Overeem rocked early, rallies to finish Harris

Walt Harris dropped Alistair Overeem with a big combination in the first round. He pounded him with punches on the ground. Overeem was a bloody mess, cuts on his lip and near his left eye. Harris was one or two more big shots away from getting a TKO victory — the biggest and most emotional win of his career.

It didn’t come.

Instead, Overeem landed a big head kick and finished Harris on the ground with punches at 3 minutes of the second round Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. No fans were in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the UFC’s third card in eight days in the city.

After referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in to stop the fight, Overeem kneeled down and consoled Harris. He told his fellow heavyweight, “Let’s train together.”

This was Harris’ first fight since his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard was murdered last October. Harris carried a shirt to the cage adorned with a photo of him and Blanchard and the words “Fighting for Aniah.” Harris was initially scheduled to fight Overeem on Dec. 7, 2019 prior to the tragedy causing him to withdraw.

Harris thanked the UFC; his team; his hometown of Homewood, Alabama; and the fans for the support leading into his first fight back, seven months after Blanchard’s death. He also apologized for not getting the win.

“I want to say thank you for first in foremost to the UFC,” Harris told Paul Felder in his post-fight Octagon interview. “They’ve been amazing throughout this whole process. My wife and my family are so grateful. We owe you guys everything.”

Harris dropped Overeem in the first round and had the former title contender in serious trouble on the ground. Overeem, though, was able to get back to his feet and get Harris down after Harris landed a kick. Overeem nearly finished Harris late in the first round, but Harris survived.

In the second, Overeem landed a big head kick that floored Harris. Overeem got Harris’ back and rained down blows until Miragliotta stepped in to end it.

Overeem outlanded Harris 68-25, including 41-1 in the second round.

ESPN had Overeem ranked No. 10 in the world among MMA heavyweights coming in. This was Harris’ chance to jump into title contention for the first time.

Overeem (46-18) has won three of his last four fights. The Dutchman was coming off a knockout loss with 4 seconds remaining in the fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik in December.

Overeem, who turns 40 on Sunday, is one of the best heavyweights in combat sports history, winning titles in Strikeforce, Dream and K-1 kickboxing. He has never won the UFC belt, a goal he continues to chase. Overeem alluded to another title run if he wins one more fight this year afterward. He and Aleksei Oleinik are the only UFC fighters to win pro MMA fights over four decades.

Harris (13-8, 1 NC) was unbeaten in four straight fights coming in. The former Jacksonville State basketball player had finished his two previous opponents in 50 seconds or less. Harris, 36, is a former Golden Gloves boxing champion.

“You ain’t seen the last of ‘The Big Ticket,'” Harris told Felder. “I’m gonna go home, heal emotionally and physically and come back better than ever.”

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