Saturday, 24 July 2010

Harold Howard - If you're coming on

This article was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine. Once again, just for details, I wrote this article back in 2009.

If Dana White’s prophecies are to be believed then the mixed martial arts revolution is far from over. The UFC and other organizations continue to grow and attract fans from both pro wrestling and boxing circles. If this growth continues the mainstream saturation of the sport is surely inevitable. In years to come people will look back on the likes of Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez in the way that the current fight public looks at Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Royce Gracie tore through the early UFC competition but most people still believe that the first loss on his record was to Kazushi Sakuraba in Pride. What most people don’t realise is that Gracie had a loss on his record before that fight and it was to Canadian slugger Harold Howard.

Harold Howard was the embodiment of the early days of the UFC. He came to see how far his discipline of martial arts would carry him in this new form of total fighting. His black belt in Goju-ryu karate and title as the first ever World Sport jiu-jitsu champion proved that he certainly had the credentials. Howard worked, like a lot of martial artists did, as a doorman in the evenings but it was his ferocity on the point fighting karate scene that quickly earned him his reputation.

Howard had seen the first few UFC events and was fascinated by Royce Gracie and his suffocating jiu-jitsu. It was at UFC 3 – The American Dream that we first got to see Howard in action. SEG sports had personally invited him to compete in the tournament after hearing of his reputation on the martial arts circuit. Harold took the opportunity in a flash and soon he found himself warming up backstage in the Grady Cole Centre in North Carolina waiting to make his debut. After a now famous promo in which he said “We have a saying back home that if you’re coming on... COME ON!” it was time. Howard was matched up with Roland Payne; a man nicknamed “Shins of Steel”. Payne was an experienced full contact kick boxer and a dangerous opponent for anyone, let alone someone making their full contact debut.

The bell rang and both fighters quickly took the middle of the Octagon and began exchanging punches. After some frantic grappling in which both men reversed several situations it was Payne who took the advantage and backed Howard up with several hard kicks to the body. It would be the aggression of Payne that would prove to be his undoing, however, as Howard landed a beautiful right hand that knocked his foe to the floor. He followed up with some ground and pound but this fight was over and the crowd were impressed by the Canadian’s 46 second victory. Harold went backstage to catch his breath and prepare for his next bout but it was now that the complications would arise.

Howard had been drawn against Gracie and in his promos for the event he had talked at length about how he was looking forward to competing against the Brazilian. Kimo Leopoldo, however, had other ideas. He was to be the first fighter to challenge Gracie that night and although he was submitted after nearly five minutes it was a gruelling match up that would leave Gracie in no shape to continue. Royce Gracie’s undefeated run in the UFC was over as his team threw in the towel at the start of the match and Harold Howard moved into the finals.

Howard was left in a difficult position not knowing who he would face and, as a result of this, having no way to formulate any kind of game plan. In one of the more questionable decisions in UFC history, Howard was matched up with a substitute who only needed to beat him to win the tournament. Steve Jennum, a police officer, was a dangerous and well rounded fighter but it didn’t stop Howard attempting an audacious rolling axe kick at the start of the bout.

It was in keeping with the aggressive unpredictability that Howard bought to the cage and would go on to be copied by modern day fighters like Dustin Hazelett and Miguel Torres. Jennum managed to neutralise his opponent early on with a nice takedown and proceeded to pound away at Howard until the bout was stopped. It was a disappointing end to the night for Howard who had made such a huge impression on the fans and the other fighters with his opening destruction of Roland Payne.

Harold Howard was gracious in defeat however and famously said “Well, I told you, if it worked it worked. But it did and I didn't. So in the end it didn't.” He had won fans with his gutsy displays in the cage and his gracious attitude outside of it. He was invited back to compete in UFC 7 and this time he came in much better physical shape but mentally he seemed to lack the killer instinct that he had shown previously. He was battling a lot of personal problems and was beaten by Mark Hall in a very dominating fashion. He would only have one more mma bout; a loss against Brazilian veteran Hugo Duarte.

Away from the spotlight Howard was a simple man and worked hard to support his family. Despite a near fatal accident where he was hit by a car he continues to work hard and is proud of the accomplishments that his family have made. Howard’s two sons both play hockey but more importantly are proud to learn their father’s martial art. Harold himself runs a small school called Howard’s Self Defence Systems and is a regular on the seminar scene whilst still doing his day to day job of roofing. According to Harold it’s something he’s always had a passion for:

It goes along with the ancient stuff I like to mess around with. The technique is so old, it’s high work. I’ve always liked working up high.”

Harold Howard is respected amongst the MMA community for his colourful persona outside of the cage and his steely resolve inside it. It is a testament to his cult appeal that the biggest cheer at the recent Ultimate Fight Night weigh ins was for Tom Lawlor who turned up with the trademark Harold Howard tracksuit bottoms, black belt and white vest. For Howard it was clear that his initial fights in the UFC had answered nearly all of the questions he had. He had not come to be a celebrity or to learn from different teachers, he had simply come to fight. 

4 comments:

Jim said...

I think this is a great piece Ben; it's easy to laugh at early UFC shows and guys like Howard when you've had the benefit of watching 100s of hours of UFC/Pride either live or online; but like you said this was a new form of fighting and Howard just wanted to see how good he was.

It's important to remember where the sport has come from without taking the piss. Hats off.

Ben Cartlidge said...

It's only when you read into how hectic those early shows were that you respect anyone that took part.

There's so many fighters from the embryonic days of the sport that simply wanted to see if the style that they had invested their time and training in would work against other such styles.

Those fighters went on to give us some of the most memorable moments in the sports short history.

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