UFC Florida: Overeem and Harris Look for Significant Victory

UFC Walt Harris
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

MMA veteran Alistair Overeem is looking to get back in the win-column, but he faces a motivated Walt Harris who enters the Octagon at UFC Florida with a new sense of purpose following a personal tragedy.

Though it is unfavorable, Alistair Overeem has been in this position before. Last December, with seconds remaining in his five round battle with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, the Surinamese kickboxer pulled victory from the jaws of defeat to stop Overeem and leave him with one of the most gruesome cuts seen in recent history.  It also raised the familiar questions: How many more battles with the elite does he have left as he approaches his 40th birthday?  Even for a heavyweight, is he becoming more susceptible to damage than he was in years prior?

They are understandable questions.  But, “The Demolition Man” has been the proverbial nail rather than the hammer before.  Loses to Francis Ngannou, Travis Browne, and Antonio Silva were no less devastating.  Following a stoppage loss to Ben Rothwell, Overeem went on the best run of his UFC career that included several finishes of his own.  After losing to the champ, another two stoppage victories over both a decorated knockout artist and a former champion.  At a time when the division is at a standstill, Saturday provides an opportunity to build back up the rankings before the UFC schedule resumes at its usual pace.

Walt Harris’ story reached beyond the MMA bubble last December.  Previously set for a big step up in competition against Overeem at the end of last year, Harris had his world stop when his step-daughter, Aniah Blanchard, went missing and was later found deceased.  MMA took an understandable back-seat as he took care of his own well-being and his family.  In an interview this week, Harris said of the moment he felt ready to come back:

I had a talk with my wife one day, and she was like, ‘Why don’t you start back training and get your mind off of it? There was a point where, honestly, thinking about anything but my daughter was wrong. I battled that so hard. I was like, ‘If I go back to fighting, am I not thinking for her? Am I not doing the right thing by her?’ I prayed about it. I could hear her telling me, ‘Daddy, I want you to go back. I want you to fight. This is what we worked so hard (for). I sacrificed so much. Mom sacrificed so much. You sacrificed so much to get to where you are. I would be more upset with you if you stopped fighting. That’s when I went back in the gym and started getting back in shape. I put a goal out there of when I wanted to fight, just to kind of give myself some incentive and motivation outside of what I already had.

Fueled by a new motivation, Harris will be looking for his best career performance inside the cage.  “The Big Ticket” is 3-0-1 in his last four fights.  His victory against Andrei Arlovski was overturned to a No Contest due to a positive drug test in that span, however Harris proved that it was a case of a tainted supplement.  Harris is currently coming off back-to-back wins over Sergey Spivak and perennially ranked Alexey Oleinik, the latter of which he stopped in an electric 12 seconds.  However, Overeem is by far the most decorated opponent of Harris’ career.

Stylistically, the speed of Harris striking will be tested by the versatile attack of Overeem.  Harris’ size allows him to physically impose his will on opponents while the speed of his hands makes him a very dangerous opponent to deal with.  Harris should look to get in-and-out with crisp boxing and force Overeem to over-extend himself in trying to counter, thus creating openings for Harris to connect with bigger shots or possibly take down the Dutchman.  Overeem will look to fight at a more measured pace, working behind a stern defense to pick his spots to rip to connect with powerful punches and kicks.  By varying his attack, he will make it more difficult for Harris to close the distance and thus slow down his offense.

A veteran of the Octagon, Overeem has fought everyone else ahead of him in the UFC rankings besides one man: Derrick Lewis.  Overeem and Lewis have previously taken aim at each other, with Overeem having called out Lewis in the past and Lewis expressing content towards Overeem’s loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik.  Harris would provide a fresh face higher up the rankings with any number of ranked opponents being possible in his next outing.