Professional MMA in New York has lost its novelty two years after state legislation finally made that a possibility.
But on Thursday, Andre Harrison will set a notable precedent. The Long Island native will become the first New Yorker to headline a major mixed martial arts event at Madison Square Garden. His featherweight bout at the Hulu Theater at MSG serves as the main event of Professional Fighters League 1 — the season opener of the PFL’s new format that culminates in six division champions winning $1 million at year’s end.
“That makes me smile a little bit now,” Harrison told amNewYork upon learning of his pending Garden history.
Harrison (17-0) joined PFL in 2016. Since making his debut for the promotion at the Hulu Theater — back when PFL was known as World Series of Fighting — he won all three fights and captured the featherweight championship.
The Freeport native is considered one of the world’s top fighters who’ve yet to compete in the UFC or competitor Bellator. His resume includes victories over current UFC lightweight Desmond Green, UFC veterans Steven Siler and Kurt Holobaugh and former “The Ultimate Fighter” contestants Cody Bollinger and Jeff Lentz.
Harrison will face Jumabieke Tuerxun in Thursday’s season opener, which airs on NBC Sports Network. Tuerxun (20-6-1), of China, is one of three in the 12-man featherweight field with UFC experience. Although considered a front-runner to win the season jackpot, Harrison refuses to get ahead of himself.
“It’s a big purse, you want to get it done,” Harrison said following Tuesday’s open workout outside the Garden. “But, at the same time, you can’t look over anybody and just see yourself in the finals. You gotta work, [and] take each one as it comes.”
Thursday’s event features all featherweights and heavyweights, as will be the case for the second round of regular season bouts on July 19 — fighters in the other four weight classes will compete on two separate cards each. Performance determines who makes the playoffs with wins worth three points and draws one point. Additional points are earned for finishes: three for first-round, two for second-round and one for third-round.
The top eight advance to a seeded tournament in October and will determine finalists with quarterfinals and semifinals held on the same night. The six division championship fights will take place Dec. 31 at the Garden, according to PFL president of event production and business operations Carlos Silva.
The regular season incentivizes finishes, which doesn’t necessarily play into Harrison’s track record of winning decisions. Just five of his victories ended before the final horn, including only two of his last 11 bouts. Given that two-thirds of the field reach the postseason bracket, he’s not concerned.
“I always push for the finish, it’s just some guys are a little more stubborn,” Harrison said. “They don’t want to get out of there as easy as others. But, with this league, if you win, you advance. That’s the name of my game is just win and advance.”
That said, he envisions putting away Tuerxun early.
“First- or second-round stoppage,” Harrison said.