Harris had 10 pro fights under his belt when he won a spot on Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter in 2008. He won his first fight in the house, but lost his next to eventual champ Amir Sadollah.
Normally, the majority of fighters on TUF seasons get one more crack on the season finale card. But for TUF 7, just five fighters from the show fought on the finale – and Harris wasn't one of them.
He returned to the relative obscurity of regional shows – but with only one goal in mind: win, win, win and get back to the UFC.
"It was rough because that's the way everyone gets – win some more fights, win some more fights," Harris told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of "The MMA Hour." "And it's so easily said, but it's true – you've got to go win. You do need to beat some UFC veterans to prove you belong in there."
With a five-fight winning streak after leaving the TUF house, Harris beat former WEC and UFC fighter Nissen Osterneck for that coveted win over a UFC vet he was looking for. The next step in his master plan, though, was so choice that if there wasn't proof of it, no one would believe it.
While UFC president Dana White was a guest on MMA Junkie Radio, Harris called in, posing as a British fan of, who else? Gerald Harris. After he finally let White off the hook and the cat out of the bag, he had orders from White to call him the following week to talk about that next shot with the promotion.
And after a nervous several days wondering if anything would work out or if it was all just a big tease, Harris got his shot at Fight Night 20 in January.
"It was a dream of mine (to get back to the UFC) and I knew I was ready," Harris said. "I'm glad I lost on 'The Ultimate Fighter' because I was not ready (then). I could've won the show on wrestling alone, but I wasn't ready, man. Almost two years later is when I got signed."
He hasn't looked back – he's 3-0 in the UFC with two Knockout of the Night bonus awards – including a knockout slam of Dave Branch that brought UFC matchmaker Joe Silva up out of his seat. And he's now riding a 10-fight winning streak heading into a middleweight bout with newcomer Maiquel Falcao at UFC 123 in less than three weeks.
But even though Harris' job seems pretty safe for now, and he's certainly being looked at as one of the promotion's up-and-coming potential stars with a spot smack dab in the middle of the pay-per-view's main card, he said he has to treat every fight with the same intensity he used trying to get that second shot at the big show.
"I'm not ever going to be comfortable," Harris said. "I want to keep that thirst in me. I think there's guys that go in there with a night off – that think, 'If I win, good, if I don't, so what.' I'm treating every fight like it's my debut. Once you get comfortable, that's the worst thing you can do. We stay hungry. We stay grounded."
Harris remembers how rough it was plodding along the smaller shows, working toward the dream he's in the middle of right now. He even gets opportunities to remind fighters who are in a position he was in not so long ago that their dreams are attainable.
"I just try to go back and inspire the guys on the local circuit and let them know it can be done," Harris said. "A lot of guys watch the fights and they'll be like, 'Man, I'll never be that good' or 'I can't be like this person,' and I just tell them, 'You keep working hard, you can be there.' "
Watch last Monday's MMA Hour below.