UFC on ESPN 8 wasn’t the storybook ending to an emotional fight build-up for heavyweight Walt Harris – but it was a learning experience.
Seven months after his stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard, was kidnapped and killed, Harris (23-8 MMA, 14-6 UFC) stepped into his first UFC main event against Alistair Overeem in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite nearly finishing Overeem in the first round, a drained Harris was finished by ground-and-pound in Round 2.
“I don’t want to say it was easy to get over, because I never take losing easy,” Harris recently told MMA Junkie. “I really don’t like losing. But barring the circumstances, after a couple days of talking to people around me, I realized it was bigger than just a win or a loss. I kind of knew that going into it, but hearing other people’s perspectives and the fans’, it was overwhelming. Like I said, I’m taking it day by day, getting prepared for the next battle so I can be 110 percent myself when I go into it.”
Harris attributes a number of factors to the May 16 loss. The emotional circumstances paired with the less-than-ideal training camp made it more difficult for him to come in 110 percent.
“It was a combination of a little bit of everything,” Harris said. “I’m never one to make excuses. I feel like in this case, it was pretty understandable. The pandemic put a strain on my training camp. I didn’t have the consistency that I’d like to have during the training camp. I felt great going into the fight. I feel like me having my first main event played a little bit into it. I didn’t understand how to pace myself. I should’ve allowed him to get up (and) tried to finish him again. I got excited. I went in for the kill, which is my nature. It’s kind of how I fight. Once I get you hurt, I’m trying to put you away.
“I think I blew myself out a little bit trying to put him away. He’s a savvy veteran. He’s a legend for a reason. He weathered the storm, and he was able to come back and find a way to get the victory. It was a learning lesson for me. I learn a lot more in losses than I do in wins.”
After the referee waived off the fight, Overeem embraced a depleted Harris. The image was captured by USA TODAY Sports. Overeem’s understanding and class during the lead-up and aftermath of the fight initiated a bond with Harris. With their battle in the rearview mirror, Harris said he plans on heading out to Denver to train with Overeem for their upcoming fights.
“As people know, I’ve always admired Overeem,” Harris said. “Like I said, I used to watch him fight before I ever put a pair of gloves on. It was just an honor to share the cage with him. Me and him have had conversations leading up to the fight, after the fight. He actually just texted me this week about coming out and training with him.
“He’s in Denver now. He was spending time with his family, and he’s over here preparing for his fight in September, so I’m trying to get this city council stuff lined up and running. Then I’m going to probably head out to Denver to work with him. Like I said, I’ve always admired him, and I think I can learn a lot from him.”
Harris said he doesn’t have a date, location, or opponent yet for his next fight but is eying a UFC return. Whoever and wherever he fights next, Harris vowed to enter the cage at his absolute best.
“I talked to my manager this week,” Harris said. “We’re looking at September. That’s the goal right now. They didn’t throw me any names, but everybody knows I’m down to fight anybody, anytime, so whoever they give me I’ll be 110 percent prepared for. I’ll go in and do my best.”