Keeping stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard’s name relevant, and ensuring she did not die in vain, is part of the healing process for Walt Harris.
Las Vegas, NV — UFC heavyweight Walt Harris will return to action at UFC Portland on April 11. When he does, it will mark his first fight since the abduction and murder of Harris’ stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard.
It’s doubtful anyone could put such a tragedy completely behind them. But Harris is ready to return to work — although he admitted to media outlets including Cageside Press in Las Vegas on Saturday that he struggled with the decision initially.
“At first it was [a difficult decision]. I struggled with it a little bit, because I didn’t want to take any attention away from her.,” admitted Harris. “But she tells me all the time, ‘Daddy it’s okay.’ So I’m ready to get back to work.”
The fight against Overeem is essentially the biggest of his career. Certainly the biggest name. In that sense, “I feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be, as far as my professional career goes,” said Harris. “I’m excited to get in there and test myself against Overeem. I looked up to him. I watched him fight before I ever put a pair of gloves on. So it’s dope to go in and get a chance to test my mettle against him. I feel like it’s a fight I can win, I know I’m going to win. And I’ve got other forces helping me. So it’s going to be fun April 11.”
Harris isn’t expecting to be star struck when he steps into the octagon against ‘The Reem,’ however. He’s been there before, against Fabricio Werdum. He knows what it’s like to get in the cage with a legend.
‘The Big Ticket’ is also appreciative of the opportunity he’s being afforded at UFC Portland. The heavyweight pair were originally booked prior to Blanchard’s disappearance. In the interim, Overeem went up against Jairzinho Rozenstruik. “I appreciate [Overeem] for giving me an opportunity to come back and keep the same fight. He’s reached out to me numerous times throughout the situation. I’ve got nothing but respect for him.”
Overeem is a father himself. The MMA world, frankly, is a small one.
Harris is also thankful for the outpouring of support from fans of the sport. “It’s amazing to see the support,” he said. “Of course, you don’t look for that, but we’re going to make the most of it. I know my daughter would be happy, she’s proud, she’s smiling down [at me]. She wants me to keep going and be happy, because she knows how much I love this sport.”
Part of the healing process, said Harris, is fighting for his stepdaughter’s memory, and ensuring she did not die in vain. “Aniah’s Law just passed the judicial system in Alabama,” he observed. The law, named for his late stepdaughter, would allow judges to deny bail for anyone charged with a Class A felony in the state. Currently, only those charged with capital murder are denied bail. The accused in Blanchard’s case was out on bond for kidnapping and related charges at the time of her murder.
“It’s going to the Senate. It’s moving at a rate I have never seen for the law,” he continued. “Both parties have come together. There was a unanimous vote for it, which is amazing. We’re making headway on that end, and I think that’s a part of the process of healing for us. Making sure we keep her name relevant, and [making sure] she didn’t pass away in vain. So that’s the first step.”
And perhaps, said Harris, the law could one day expand nationwide. “It’s going to give judges the discretion to deny bond. I think, with my daughter’s case, I can’t say a lot about it, because there is a gag order. But the perpetrator or whatever you want to call him, he had a lengthy rap sheet. A lot of people feel like he shouldn’t have been on the streets. And it could happen to anybody if that’s the case. So we’re trying to enact something that will protect everybody. So hopefully it will go national.”
Watch the full press scrum with Walt Harris, backstage at UFC 248 at the T-Mobile Arena, above.