The Bo Harris Express is Rolling Through Canada
2011 has been a breakout year for American David Harris (6-2-1) and it’s largely been at Canada’s expense. As he’s strung together wins over increasingly tough opponents north of the border, he’s quickly turned himself into a one-man Canadian Bantamweight wrecking machine.
Kicking things off by submitting Chuck Mady (5-5) at MFC 29 in April, he’s followed up with consecutive decisions over Brent Franczuz (4-2), and former #1 ranked Canadian Bantamweight Adrian Wooley (7-3).
Just two months removed from his biggest career win, he’ll look to go four-for-four on the year when he takes on Ringside Featherweight champ Mitch Gagnon (7-1) tomorrow in Montreal at Ringside 12 in Gagnon’s Bantamweight debut.
“They called me a few weeks ago, and asked me to fill in,” says Harris, who stepped in to replace an injured Stephane Pelletier. “I was game. I’m always game.”
The unyielding hunger to fight, even on relatively short notice, is understandable. Harris, better known as Bo, is now 30. On top of training, he works forty hours a week at a county jail in his native Michigan as a commissary at a store for inmates. Aware that as an athlete time is no longer fully on his side, he is focused on not letting any opportunities slip through his fingers.
“A lot of these young guys I’m not sure they get how tough this business is,” says the father of two young children. “Sometimes they think they’ve got so much time. For me, it’s all serious. I can’t afford to play around or go half way.”
And so, he keeps taking tough fights. If that means beating more Canadians on their native soil, so be it. “Now is my time,” Harris says confidently, three years into his professional career.
After all, things are improving for smaller fighters. The UFC’s recent addition of a Bantamweight division means he can now work towards reaching the sport’s towering heights, despite only standing five-foot-five.
And while being short is not usually a boon for prospective athletes, according to Harris, it’s never really been a problem. “I never really saw myself as the smaller person,” he says. “It was never a handicap. I’ve been an athlete all my life.”
Growing up in Mount Clemens, a suburb of Detroit he describes as “a smaller version of the city, not upper class,” Harris wrestled through middle school and high school.
As a college student in 2001, he achieved All-American status, finishing seventh in his weight division in the NCAA national championship. Despite the solid showing, Harris sounds a note of disappointment looking back. “It was actually an underachievement,” he says. “I should have been national champ, but I just didn’t have a great tournament that year.”
There was no immediate transition into MMA. After college, Harris wrestled only sporadically, occasionally taking part in freestyle wrestling competitions. His early 20s, normally precious years for a fighter’s development, were instead spent working in the manufacturing industry.
The idea to compete in MMA only came later, in 2005, when he caught the now infamous first season of the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality series. “I became interested, but for two years, there was nothing going around, so I didn’t really pursue it,” he says.
In 2008, an opportunity finally opened up when amateur shows starting coming to his area. “I trained for a month,” says Harris. “I thought I was getting into fighting shape, but, I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Still, his background gave him confidence.
“Watching the people on TV, I was like I can do that,” he says. “It’s easy to say, but I knew from my wrestling. It teaches you a lot. You go through struggles, like weight cutting, and you always compete against the best. Stuff like padded records doesn’t happen in wrestling.”
After going 11-2 as an amateur over the next year, capturing a local title along the way, Harris finally made his pro debut in 2009 at the age of 26. Fighting twice for the King of the Cage promotion, he delivered a TKO, before fighting to a draw a few months later. His first fight against a Canadian, Chuck Mady, came in early 2010.
“I was pumped for that one, I’d heard that he was a real good kick-boxer,” says Harris. The bout went much to Harris’s liking. “I always try to find holes in people’s games. He was weak off his back in that fight, so that’s where I dominated him.” Harris earned a 2nd round TKO stoppage.
His next fight would come in early 2010 against Zach ‘Fun Size’ Makovsky, now Bellator Bantamweight champion, but then just another 6-2 up-and-comer. Without knowing much about him, Harris took the bout on short notice. “I was so confident in myself,” he says. “I took him down, but I didn’t know he was such a good grappler. He kept throwing up submissions. An arm-bar, then he transitioned to a triangle for the win. It was quick. He was sharp.”
Despite the tough loss, especially given Makovsky’s 6-0 run in Bellator since then, Harris chose to take a positive from the experience. “It was a lesson for me,” he says. “I let a high level guy slip through my fingers. If I fight him again, I know I’ll smoke him. I should have smoked him then.”
Harris took two fights at Featherweight over the rest of the year, going 1-1. Starting 2011 at 3-2-1, his record wasn’t enough to get the attention of
the UFC during tryouts for the current season of the Ultimate Fighter. But then came his fights in Canada.
First up was a rematch against Chuck Mady at MFC 29, the promotion’s inaugural Ontario event.
“I wasn’t that pumped about fighting someone I’d beat in my third pro fight in the 2nd round,” admits Harris. “So that became my motivation, to try to beat him better than I did last time.”
