UFC Vegas 37’s Carlston Harris left Guyana for a better life – then BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez arrived
All Carlston Harris wanted was a stable job and a better life when he moved from Guyana to Brazil in 2007.
Little did he know he would fall in love with martial arts and become the first Guyanese fighter to sign with the UFC more than a decade later.
After a first-round submission victory over Christian Aguilera on his Octagon debut earlier this year and set to face Impa Kasanganay in the UFC Vegas 37 prelims on Saturday, Harris was inspired by the journey of his life.
“I left Guyana looking for an opportunity, but I didn’t come out with the intention of fighting,” Harris told MMA Fighting. “I found myself in Manaus in 2007 and started working as a car mechanic, and started training boxing and luta livre as a hobby. I just wanted an opportunity to change my life and help my family. I jumped at the first chance I got.
Harris had “no specific job” in Guyana. He did everything from unloading trucks, carrying luggage, working in construction and any other type of work that would earn him money at the end of the day. Raised by his mother and eight siblings – his father had five more children with a different woman but was not present – Harris says life was “complicated.”
“You had to work to get something to eat later in the day,” he said. “You had to work every morning to eat in the afternoon.
Life was better in Brazil, he said, especially for a hard-working man like Harris.
“Things have always worked for me from the moment I set foot in Brazil,” said Harris. “Life is a struggle, of course, but it has always worked for me. I had opportunities in sport, I had a job. Life is a fight, it’s a challenge, so we have to fight.
Martial arts ceased to be a hobby once he realized that it was getting better at hitting people in the face. But watching the memorable UFC lightweight championship fight between BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez in 2009 was his latest push into MMA.
“I bought pirate DVDs at the local Manaus Fair because I didn’t have Combate on TV,” Harris said. “UFC was on TV Saturday night and I bought the DVD Sunday to watch it. I was watching Diego Sanchez’s fight with BJ Penn when I decided this was what I wanted for my life. I thought it was so cool, they would fight, drop and get up to fight back. It has shown that it is a sport for warriors. It was a non-stop challenge, just like my life.
Harris’s luta pound trainer, Junior Lopes, noticed he was gifted and could go so far as a professional martial artist. So he suggested Harris move to Rio de Janeiro and train under Marcio Cromado at RFT. Harris made his MMA debut later that year in 2011, losing a split decision.
‘Moçambique’ claimed his first MMA victory two months later, beating his opponent in the first round in Rio de Janeiro, but lost a decision in his next fight in the first quarter of 2012. But Harris turned the tide. . He put on a great winning streak after his 1-2 start and beat Michel Pereira, Joilton Lutterbach and Wellington Turman to show his true MMA potential.
“Losses don’t matter where I grew up in Guyana,” he said. “Losses are a learning experience. I started training harder after losing my debut. I realized that I had to improve myself in a lot of things.
Being a UFC fighter wasn’t Harris’ goal in MMA from the start, but “being among the best” was. He won the XFC international tournament against future UFC welterweight Michel Pereira and won the Brave CF welterweight gold two years later. With Dana White in attendance at UAE Warriors 15 last January, Harris subdued Saygid Izagakhmaev to secure a contract with the promotion.
“I saw that every sacrifice I made was not in vain,” said Harris. “Nothing has been in vain. Every sacrifice, every second, every tear, every sweat was worth it.
Kasanganay, his opponent this Saturday in Las Vegas, improved to 9-1 in the sport after finishing Sasha Palatnikov with a choke in the back in April.
Harris himself is a grappling ace, having collected a Night show check out her anaconda choke finish in May and feel ready for anything in the cage.
“[Kasanganay] picks up, he gets up and trades a bit, and likes to go to the floor, but I’ve been training for all of that, ”Harris said. “You will have two well-trained guys on the 18th and whoever imposes his game plan the best will win. I don’t care how, I just want to win. The fights are unpredictable, you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m trained to win.