The Brit has stepped up on little more than a week’s notice to take on another Muay Thai World Champion in Petchmorrakot Petchyindee Academy, and feature in a stacked year-end event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Harrison is well known by Muay Thai enthusiasts as an eight-time world champion, and the most successful proponent of ‘the art of eight limbs’ ever to come from the UK. He is a well-traveled competitor, having spent years training and competing in Thailand, as well as taking on top opposition in China and Japan.
However, the Axiata Arena is new territory for the English veteran, and he is excited to showcase his skills for ONE Championship’s fans around the world.
Ahead of his first showing in The Home Of Martial Arts, get to know all about Harrison and his life in the ring.
Council Estate Of Mind
Harrison grew up in Leeds in the north of England, and was born into a hardworking family on one of the many council estates – a form of government housing – in the region.
Life in his neighborhood was unforgiving, but he was able to deal with it by having strong role models.
“I’ve got great parents,” the 33-year-old says. “My dad is such a hard worker. He was a bit of a hard man back in his day and had a bit of a reputation, but as soon as I was born, he knocked all of that on the head.
“The streets were quite rough where I was growing up. If you couldn’t fight, you’d get eaten alive by some of the kids that were around there.”
Thankfully, he always had sport as a focus to keep him away from trouble.
First, it was soccer. Like most other kids in his area, his biggest childhood fascination was the city’s leading export – Leeds United Football Club.
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Though Harrison was a promising player, when he was 13 he took up Muay Thai. He first explored ‘the art of eight limbs’ with self-defense in mind, but it soon became his passion.
“I went to learn how to fight because things were always kicking off on my estate, but I fell in love with it,” he says.
“The other lads might be out on the streets being naughty, getting in trouble with the police. I just went training. It definitely kept me out of trouble.
“I played football at quite a good level, but when I started Muay Thai at 13, it just took over.
“I didn’t really like school. I didn’t totally flunk it, but I just sat in my lessons daydreaming about the gym, or my next fight. I didn’t care about anything else.”’
Harrison already had a one-track mind — all he wanted was to be a professional athlete in the ring. His parents recognized his passion and admired his commitment, so they backed him all the way.
The Beginnings Of Excellence
Harrison had his first amateur contest within six months, and the thrill of victory was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He was eager for more than the amateur scene could offer, and just shy of his 15th birthday, he turned professional.
“The buzz was unbelievable. It was all I wanted to do. I lost another fight and thought, ‘I need to put that right,’ then I just carried on,” he explains.
Age was no barrier to success, as “Hitman” went on a 29-bout unbeaten streak at the start of his career and collected regional titles.
He had no intention of doing anything else, but he could not just jump straight into martial arts success. He had to spend the best part of a decade working to support his career, and building up his resume in the ring before he could live his dream of Muay Thai full-time.
“When I left school, I did a lot of different jobs so I could pay my way,” explains the multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion.
“I worked in a supermarket, worked for my dad in a big factory, and even had a job driving papers and milk around in the morning. I had to get up at 3am, work until 8am, sleep for an hour, and then go to the gym. I’d go back at night, then go to bed. That was life.”
His career really flourished when he made a name for himself in Thailand, where he lived and competed out of Bangkok’s Jitti Gym – testing himself against elite Thais and forging his way towards a full-time career.
“Eventually, after I’d lived in Thailand for a bit and built my name, I could start working in the gym training people and competing full-time.
“It took me a while, but all the sacrifices I made were all worthwhile, because I could wake up in the morning and look forward to it, and I can do it for the rest of my life.”
Broken In Bangkok
Harrison proved his worth as one of the best in the world and made his name in Thailand, but it was not all plain sailing. There were times when he came perilously close to packing his bags and abandoning his dream.
Competing in the home of Muay Thai can be a high-stakes occupation in more ways than one.
“The training was hard, but I loved it,” explains the Englishman. “But because I was still making a name for myself, the money wasn’t good. There were times when I had nothing and was nearly on a plane home.
“If you’re not mentally strong as well as physically strong, then you might as well pack it in.”
He had to be tenacious and battle through the pain at times, but in the end, it was all worth it.
Muay Siam Magazine voted Harrison its Foreign Fighter of the Year in 2007 – a testament to his achievements in Thailand, and the respect he had garnered for battles in the famous Rajadamnern and Lumpinee stadiums.
Becoming An Eight-Time World Champion
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Sparring yesterday with the greatest fighter of the last 20 years @saenchaithailand we have fought 3x and had some good wars. No shame in saying I lost all 3 on points. Now where great friends and can get to play spar and train together @yokkao gym. Blessed to be part of the Yokkao team to train with him and many other top level guys #muaythai #saenchai #sparring
Harrison now has eight world titles in kickboxing and Muay Thai, including WBC and WMC Muay Thai World Titles.
He held the UK number one spot in his weight class for well over a decade, and competed against the best of the best, including legends the likes of Saenchai P.K.SaenchaiMuayThaiGym, Anuwat Kaewsamrit, and Sagetdao “Deadly Star” Petpayathai, just to name a few.
He first became a world champion at 19, but recalls another moment where he felt he had solidified his place among the elite.
“After some of my wins in Thailand, I realized these were guys I’d been watching on the internet and trying to be like, and now I was actually fighting them,” he says.
His place in Muay Thai history is already cemented, but now the Bad Company gym representative is motivated to succeed on the biggest stage of his career – ONE Championship.
“There are always things to aim for. I’m looking at that ONE World Title on the big stage,” he says.