At 39 years of age, “Hollywood” John Harris (4-4) looks to show that he still has a lot of fight left in him. This Friday, May 25, Harris aims to climb over the .500 mark for the first time in his career by picking up a win over his toughest opponent yet, former UFC vet Kyle Bradley (16-9), at Bellator 70 live at The Orleans Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Just a week prior to his fight, “Hollywood” sat down with MMA Gospel writer Matt Homeyer to talk about his upcoming bout, the ups and downs of his career, and why he feels he is ready to turn his MMA career around.
Can you tell us about your martial arts background? What got you started in MMA, and how old were you when you first took interest in the sport?
I really don’t have a background in terms of doing karate since I was six or being involved in the sport like that. I attended the Air Force Academy and boxed while I was there. That’s pretty much it. I started taking interest in [MMA] during the early UFC days. I went to the video store and found the no holds barred fights and I grabbed a video and checked it out. I thought it was pretty cool and ever since then I’ve been following it. I got involved in it locally but because I am in Biloxi, Mississippi, I really didn’t know of any gym or any place that offered classes or any way of being involved in something like that. I always wanted to stay competitive after I stopped playing college ball so I met up with my coach and had known him for a couple years and never even knew that he fought. We were just talking over a couple of beers and he mentioned that he was going to China for a bout and it just took off from there. I took up a class and the rest is history.
You went undefeated as an amateur fighter then had a rough start as a pro, going 0-3 in the first year. Did you ever feel that you turned pro too early or that you had underestimated the difference in skill between pro and ammy?
Honestly, I went undefeated in my first five fights and I didn’t even get punched in the face. I was wrecking people at that point of my career and it got to a point where it was just getting really difficult to find fights as an amateur, so it was almost to the point that I had to go pro. The first [pro] fight that I had I still had that amateur mentality that I was going to just punch him in the face and he was going to fall down. I got off the couch with just ten days of training and took that first pro fight and I learned my lesson. You can’t do that. People come and pay money to see you perform and you have to train properly and be ready to go. The first three fights of my career I had some injury stoppages and just got off to a bad start. I feel like I just now started to get myself in a good groove, I’ve learned from all my losses. I try to take something away from all my wins and my losses. It was a rough patch in the beginning.
Following those losses, you returned to Mississippi’s Psychout promotion and dominated your opponents, earning a shot at Bellator where you won a third straight fight. What changes did you make to cause such a triumphant turnaround in your professional career?
The biggest change that I really did was mental. Because I was really walking through people as an amateur, I learned the lesson that some people you’re not going to knock out, some people you’re not going to be able to submit. You can’t force the issue and what it showed me is that if you’re a professional you have to get the wins on your record, so I started thinking if someone is going to leave something out there or they’re going to give up their back, I’m going to take what they have given me. If I have to submit you to get out of there with a win, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to force the issue, I’m going to let the fight come to me and do whatever I have to, to get out of the fight with a W. I have changed in my mentality and my fight preparations, I have to be ready for everything.
This Friday at Bellator 70 will mark your second fight with the national promotion. Do you feel you will be more relaxed this time around being on the big stage?
Yeah, I think the fact that I had such a long training camp and I’ve been there before, I’ve been on Pay-Per-Views before, I fought for Bellator before, means that I’ll be more relaxed. I’m just going to go in there and have fun. I’m just trying to enjoy myself and go in there with an open mind, a clear mind, and just execute my game plan and come out with a W.
How do you feel about taking on the more experienced UFC veteran Kyle Bradley who has fought some of the best that MMA has to offer in the 155lbs. division?
The way I look at it, Bradley has been to the big show. He’s been there where I want to be. I want to be in the UFC, every fighter worth a salt, that’s where they want to be. The fact that he’s been there before just gives me that much more incentive to get that W. Once that door closes I know he has more experience, the first live fight I ever watched in person I watched Kyle Bradley murk somebody in the cage – he ran through the guy. So I’m familiar with him. He’s a local guy just like me, but I’ll tell you what when that lock closes on that gate, it’s a fight. We both have on four-ounce gloves and it’s going to be his skill against mine, his preparation against mine, and the better man is going to come out on top. Just because he’s been in the UFC doesn’t mean he will be the guy who gets his hand raised.
Do you think that his experience or the fact that he has faced some of Zuffa’s top-tier fighters gives him any advantage over you in this fight?
