Dubai: When American Walt Harris entered the Octagon to face heavyweight opponent Alistair Overeem, he had one thing on his mind — to win the fight for his late stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard who was murdered last November.
But it was not to be.
Harris had triumphed over adversity and pain since the family tragedy, and try as he did to put away his 40-year-old Dutch opponent early in the fight, he was struck down with a head kick in round two and subjected to some heavy ground-and-pound before referee Dan Miragliotta eventually put an end to the fight.
In an emotional scene, something rarely seen in the Octagon, Overeem knelt down on the mat, put his arms around Harris and told him they should train together in the future.
Harris thanked everyone who supported him and his family throughout the tragedy and said: I’ll be back better, I promise you. You ain’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.”
Meanwhile, Overeem, a veteran of 65 fights showed why he is still relevant in the heavyweight division, despite his age.
He used all his experience and skills to ward off an opening-round barrage from Harris before storming back with a thundering head kick that rocked the American.
It was the beginning of the end as Harris was not himself in the second round and easily succumbed to Overeem’s calculated strikes and aggressiveness.
“You just stay focused,” Overeem said afterwards. “Pandemic or no pandemic. It’s been a long ride but somehow I keep finding the focus.
“Let’s look at the rankings. Fight again later this year. Maybe we’re going to see if there’s one more shot at the title.”
The co-main event featured a women’s strawweight clash between Brazil’s No. 6-ranked Claudia Gadelha and the former world kick-boxing champion Angela Hill from America.
Gadelha, who boasts a 22-18 MMA record survived an explosive knock-down to out-grapple and out-punch Hill to earn a split decision victory (29-28, 28-29, 29-28). “I was pushing the pace,” Gadelha said afterwards. “Angela’s fast. I did my best.”
Elsewhere Brazil’s Edson Barboza (29-20) lost to No. 5-ranked featherweight Dan Ige (16-14) via a split decision, but his team said that they would appeal against the verdict.
Barboza was making his first appearance in the Octagon have lost via split decision to Paul Felder at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi. He had earlier been beaten by new lightweight interim champion Justin Gaethje in March 2019.
Earlier Chinese mixed martial artist Song Yadong kept his perfect record intact with a win over Marlon Vera to kick off the main card.
Alistair Overeem def. Walt Harris — via TKO, Round 2, 3:00
Claudia Gadelha def. Angela Hill — via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Edson Barboza def. Dan Ige — via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Krzysztof Jotko def. Eryk Anders — via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Song Yadong def. Marlon Vera — via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Miguel Baeza def. Matt Brown — via KO, Round 2, 0:18
Kevin Holland def. Anthony Hernandez — via TKO, Round 1, 0:39
Giga Chikadze def. Irwin Rivera — via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
Nate Landwehr def. Darren Elkins — via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Cortney Casey def. Mara Romero Borella — via submission, Round 1, 3:36
Rodrigo Nascimento def. Don’tale Mayes — via submission, Round 2, 2:05