UFC on ESPN 8: Walt Harris Questioned Whether Return to Fighting Was Doing Right By Daughter

“A win over [Alistair] Overeem definitely puts me in the conversation.” That’s how Walt Harris sees his pending battle atop the UFC on ESPN 8 card.

Harris (13-7, 1NC) is coming back from unthinkable tragedy. The abduction and murder of step-daughter Aniah Blanchard saw him pulled from a fight with Overeem last December, in Washington, D.C. At the time, fighting was no doubt the last thing on Harris’ mind.

In fact for a while, he told Cageside Press at the UFC on ESPN 8 virtual media day, Harris struggled to think of anything but Aniah.

“I went through a dark, dark period as you probably can already imagine. I felt myself slipping in the opposite direction of what I set out to be as a man and as a father,” he said. “I just had a talk with my wife one day, and she was like ‘you know what, why don’t you start back training and try to get your mind off it?'”

“There was a point where I felt like thinking of anything but my daughter was wrong. I battled that so hard,” Harris explained. “I was like ‘if I go back to fighting, am I not thinking of her? Am I doing the right thing by her?'”

Harris found his answer, and his daughter’s voice, through prayer. And the response was that she wanted him to return to the sport he loved.

“That’s when I went back in the gym, and I started focusing on getting back in shape,” said Harris. “And I just kind of put a goal out there of when I wanted to fight, just to kind of give myself some incentive, some motivation, outside of what I already had. I kind of told the UFC March or April, and we went from there. I started focusing like I was about to fight in March.”

Harris was booked against Overeem, originally in April, but of course, the coronavirus pandemic arrived, and everything was pushed back. Harris continued training throughout.

The pandemic has also slowed efforts for Aniah’s Law, a law that would make sure violent offenders are not allowed bond. “It’s a bi-partisan effort in the state. Both sides came together like that. It flew through the judicial system so fast that it was kind of overwhelming to watch.”

The man responsible for Aniah Blanchard’s death was out on bond for unrelated kidnapping charges at the time she was murdered. Harris hopes the law will be passed later this year in Alabama, “and other states will grab it and enact it as well, to protect people.”