mean I’m not a good fighter. Or my previous 20 wins was luck,” he affirmed. “I 1000-percent still feel the same exact way. I feel like I have great striking. I feel like I have great wrestling. I’m great on the ground as well. But I do feel that maybe some people think because I got out positioned that last fight that there is a way to beat me.”
The difficulty of the playoffs was not the only lesson Harrison took from Season One. During a season of the PFL, athletes could very well fight up to five times in a six-month period. On the one hand, there are some benefits to a schedule like that. For starters, fighters know their schedules for a majority of the year, which means that they can plan their lives with greater security and with the understanding that they have set paydays coming to them. Additionally, they never get out of shape, because days after a fight they often return to camp to prepare for the next opponent. On the other hand, the nature of staying in camp for half the year, without long breaks in-between, can take a toll on the mind and on the body.
“You can enjoy the weekend [after a fight] maybe, but then you’ve got to get right back to it, because you fight in another four or five weeks,” Harrison explained. “You’re beat up, you’re hurt, and the last thing you want to do is get back in there and get back to work. You want to take a little bit of time and let this [and] that heal. Get your body back to being relatively normal again, but you don’t have time for that.”
The mental battle to get back to training, when your body is far from 100-percent, can sometimes be the greatest battle of all. It leads to moments where a fighter has to ignore what their body is telling them, even if they know that it may not be in their best interest.
“You fight, and your body is telling you, ‘Alright, I allowed you to get through this camp. There were days where I didn’t want to go, but I went with you. Now that the work is done, give me some time. Give me a week. Give me two weeks.’ And you don’t have that week,” Harrison said. “You fight Thursday and you have to be back in the gym Monday. It was tough. It challenges you mentally [and] physically. This whole thing is for the mentally strong. You can’t be mentally weak and make it through a season.”
This is why Harrison believes that making it through a season of the PFL is a team effort – when an athlete gets near the breaking point in the course of a season, it is extremely helpful to have coaches who understand their athlete and who can sometimes even save their athlete from themselves.
“You have to have a good coaching staff that knows you well enough to tell you, ‘Today, I know you’re sore, but you’ve got to push.’ Or to tell you, ‘Listen, you’re a little bit banged up, stay home.’ You have to have that coaching staff that you know and trust,” Harrison asserted.
Harrison’s season has not even started yet and the mental tests have already begun. He was originally set to face Freddy Assuncao in his Season Two debut. However, a few weeks before the event, his opponent was switched to Luiz Eduardo Garagorri. That didn’t last long, though. Harrison is now set to face Peter Petties.
The opponent changes haven’t affected Harrison. His mindset in every fight is to focus less on what he will face in the cage and more on turning himself into a problem for his opponents, whoever they are, to try to solve.
“I always thought that about myself throughout my entire career,” Harrison said. “If somebody’s really good at something, you’re not going to learn how to defend against it in two months. It’s not going to happen. You have to make that person adjust to what you’re good at. Otherwise, they’re going to dictate what’s going to happen.”
As Harrison trains for his upcoming fight at Bellmore Kickboxing MMA – just 13 minutes away from the PFL 2 venue – the goal remains the same: improve. “My goal is to get better every single time,” he said. “Learn from both wins [and] losses. Learn from every experience, and then you become a better fighter because of it.”