Absolute respect and love.
That was the real story in the Saturday night’s UFC main event.
In the end, the experience Alistair Overeem toted outweighed the powerful story Walt Harris carried with him into the Octagon on his massive shoulders. It wasn’t the storybook ending that so many fans wanted, but it, for now, completes the compelling narrative that began on a dark night in October.
Harris’ stepdaughter, 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard, was the victim of foul play after last being seen at a convenience store in Auburn, Alabama. Her body was discovered over a month later on November 25, the victim of a senseless crime.
Nearly seven months later, Harris did his best, rocking ‘The Reem’ with a slick combination and nearly taking home the win in the first round, before a well timed head kick put him on his heels and brought Alistair Overeem (46-18; 1 NC) another hard fought victory in the second frame.
The UFC has now completed three fully stacked fight cards live from Jacksonville, Florida, in eight days with the eyes of a locked down nation upon them.
Three fight cards full of pent up energy for UFC fighters. Seven months of pent of emotion for one father.
That much emotional energy would cripple most people, especially a grieving parent, but Walt Harris (13-8; 1 NC) wouldn’t let it get the better of him. Even after being flattened out and having numerous unanswered blows reigned upon him by Overeem, Harris only briefly stayed prone on the ground, absorbing the reality of it all.
The main event was originally scheduled for December, but Harris removed himself on November 1, while authorities still searched for Aniah.
The fight was rescheduled for April 11 in Portland. COVID-19 upended that fight card while changing the course of our nation.
Not one rational person would blame Harris for taking more time off away from the cage. Away from prying eyes and media questions. Far from the violence of the Octagon.
Harris, though, wanted to fight. He needed to fight. For Aniah. For himself.
Multiple times Overeem, himself a father to three daughters, embraced Harris, showing him love and respect. While we teared up, Harris kept his composure.
Walt Harris may not have won the fight, but he did Aniah and his family proud by standing and fighting when he didn’t have to.
He kept his emotions in check while the rest of the fight world cried for Aniah.
In addition to Overeem’s main event stoppage, Claudia Gadelha edged out resilient Angela Hill in the night’s co-main event.
Gadelha, the former women’s strawweight title challenger and #6-ranked athlete in that division, was dropped by an unranked ‘Overkill’ in the second round but managed to surge back using crisp combinations, defeating Hill by split decision.
Hill (12-8) had a three fight win streak snapped. Gadelha (18-4) extends her streak to two victories in a row.
In other action on the main card, Dan Ige (_) defeated Edson Barbosa via split decision.
Krzysztof Jotko took a unanimous decision from Eryk Anders while Song Yadong defeated Marlon Vera via a unanimous decision as well.
Song Yadong and Marlon Vera earned Fight of the Night performance bonuses. Cortney Casey earned a performance bonus for his slick armbar submission over Mara Romero Borella. Miguel Baeza crushed Matt Brown via knockout to earn the other performance bonus of the evening.
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