In my experience, everybody puts their pants on the same way, one leg at a time. I don’t think that it’s going to matter.
Did you bring anyone special into Dixson’s Dungeon to get you ready for this fight or did you go to any other gyms for help getting ready for Bradley?
I worked with a strength and conditioning coach from Gracie South in Jackson, Mississippi. I have been to Port City MMA in Mobile, Alabama and worked with the guys there. I’ve traveled around trying to get a bunch of different bodies to work with and I think I’ve done what I have to do to prepare for this fight. And then the fact that I been training with all the guys at my gym that are in a heavier weight class, I figure I’m good to go.
What is your gameplan going in against Bradley? Were there any particular holes in his game you worked to capitalize on in training camp?
I look at Kyle Bradley, and he’s a well-rounded fighter. He’s a brown belt so I know he’s good on the ground, but we’re in a small, tight knit community so I know guys that have trained with him and I’m sure he has spoken with guys that have trained with me as well. I know he’s legitimate. He’s a legitimate opponent who brings a lot of skills. The fact that he is a brown belt doesn’t mean that he’s a straight Jiu-Jitsu guy; he likes to let his hands go, too. So for this particular fight I’m ready for anything. I know that he likes to slug it out but also I’m going to be ready if he tries to ground me. A lot of guys that’s what they like to do. They want to take you down and lay on top of you. So I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get my hand raised.
A win on Friday night would put you over the .500 mark for the first time as a professional. What does that mean to you? Would you consider it even more rewarding if it were over an experienced fighter like Kyle Bradley?
I’ll tell you what, record aside, just getting a win, getting a W over Kyle Bradley on a big stage like this is going to be huge. The fact that it will put me over .500 is just going to be the cherry on top. I’m feeling really good, I’m firing on all cylinders, no injuries. I have been banged up in the past. The last two fights I’ve fought with one arm, but everything is healed up and God bless. I’m raring to go right now.
Of all your professional bouts, wins and losses, which opponent did you feel delivered the toughest test?
I would say “Crazy Horse” [Charles Bennett (25-25)]. He’s had a rough patch as of late, but if he catches you right he can put your lights out. Pound-for-pound that guy is probably the strongest guy I’ve ever tussled with. He literally powered out of submissions I had him in. Usually, with a lesser opponent, I get those positions and get the submission, but he just powered out of them. I had to adjust my game accordingly to get that W. I didn’t want him doing his back-flips off the cage. That was a tough fight and I literally came out of that fight unscathed. He caught me with a good knee but that’s it. I pretty much dominated that fight. In the record books it went down as a decision but I literally won every round in that fight. He had the hometown decision, but he was my hardest opponent, I’m pretty proud of it.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments of your MMA career thus far, and what do you still hope to accomplish?
The biggest accomplishment for me is being here, actually getting to this point, getting to a fight where I can get some national recognition. I have been there before but this is on another level. I’m not sure if I’m going to be on the televised portion or not but I think that this fight is coming along at the perfect time for me. The way I look at it is I’m 39-years-old; I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m just happy to still be involved in the sport, I love it. It’s not what I do to keep my lights on but I tell you what I love being inside that cage. I love going mono-a-mono and seeing who’s the better man. I’m all about collecting belts too. I’m a title holder, a multiple title holder, I got an amateur belt, got past that hurdle, and got a professional belt. I got another title shot coming hopefully pretty soon and I’ll probably be defending my title, too. So I got some good things coming down the pipe. The greatest accomplishment I have is being able to speak with you on the phone, you know?
Are there any sponsors or other people you would like to thank?
Of course that’s how I get paid. You know the drill, and it’s not about the purses it’s about the people that help you get to where you’re at. I’d like to thank Dixson’s Dungeon, Martial Arts Life, Shivers Brothers Construction, Buffalo Wild Wings, Pool Breeze, CuddlyBearstoGo.com, Gulf Coast Karate, One Stop Vitamin, Biloxi Animal Hospital, and Jimmy Poulos at Nationwide Insurance. All these people really helped me and really supported me in my jam and helped me to get prepared and put me in a place where I can succeed in this fight with Kyle Bradley.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
Like me on my fan page on Facebook. Find me on Facebook or get with me on DixsonsDungeon.com, but Facebook would probably be the best method. Also, for the people that can’t make the trip down for the fight, Buffalo Wild Wings will be showing it and I will be there the following day for the UFC telecast doing an autograph signing and hanging out.