Alistair Overeem fights Walt Harris in their Heavyweight bout during UFC Fight Night. AFP
Walt Harris pointed to the sky and proudly showed off a “Fighting for Aniah” T-shirt as he entered the arena.
He left a few minutes later with tears in his eyes, hardly the result he wanted in his first UFC fight since the death of his stepdaughter.
Alistair Overeem stopped Harris in the second round of UFC’s Fight Night main event Saturday, ending what was an emotional return for the heavyweight fighter known as The Big Ticket.
Harris was a slight favourite and the sentimental choice as he stepped into the octagon for the first time since his 19-year-old daughter, Aniah Blanchard, was killed in Alabama.
UFC has been leading the way for the other sports to resume in the time of pandemic. this was the third fight in eight days. UFE president Dana White also announced a potential fight between Justin Gaethje, who defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 mega event and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a unification bout — a match-up that could be staged in Abu Dhabi.
“We are going to just keep putting on massive fights in Abu Dhabi and keep educating the world on what an incredible destination for fights it is.
“For people from America, Australia, the UK, or wherever it might be, being a fight fan, you have to check out a fight in Abu Dhabi at some point. Get there, take in the culture, stay in the gorgeous hotels, eat in the unbelievable restaurants, it is truly a great destination for fights.
“We have a five-year deal with Abu Dhabi for fights in the Middle East. I have an incredible relationship with Abu Dhabi,” White had said when the season resumed last Saturday.
Earlier, Harris (13-8) looked as though he would notch his 14th career knockout when he dropped Overeem in the opening round. But the veteran regrouped on the eve of his 40th birthday and dominated the rest of the way. Overeem (46-18) sent Harris to the mat for the final time with an unblocked combination early in the second.
Harris never recovered, and the referee called it after a bevy of unanswered shots to the head. Overeem shared a moment with Harris on the mat.
Harris thanked the UFC, his team and his community while fighting back tears.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get the W for you tonight,” Harris said. “You’ve been like my family through everything, and I’m so grateful. ... Y’all at home watching, I’m sorry. I’ll be back better, I promise you. You haven’t seen the last of The Big Ticket. I’m going to go home, recover. I’m going to heal emotionally and physically, and I promise you I’ll be better.” UFC President Dane White echoed Harris’ pledge.
“Win, lose or draw, being here is a win for him,” White said. “He got through tonight and who knows what was going through that guy’s body, head, the whole deal.” Overeem said he offered to train with Harris down the road, hoping it could make both of them better in a stacked division.
“Of course, Walt has been through personal tragedy, which is awful,” Overeem said. “But I see it as a sport. It’s a game, right? It’s a way of making a living. ... I just see it as professional, nothing personal.” Harris’ wife encouraged him to return to the octagon after more than six months of grieving.
Blanchard, a student at Alabama, was last seen on October 23 in Auburn, Alabama. Her SUV was found abandoned days later more than 50 miles (90 kilometers) away in Montgomery. Police said her blood was found in the car. Her remains were discovered in a wooded area in late November.
Ibraheem Yazeed, 29, was charged with capital murder. The medical examiner determined Blanchard died from a gunshot wound. Prosecutors have indicated they will seek the death penalty if Yazeed is convicted.
Harris and Overeem had been slated to fight in April, but the bout was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It landed as the main event for the UFC’s third show in Jacksonville in eight days, all part of the series’ return following an eight-week hiatus.
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