Abu Dhabi, UAE — It’s impossible to talk about Walt Harris’ last performance without discussing the circumstances around it. The tragic death of his stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard, which led to capital murder charges against a known felon, became national news. So when he returned to the octagon against Alistair Overeem back in May, the spotlight was on him.
Public sentiment was firmly in the corner of Harris. The people were cheering for a win, but after nearly finishing Overeem in the opening round, an exhausted Harris (13-8, 1NC) was put away in the second.
Ahead of his return at UFC 254 this weekend, Harris opened up about his experience with that fight.
“I learned that there’s still good in the world with people. I heard a lot of great responses from that fight, specifically people reaching out to me, saying how grateful they were, thankful they were to me for getting in there. And how much it inspired them to keep pushing through all the things they’re going through,” Harris said during the UFC 254 media day in Abu Dhabi this week. “Especially with the world being the way it is right now with this pandemic. That really touched me, it really picked me back up.”
He got right back in the gym as a result. Harris even kept in touch with opponent Overeem, who had nothing but kind words for his fellow heavyweight and father.
“Everybody knew going into that fight how much I admired him and how much respect I had for [Alistair Overeem],” said Harris. “So his words, you know… and to be honest, I wasn’t even close to me that night. I almost put one of the greatest fighters of all time away. I learned that I belong at this level, for sure. I’m definitely one of the best fighters in the world. I think Saturday night you’re all going to get the real me.”
Saturday night, Harris returns against former Bellator MMA heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov. The fight is a little more under the radar this time. Khabib vs. Gaethje tops the card. Harris and Volkov are both entering the fight off lossses.
“I think that beating a guy like Volkov is going to make the fight with Alistair look better, and it’s going to keep me in a great standing with the rest of the division,” Harris suggested about the match-up. “He’s a veteran, he’s a former champion with another organization, and he’s a guy that knows how to fight.”
When it comes to Volkov’s last bout, against Curtis Blaydes, Harris said that “I think he just got nullified. I think he got put in positions that he wasn’t prepared to be in, and I think Curtis had the perfect game plan to beat him. But my striking, I feel like, is way better than his. I think I’m the best striker in the division, in my personal opinion.”
“I think I can present him some of the same challenges with the takedowns that Curtis did,” continued the heavyweight known as “The Big Ticket.” Not that he’s trying to make comparisons. “I’m not saying I’m the same wrestler, but I feel like my blast double is pretty gnarly. I’ve been told it’s one of the scariest things to see in the gym. So I’ve got that in my arsenal.”
Arriving on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, Harris was greeted by a big sign on the wall that said “Big Ticket.”
“It was like an omen,” Harris said, whose immediate reaction was “that’s crazy!”
“I see signs in stuff like that. I’m not this whole, whatever person, but I saw that and I thought it was a pretty dope way to welcome myself to Abu Dhabi,” he continued. “I feel like Saturday night I’m going to show the world and Abu Dhabi the Big Ticket for sure.”
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.