The duo were teammates on the Cleveland State University wrestling team just after the turn of the century and became friends and roommates along the way.
After college, Miocic invited Harris to his wedding. Harris, Cleveland State’s all-time wins leader at 113, declined the invite, but never told the current UFC heavyweight champion the reason why he didn’t go. Harris was too broke to afford a plane ticket.
“He doesn’t know that,” Harris, who meets Yaroslav Amosov at Bellator 202, told MMA Fighting. “I have no doubt that if I had told him that, he would have bought me a plane ticket to have me there, because that’s exactly the type of dude he is. He’s exactly the type of person you think he is: Loyal, goofy, you never see him mad, a true friend. I’m sure if I called up Stipe and told him I was in town, he’d let me crash at his place.”
But Harris has deep ties to Cormier, too. Not only did they cross paths frequently in the close-knit amateur wrestling world, but the fighter nicknamed “Hurricane” helped break Cormier into the face-punching business.
Harris had already launched his mixed martial arts career and was training in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla. when Cormier, who had been an All-American wrestling down the road at Oklahoma State, took his wrestling game to the world stage and competed at the Olympic Games.
But it was in Harris’ Tulsa gym that Cormier had his first taste of MMA sparring.
“He would come in and help the guys train with wrestling,” Harris said. “But he never wanted to spar. He was like ‘naw, that’s not me.’ Then one day he decided to try it and he loved it, I was surprised how excited he was about it. He might have been in a couple of street fights before, but as far as I know that was the first time he had ever fought competitively.”
Cormier’s career was launched in Tulsa and he went on to have his first career professional fight on a Strikeforce Challengers show in Bixby, Okla., with a second-round TKO of Gary Frazier in 2009.
Not long thereafter, Cormier hooked up with American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, and Harris wasn’t mad.
“You knew he was destined for big things,” Harris said. “He had connections. We basically had me out here, we didn’t have other heavyweights who were going to push him and help him grow. Out there, he’s got Cain Velasquez to work with. I’m glad for all the success he’s had.”
Harris, who’s had a fine career in his own right, is also glad for the success Miocic has experienced, as he’s gone on to become the only fighter in UFC history to defend the heavyweight title on three occasions.
And that’s why Saturday night will be a bit difficult for Harris, as any fighter who’s had to watch two good friends go at it can attest.
There’s pride in what they’ve both accomplished as well as hope that neither get seriously hurt. And don’t you dare ask for a prediction on who will emerge victorious.
“I’m just happy to see both of these guys get the spotlight they deserve on one of the biggest cards of the year,” Harris said. “They’re both world champions, they’re both good dudes, they’ve both earned their spots. In this situation, you want a good fight and you want them both to come out healthy.”
Two men that I consider family are making history this weekend. I started my mma career with my former college wrestling teammate and good friend @stipemiocic then my big homie @dc_mma is a long time friend and started his career at my tiny gym in Tulsa, OK.— Gerald Harris (@GHurricane) July 4, 2018