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Walt Harris was the sentimental favorite, but Alistair Overeem had the edge in main event experience.
The latter proved to be the difference, as Overeem rallied to earn a second-round technical knockout triumph over Walt Harris in the UFC on ESPN 8 headliner at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday night. Overeem ended the contest with a methodical barrage of punches from back mount. While referee Dan Miragliotta gave Harris plenty of leeway to recover, he finally stepped in to call a halt to the heavyweight bout at the 3:00 mark of Round 2.
“He was tough. He didn’t want to give up,” Overeem said.
Harris (13-8, 1 NC, 6-7, 1 NC UFC) was fighting for the first time since the death of stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard late last year, and the Alabama native began the fight with a purpose. “The Big Ticket” swarmed Overeem (46-18, 1 NC, 11-7 UFC) with power punches at the outset of the opening stanza, dropping his adversary near the fence. From there, Harris unloaded with heavy ground-and-pound from above, and Overeem’s time seemed limited. However, the Dutch veteran, with 14 KO/TKO losses on his ledger, somehow regained his senses and assumed top position halfway through the round after his opponent slipped on a kick. From there, he peppered Harris with punches from back control until the horn.
“I got caught the first round,” Overeem admitted. “Walt’s a strong guy, 266 [pounds], probably cuts a lot of weight. But it’s five rounds; main event — and I’m well prepared for that.”
With Harris still fatigued from his initial outburst, Overeem wobbled him with a head kick and dropped him with a left hand in the second stanza. It was academic from that point, as “The Reem” took his foe’s back, flattened him out and unloaded with unanswered blows until the fight was called off. For Harris, it was an emotional moment to finally return to MMA following a horrific tragedy.
“I want to say thank you first and foremost to the UFC. They’ve been amazing through the whole process,” Harris said. “My wife and I are so grateful. We owe you guys so much.”
Gadelha Takes Split Verdict Over Hill
Claudia Gadelha won for the third time in four outings, as she eked out a split-decision win over Angela Hill in the strawweight co-main event. Two judges submitted 29-28 scorecards in favor of the Brazilian, while a third had it 29-28 for Hill. Competing for the third time in five months, Hill saw a three-bout winning streak come to an end.
Gadelha was at her best in the opening stanza, when she attacked with heavy punches, forced the clinch and took her opponent down. Most importantly, she spent nearly a minute landing ground-and-pound from side control at the end of the frame.
Hill increased her volume over the final 10 minutes, and she floored her opponent with a straight right to the jaw in Round 2. Gadelha was able to recover, and though Hill’s output might’ve been higher, “Claudinha” seemed to connect with more authority down the stretch.
“I was pushing the pace,” Gadelha said. “Angela is fast, and I did my best tonight.”
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Ige Spoils Barboza’s Featherweight Debut
In a bout that was as closely contested as they come, Dan Ige’s strong finish won the day.
The 28-year-old Hawaiian ruined Edson Barboza’s featherweight debut, taking a hard-fought split decision that could have gone either way. Two judges saw the fight 29-28 for Ige, while a third scored it in favor of the former lightweight contender. Ige (14-2, 6-1 UFC) has won six straight in the Octagon, while Barboza has fallen short in five of his last six outings.
“That’s six in a row. It’s not easy to do in this division,” Ige said. “I want the best guys, that’s what I want next.”
Barboza made Ige earn his victory at every turn. The Brazilian floored Ige with a right hook in Round 1 and stunned him with a knee to the body in Round 2, all while attacking with his trademark ferocity for the duration of the contest. Through it all, Ige’s resolve never weakened, as he repeatedly attacked with rapid-fire punching combinations to open a cut on the bridge of Barboza’s nose. He put one final stamp on the fight in Round 3, when he landed a late takedown and spent the final minute on top, landing ground-and-pound until the horn.
“I did my best to go in there to grind and push as hard as I could in that third round,” Ige said. “Edson’s a tough guy, one of the best in the world. [It’s] such an honor to share the Octagon with him.”
Jotko Stifles Anders, Wins Decision
Airtight takedown defense and crisp, rangy striking carried Krzysztof Jotko to a unanimous decision triumph over Eryk Anders in a featured middleweight encounter. Judges submitted scorecards of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 in favor of the Polish competitor, who has put together a three-bout winning streak. Anders had a two-fight winning streak snapped in defeat.
Anders (13-5, 5-5 UFC) did his best to utilize his size and strength advantage, but he was unable to finish the vast majority of his takedown attempts. While the former University of Alabama football player often stalled in the clinch against the fence, Jotko (22-4, 9-4 UFC) found enough openings to land a variety straight punches, kicks and knees to the body. The American Top Team product owns nine middleweight triumphs in UFC competition since 2013, tying him for the second most in the promotion during that period.
Song Edges Vera in Competitive Scrap
Yadong Song extended his unbeaten streak to nine, edging Marlon Vera in an entertaining bantamweight clash to open Saturday’s main card. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Song, who nearly didn’t fight due to visa issues. Vera had a five-bout winning streak snapped in defeat.
Song (16-4-1, 1 NC, 5-0-1 UFC) had his most success trading punches in the pocket, where he was able to showcase his superior hand speed and power while landing effectively to the head and body. Vera (15-6-1, 9-5 UFC) began the contest utilizing his reach advantage by attacking with leg kicks, but he shifted gears in Round 3, when he landed multiple takedowns and spent a decent portion of the period attacking from top position. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to sway the scorecards in his favor.
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