Andre Harrison understands the stakes.
“This upcoming [event] is the biggest night of my life right now,” said Harrison, who will enter the Professional Fighters League playoffs this Friday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. There, he aims to back up his self-belief with results. “I believe I am the best [featherweight] on the planet, so I have to go and show people that every time I step out there.”
At 19-0, Harrison has become one of the faces of the promotion, evidenced by the fact that he headlined PFL 1 a little more than a year ago.
“It’s not easy to get to this point,” he said. “It’s not easy to win 19 fights. It’s just hard.”
While keenly aware of what he has achieved so far, Harrison admits the road will not get any easier. Every quarterfinalist who wins at PFL 8 faces double duty, with the semifinal bouts to follow the same night. Quarterfinal fights consist of two five-minute rounds, while a third round will be added for the semifinals. Though some might give into the idea of trying to conserve energy during the quarterfinals, Harrison does not feel that would be a beneficial strategy.
“You can’t run the risk,” he said. “You might mess around, try and hold back and not make it [to the semifinals].”
In the event of a draw in the quarterfinals, the winner of Round 1 will be awarded the victory, making it imperative for every fighter to be ready from the start.
“With that rule set, you know going into that first round it’s a must-win situation,” Harrison said. “Not saying you want to lose the second round, but if you’re going to lose a round, it would be the second. You have to win that first round. It’ll be a serious fight. You just have to do what you have to do.”
Harrison will face a familiar opponent in his quarterfinal: Alexandre Bezerra. The Long Island, New York, native successfully defended his Titan Fighting Championship featherweight title against Bezerra in September 2016. Harrison remembers the fight clearly, as it was as close as he has ever come to losing.
“I remember I was feeling comfortable everywhere in the fight,” Harrison said, “up until the fourth round.”
In that fourth round, Bezerra stunned the young champion and -- as Harrison puts it -- attempted to trap him “in every submission hold imaginable.” However, Harrison managed to withstand the grappling onslaught from the Brazilian and walked away with a unanimous decision. “Somehow, some way,” he said, “I fought my way out of every single one of them, and I came back in the fifth round and almost ended it.”
Memories of his first encounter with Bezerra left Harrison with even deeper respect for the Bellator MMA veteran. He does not foresee an easy rematch but believes he has progressed more as a fighter in the two-plus years that have passed since.
“I really think I’ve grown in all aspects of the game,” Harrison said, “and I think I’m a better mixed martial artist right now.”
If Harrison advances past Bezerra, a showdown with either Max Coga or former World Series of Fighting champion Lance Palmer will await in the semifinals. The self-assured 30-year-old remains focused on the task in front of him.
“Right now, I don’t even see the semifinal bout,” Harrison said. “I just see the quarterfinals. When I go out there, I’m looking to put somebody else on the defensive side of what I’m doing. I’m well-rounded. I feel confident in every part of my game. If I’m being honest in telling you that, then it shouldn’t matter who I fight because I’ll figure out a way to beat them.”
Many observers want to see Harrison rematch Palmer. They fought for the WSOF featherweight crown in March 2017, with Harrison taking a unanimous decision. Palmer has made it clear he wants another crack at the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy rep.
“I know he’s been saying he’s itching for the rematch and yada, yada, yada,” Harrison said. “If you go back and watch the fight, there was no point where he had my back, where he had me in a guillotine and I needed to fight out. At no point was I rocked and dizzy. I wasn’t in trouble at any point in time in that fight, but you cannot say the same about Lance. I believe he got dropped in the first, second and fifth round. Correct me if I’m wrong: If you get dropped, that means you got hit and you’re in a little bit of trouble.”
Harrison maintains his edge by taking each opponent seriously, no matter the seeding and without regard to public opinion. He sees Bezerra as a significant threat.
“All these guys are tough,” Harrison said. “I’m not putting anything past anybody and saying I want to fight [someone] because he’s the easier fight. The moment you think that, you’re going to get put in a bad position. This specific night means a lot to me. I’m eager and anxious to go out there and perform again.”