A Motivated Harris Will Be Fighting For His Late Step-Daughter
This is not a normal fight week for Walt Harris.
The 36-year-old heavyweight has been mourning the loss of Aniah Blanchard, his step-daughter, since late last year. The 19-year-old was missing for some time but was later pronounced dead. Eventually, arrests were made in connection to the murder. At first, Harris (13-7 1NC) almost gave up on fighting.
“I went through a dark, dark period as you know,” Harris stated during media day for UFC on ESPN 8, via MMA Junkie. “You could probably already imagine. I felt myself slipping in the opposite direction of what I set out to be as a man and as a father.”
His initial fight with Alistair Overeem in December was nixed as a result. Those within the world of MMA would not have blamed him if he stopped, as support has been the biggest thing the community has given him. The UFC did everything they could to stand by “The Big Ticket”, who saw it through the power of social media and donations.
Now, Harris will enter the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on May 16 to clash with Overeem. It won’t just be him that enters the cage, however. It took a long time for negative thoughts to exit his body. They may never be fully gone. To become motivated, he had to think about all the good that Aniah brought to the world. The thought of her kept him together.
“There was a point where, honestly, thinking about anything but my daughter was wrong,” Harris went on to say. “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.”
Since Aniah’s passing, Harris has been able to work on something to help families in the future. “Aniah’s Law” would allow judges to hold those who committed Class A felonies in jail without bail. It is just one of the many things that have made the fight for Harris not just about the one inside the octagon.
Harris is on a two-fight win streak and is 3-1 in his last four with one no-contest. In two fights in 2019, he took out Sergey Spivak (TKO) and Aleksei Oleinik (KO). The last bout was in July. Ranked ninth in the UFC’s heavyweight rankings, none of that really matters to Harris. It is not about who he is facing but what he is fighting for.
In his way of healing is Overeem, a former Strikeforce and DREAM Heavyweight Champion. The two were rebooked for April in Portland but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the event. Overeem (45-18, 1NC) is 2-3 in his last five, losing to Jairzinho Rozenstruik back in December. Harris won’t see the 6’4, 253.5 lb Overeem when he fights. To him, Overeem is just another wall to push through on the current journey Aniah has put him on.
“I feel like anybody who gets in the cage with me at this point, it’s dangerous for that person,” Harris stated to MMA Fighting. “I feel like that. I always feel like that but now you’re not going to just be fighting me. You’re going to be fighting two people.
“You’re going to be fighting me and her. Motivation is definitely on 12 right now. I can’t wait.”
Here is the full fight card for UFC on ESPN 8:
UFC On ESPN 8 Main Card (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Alistair Overeem v. Walt Harris
Claudia Gadelha v. Angela Hill
Edson Barboza v. Dan Ige
Eryk Anders v. Krzysztof Jotko
Song Yadong and Marlon Vera
UFC On ESPN 8 Prelims (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Matt Brown v. Miguel Baeza
Anthony Hernandez v. Kevin Holland
Darren Elkins v. Nate Landwehr
**Irwin Rivera vs. Giga Chikadze
Cortney Casey v. Mara Romero Borella
Rodrigo Nascimento v. Don’Tale Mayes