Alistair Overeem stopped Walt Harris in the second round of UFC's Fight Night main event in Jacksonville on Saturday, ending an emotional return for the heavyweight fighter known as The Big Ticket.
Harris was a slight favourite and the sentimental choice as he entered the octagon for the first time since his 19-year-old step-daughter, Aniah Blanchard, was allegedly murdered in Alabama.
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Harris (13-8) wore a “Fighting for Aniah” T-shirt into the arena and it appeared he would notch his 14th career knockout when he dropped Overeem in the opening round.
But veteran Overeem (46-18) regrouped on the eve of his 41st birthday and dominated the rest of the way.
He sent Harris to the mat for the final time with an unblocked combination early in the second.
Harris thanked the UFC, his team and his community while fighting back tears.
“I'm sorry I didn't get the W for you tonight,” Harris said.
“I'll be back better, I promise you. You haven't seen the last of The Big Ticket.
“I'm going to go home, recover. I'm going to heal emotionally and physically, and I promise you I'll be better.”
Harris in mourning after death of step-daughter
Harris' wife encouraged him to return to the octagon after more than six months of grieving.
Blanchard, a student at Alabama, was last seen October 23 at a gas station in Auburn, Alabama.
Her SUV was found abandoned days later more than 90 kilometres away at an apartment complex in Montgomery. Her remains were discovered in a wooded area in late November.
Ibraheem Yazeed, 29, was charged with capital murder. The medical examiner determined Blanchard died from a gunshot wound.
Harris and Overeem served as the main event for the UFC's third show in Jacksonville in eight days, all part of the series' return following an eight-week hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The UFC will take the next two weeks off before fighting May 30.
It hopes to return to Las Vegas, but first needs clearance from the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Other fights on the main card:
- Claudia Gadelha (18-4) held off Angela Hill (12-8) in the strawweight division and won a split decision.
- Dan Ige (14-2) edged Edson Barboza (20-9) in another split decision.
- Krzysztof Jotko (22-4) beat former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders (13-5) in a middleweight bout.
- Song Yadong withstood Marlon Vera's last push in the opening fight of the main card and won a unanimous decision in the featherweight division.