Walt Harris loses to Alistair Overeem by TKO in emotional UFC return

Walt Harris loses to Alistair Overeem by TKO in emotional UFC return

Walt Harris lost 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 in Jacksonville, Fla., 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 entered the octagon for the first time since his 19-year-old daughter, Aniah Blanchard, was killed in Alabama.

Harris (13-8) pointed to the sky while showing off a “Fighting for Aniah” T-shirt as he walked into the arena. It appeared 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.

‘Being here is a win for him’

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. … He’ll get better from this, in every way you can be better — from fighting to the other things that are going on with him.”

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 Oct. 23 in Auburn, Ala. Her SUV was found abandoned days later more than 90 kilometres away in Montgomery. Police said her blood was found in the car. Her remains were discovered in a wooded area in late November.

2-week break

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.

The UFC will take the next two weeks off before fighting May 30. It hopes to return to Las Vegas, but first needs clearance from the Nevada Athletic Commission. If not, White said it will be held in Arizona.

Other fights on the main card:

  • Claudia Gadelha (18-4) held off Angela Hill (12-8) in the strawweight division and won a split decision. Hill controlled the pace, making it more of a sparring bout than a grappling game, but Gadelha got the nod on two of the three scorecards.
  • Dan Ige (14-2) edged Edson Barboza (20-9) in another split decision. Ige’s sixth straight victory came in the featherweight division. Barboza cut 10 pounds to move down a weight class.
  • Krzysztof Jotko (22-4) beat former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders (13-5) in a middleweight bout. Jotko did a break dance in the middle of the octagon after his third consecutive victory.
  • Song Yadong withstood Marlon Vera’s last push in the opening fight of the main card and won a unanimous decision in the featherweight division. Vera (17-6-1) refused to shake hands with Song (5-0-1) after the result was announced. Song, of China, had visa issues and wasn’t sure he would be able to fight until Friday.

Published at Sun, 17 May 2020 14:06:50 +0000