Harris succeeded, submitting Mady via rear-naked choke a couple of minutes into the 1st round.
“I caught him with a right,” recalls Harris. “Then I backed off a little. Then he came at me extremely wild, like he wanted to get his shit back so bad. I took him down, I slowly passed his guard. I mounted him, threw a couple of punches. He started to turn, gave up his back. I had one arm trapped behind him, so the choke was right there.”
Unscathed, Harris fought Brent Franczuz a month later, earning a unanimous decision from the judges. “I knew he had good jiu-jitsu, and I kept hearing people say he was tough,” says Harris.
As was becoming the norm, Harris found an advantage and worked it. “When two grapplers fight against each other, they mainly want to stand up,” he says. “It’s an unspoken little rule. So I dominated him with my boxing. He was really good in his ground game, especially off his back. That was a hard fight.”
His biggest win to date came in August against Adrian ‘the Bully’ Wooley, who was fresh off a split decision loss in his last fight two months earlier. Aware of Wooley’s reputation as dominant wrestler, Harris wasn’t intimidated. “I thought I was better than him,” says Harris. “I can wrestle too you know?” And so he again stuck to the script, studied tape, and found a weakness he could exploit.
“(Wooley’s) flat-footed,” says Harris. “If you have good foot work, he won’t be able to hit you. I thought if I throw my combinations, in and I’m out, he’ll still be sitting there throwing punches at the air. I knew that was going to happen, that I could hit him at will on my feet.”
Harris took Wooley down twice in the 1st round, controlling him for much of the time. In the 2nd, he out-struck Wooley on the feet, bloodying up his face. “Once those holes starting opening up, my confidence went up, and I think his was going down,” says Harris. “I was trying to finish him, but he was good at protecting himself when put in a bad situation.”
In the 3rd, Wooley had more success, taking Harris down twice, but unable to deliver any offence. “He was the only 135er where I felt his power,” says Harris. “He was stronger than me, but he couldn’t take me down in the middle of the cage, he only could when he got me against the wall.” The fight went to the judges.
“I felt like I’d won,” says Harris. “I looked at him and he didn’t have a look on him like he’d won. I was confident, but you’re never sure.” Harris was awarded a split decision win, though he felt he’d done enough to earn a unanimous decision off the first two rounds. “I’m still surprised,” he adds with a chuckle.
Not much time has passed since, but he’ll take a slight step up the ladder when he faces Ringside Featherweight champion Mitch Gagnon, who is dropping down to debut at Bantamweight.
Faced with another dominant wrestler in Gagnon, who himself delivered an unbelievable performance against Rejean Groulx at Ringside 10 in April, Harris admits he is not too familiar with him. Not that that’s a problem he says.
“His size is not a big issue to me. I will be prepared if you take me down, I’ll be prepared to defend myself and get back to my feet. And if I can’t, I’m confident I can protect myself. I won’t take punishment when I’m under somebody. Nah.”
Gagnon’s stand-up doesn’t overly concern him either. “He’s a southpaw. I just fought a southpaw,” says Harris. “And I didn’t have any problem with him.”
Overall, Harris feels confident against fighters from a similar base. “Most wrestlers I fight, it’s not just that I’m a better striker,” he says. “I see a lot of fighters, especially wrestlers, they get in there and you can tell they don’t want to get hit. I train hours on my stand-up, especially my boxing.”
As for the fact that it’s Canadians he keeps beating, it’s nothing personal he assures. In fact he’s greatly enjoyed competing north of the border.
“I’m just thankful to fight over there,” he says. “I’ve been treated better there than I have anywhere. The way fans and promoters treat the fighters. They been good to me. More respect. They take care of you a little bit better financially. They treat you like they appreciate you there. I’ve been in shows where they treat you like you’re a piece of meat. In that sense, fighting over in Canada is good.”
Like most other fighters at his level of success, the big leagues are the ultimate goal. “I want to go up against the best guys,” says Harris. “The UFC has the best fighters. And they have a lot of fighters who like to fight. Bellator is nice, but I would much rather fight in the UFC.”
Woodrow James first met Harris during his amateur days, where he ran the events. He now works with Harris’ management to help get him fights in Canada. “When he went pro, I saw opportunities north of the border for him,” says James, who also works as a fighter manager, and with the Score Fighting Series. He hopes big things are ahead for Harris is he can take the win tomorrow.
“I don’t want to knock Gagnon, but I think Wooley was ahead of Gagnon on calibre,” says James. “If he can win, that’s got to add on though. If he can get a finish, that would be great too. The UFC, and Bellator are watching. With a win this weekend he could make it to the UFC, maybe after one or two more fights.”
If a Gagnon win isn’t enough, James says he’d like to book him against John “Haggis Basher” Fraser, a 9-3 fighter on a six fight win streak, who recently moved down to Bantamweight. And yes, Fraser is also a Canadian. If the streak must go on, it must go on.