By nature of the occupation, a mixed martial arts fighter carries a certain assumed aura of toughness. The physicality and violence associated with punching and kicking another person as well as being punched and kicked would lend an outsider toward the natural belief that such folks possess an inherent grit and willpower that civilians lack.
But fighters are people, too, and even they don't necessarily always know just how far they can push themselves. Until that time arrives.
That moment came for Andre Harrison when he fought Movlid Khaybulaev in the Professional Fighters League regular season last July. Harrison was dominated in the first round. The round ended with Harrison getting hit with a flying knee from Khaybulaev, followed up by a series of heavy shots.
That fight taught the Freeport-raised, Bellmore Kickboxing MMA-trained Harrison a lesson about himself.
“Most importantly, I got out of that is that I’m a tough person," Harrison (21-1-1) said last week. "It’s easy to be tough when you're getting the better of somebody. It’s easy to be bigger, stronger, faster when you're getting the better of somebody. It’s harder when somebody just really got the better of you. I didn’t realize how bad that first round was until I went back and watched it."
Bad enough for Harrison that two judges scored it 10-8 for Khaybulaev. The second and third rounds were far kinder to Harrison. He won both of them and fought his way back to a majority draw, 28-28, 28-28, 29-28.
That earned him one point and gave him enough points to qualify for the PFL featherweight playoffs. Harrison, seeded fifth, will face No. 4 Alex Gilpin in the quarterfinals on Thursday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. If he wins, he'll face the Lance Palmer-Alexandre Almeida winner in the semifinals later that night.
But that first round against Khaybulaev stuck with Harrison. It was the first time he seemed that close to being finished in a fight.
“I just remember being on the stool and [trainer] Keith [Trimble] asking me was I OK several times," Harrison said. "I was like, 'Yo, Dre, there’s a good chance you might get knocked out. A good chance. But, if I do get knocked out, I just want to land one good shot before I get knocked out, just to let him know that he was in a fight.' When I got off the stool, I didn’t even know what my legs were going to feel like. Are they going to be jelly-ish? I got up and I felt fine and was like, 'All right, go forward and get your shot, Dre.' When I went forward and I landed that shot, it cut him. And right away that changed the whole dynamic of the fight.”
Harrison kept pushing forward. He may not have won the bout, but neither did his opponent.
“It just showed me that I’m tough enough to get through anything out there," Harrison said. "I took some serious shots, some serious ground and pound, I took a knee. A lot of stuff. I was able to get up and not only continue to fight but win the next two rounds on top of that."
Did Harrison, who began his career with 20 straight wins and a handful of championship belts, really not know what he could do in that situation?
“I never doubted it," said Harrison, 31. "But you don’t know how you’d act or react to something until you're in that actual position.
“Nobody really wants to be known as that guy that’s got a hell of a chin. I know should I get hit, I know I can take it.”