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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday completed the last leg of its eight-day, three-event tour at VyStar Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. UFC on ESPN 8 was headlined by a heavyweight showdown between sentimental favorite Walt Harris and former Dream, Strikeforce and K-1 World Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeem.
Overeem and “The Big Ticket” were originally paired in the UFC on ESPN 7 main event in December, but Harris withdrew following the abduction and murder of his stepdaughter. The fight was rebooked for April, only to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. When they finally locked horns, Overeem did so on the eve of his 40th birthday.
Harris established dominance in the first round, where the Spartan Fitness representative floored “The Demolition Man” with a blitzing combination of power punches. He then moved in for a potential finish with a volley of ground strikes, but the experienced Overeem stayed calm under duress, survived the barrage and scrambled into top position. From there, the Dutchman began to turn the tide with heavy ground-and-pound and menacing control. Overeem dropped the Alabama native with a head kick-left hook combo in the second round, assumed top position and forced the stoppage with punches from back mount 3:00 into Round 2.
“He clipped me, and he cut me,” Overeem said during the ESPN+ post-fight show. “There was definitely a lot of danger. I saw a lot of blood. It was a little bit of a wakeup call: ‘Hey, we are in a fight.’ Walt is 265 [or] 275 [pounds]. He hits hard, he is accurate [and] he is fast, so the danger was definitely there. I was just able to withstand it, reverse it and put it on Walt.”
The win was Overeem’s third in four appearances, as he continues his late-career pursuit of the UFC heavyweight championship. He challenged Stipe Miocic for the title at UFC 203 in 2016, losing by first-round knockout after nearly stopping the Ohio native.
“We’re still hunting for the title,” Overeem said. “I would say also I’m in the last phase of my career, so those two things are on my mind: Finish up the career and one more run at the title.”
Harris—who drew his first headlining assignment from the UFC—saw his three-fight winning streak snapped. He released a statement via Instagram just hours after the defeat.
“First, let me thank Alistair Overeem for sharing the Octagon we me tonight. You’re a class act brother and a legend!” Harris posted. “Tonight, wasn’t my night but you best believe I will be back better! Thank you everyone for all your love and support, can’t say it enough! We learn and grow! Baby girl, daddy loves you and I promise I will keep pushing! #ForeverAniah.”
The mixed martial arts community showered the 36-year-old with praise for the fortitude he showed in returning to the cage after enduring unimaginable tragedy. UFC President Dana White was first in line.
“Being here tonight and competing, win, lose or draw … being here is a win,” White said. “He got a little overanxious. He should have picked his shots [and] slowed down. Alistair Overeem is a legend in the sport; he is a vet. He has been in all the big fights before, while this was Walt’s first big fight. He’ll learn from this, and he will be back. Coming off of what he came off of, just getting here tonight was a huge step for him and his family. I’m happy for him.”