- Walt Harris returned to mixed martial arts Saturday, seven months after the killing of his 19-year-old daughter, Aniah Blanchard.
- He was defeated in the second round by Alistair Overeem in the final night of the UFC’s three events at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
- Overeem embraced Harris on the ground after their fight, inviting the American to train with him.
- In his post-fight speech, Harris struggled to hold back tears as he thanked the UFC, his trainer, and his teammates. “I’m going to go home, recover, and heal emotionally and physically.”
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Walt Harris, an American fighter, struggled to hold back tears returning to the UFC seven months after the abduction and murder of his daughter.
Aniah Blanchard, 19, went missing in October, 2019, in Alabama. Her remains were discovered two months later and an autopsy revealed she died of a gunshot wound, CNN reported. The cause of death was homicide.
Harris told reporters at a virtual media day this week that he endured a “dark, dark period” while grieving, but after speaking with his wife, Angela, he used the gym as a coping mechanism.
Harris also prayed, and said his daughter spoke to him during those spiritual moments. “I could hear her telling me, ‘Daddy, I want you to go back. I want you to fight.'”
And fight he did, as Harris topped the bill at the final night of the UFC’s three Jacksonville, Florida shows, competing against one of the heavyweight division’s biggest names — Alistair Overeem — on Saturday, May 16.
A first-round onslaught in which he floored Overeem and appeared close to finishing the Dutch kickboxer was the closest he came to victory, before a big head kick and ground and pound led to defeat in the second.
Watch the moment Overeem consoled Harris below. Overeem said, “Let’s train together,” when he embraced Harris on the canvas.
—ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 17, 2020
“First, I just want to say thank you to the UFC … they’ve been amazing through this whole process. My wife and I have been so grateful, we owe you guys everything,” Harris said in his post-fight speech in the Octagon.
With tears building in his eyes and his voice beginning to break, Harris thanked his trainer and teammates.
He then apologized to his community, Homewood in Alabama. “I’m sorry I didn’t get the W [win] for you tonight. You’ve been there for my family and I through everything.”
The UFC’s three events at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena were behind-closed-doors due to a ban on mass gatherings to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“To the fans, I know y’all couldn’t be in here but you’re at home, watching, I’m sorry,” Harris said. “I’ll be back better, I promise you. You ain’t seen the last of [me]. I’m going to go home, recover, and heal emotionally and physically.”
Said Overeem: “Walt is a cool guy. It is horrible what he’s been through, the personal tragedy with his daughter … We just have to get back on the horse and I think that’s also really important for Walt.”
Blanchard’s accused killer, Ibraheem Yazeed, was arrested in November in connection to the abduction, and faces the death penalty. Yazeed’s next court appearance is June, according to reports.