When he knocked down Alistair Overeem in the opening round of their main event fight Saturday, it felt like Walt Harris would finally catch a break. It’s hard to say happy ending, given what the heavyweight has been through. But the ending so many were rooting for was within his grasp.
The crowd, had there been one, would have been out of their seats. Early in their UFC on ESPN 8 fight, Harris had “The Reem” hurt. The hammer fists were flying. Overeem was covering up.
The ref, however, allowed the fight to continue. Speaking at a virtual press-scrum post fight, to media outlets including Cageside Press, Overeem — who stormed back in round two for a TKO victory — described the level of danger he was in. “I would say big danger, right? You have a 275lb man who just scored a knockdown, and he’s there to finish you. So the danger was real.”
“Stay calm, fight through it,” was his thought. “I was still there.”
He was able to take some solace in the fact that Harris had expended so much energy trying for the finish. “I think also his weight, right?” Overeem added. “He was 265, 275. You’re fighting five rounds. That’s too much.”
Of course, the bout didn’t actually go five rounds. Setting up the finish with a head kick, Overeem secured the win exactly three minutes into the second. Interestingly enough, Overeem in the past has come in right at the heavyweight limit. But in more recent times, he’s slimmed down just a little. At Friday’s weigh-in he stepped on the scales at 253.5lbs.
In any case, there’s no question Harris looked exhausted in the latter half of round one. As the second got underway, he still appeared to be feeling the effects.
After a disappointing loss in the dying seconds of his fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Overeem is now back in the win column. Improving to 46-18 (1NC), he’ll likely land a high profile opponent next. It’s Overeem, and it always feels like he’s a win away from a title shot, after all. He has other plans first, however. “What’s next is some time off, because we had an extra-long camp. Five weeks extra. That makes it ten weeks I was in camp.”
Overeem plans to celebrate his 40th birthday, which came Sunday. Then, “fight again September, October. Not too long a layoff. I think September, October would be nice.”
Over the years, there has been plenty of criticism of Overeem, for his diminishing ability to take the heavy shots that inevitably come in the heavyweight division. Perhaps he proved some critics wrong on Saturday. Overeem doesn’t much care for the critics however.
“I don’t really pay attention too much to what other people say. I just focus on what I need to do, focus on my team,” he said.
Alistair Overeem is one of the sport’s larger than life figures, which made Saturday night something of an anomaly. He very much had to play the “heel” role almost by default, through no fault of his own. With Harris returning after the murder of step-daughter Aniah Blanchard, there was a huge groundswell of support behind the Alabama native.
No matter who Harris went up against, his opponent was going to be the bad guy. But in actual fact, there was nothing but respect between the two after the bout. Overeem shed some light into what was said in the octagon, when all was said and done.
“We met briefly during a PR tour, since we were going to fight last December. Very cool guy, very humble guy. So we instantly clicked,” recalled Overeem. “We were going to train together after the fight, so I just gave him a hug, [said] ‘take your time to recover, and let’s work together man.'”
Recognizing that Harris had been through a personal tragedy, Overeem said believes it was important for “The Big Ticket” to get back on the horse. “You have to continue, you have to get on with it. For me, to honor him, I just needed to bring my best version tonight.”