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UFC on ESPN 8 preview, ‘Overeem vs Harris’ predictions

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UFC Fight Night: Open Workouts Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Hold on to your butts, as UFC is right back into the thick of things with tomorrow night’s (Sat., May 16, 2020) fight card, the third and final event within the last week. UFC on ESPN 8: “Overeem vs. Harris” is exactly what it sounds like, an ESPN/ESPN+ televised lineup topped by the heavyweight showdown between Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris.

In the UFC on ESPN 8 co-main event, which also airs on ESPN+, longtime strawweight veterans Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill will collide for a spot in the 115-pound title chase. We’ll be previewing both matchup from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, with the help of some cold, hard stats.

Before we get to the main and co-main event analysis, be sure to check out the complete UFC on ESPN 8 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Overeem vs. Harris” odds and betting lines click here.

265 lbs.: Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris

Alistair “Demolition Man” Overeem

Record: 45-18, 1 NC | Age: 39 | Betting line: +135
Wins: 23 KO/TKO, 17 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 14 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 545 of 743 (73%) | Takedown attempts: 6 of 24 (25%)
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: Knockout loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Walt “Big Ticket” Harris

Record: 13-7, 1 NC | Age: 36 | Betting line: -165
Wins: 13 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 6’5“ | Reach: 77” | Stance: Southpaw
Striking accuracy: 253 of 663 (38%) | Takedown attempts: 2 of 8 (25%)
Current Ranking: No. 9 | Last fight: Knockout win over Alexey Oleynik

When I think about the career of Alistair Overeem, which I hope for his sake is winding down, I can’t help but recall that Grateful Dead compilation about long, strange trips. Find me another fighter to hold double-digit knockout losses and still be ranked in the Top 10 of what is a surprisingly competitive division. We can attribute that to Overeem’s ability to put together a couple of big wins when he needs them the most, like when “Demolition Man” started his UFC career a dreadful 2-3, getting knocked out in all three losses. What followed was a stellar 6-1 run that included a shot at the heavyweight title — and all those “Stipe tapped!” memes. Over the last few years, however, the hulking Dutchman is right back where he started, mired in a 2-3 slump while getting knocked silly all three times. One of the more incredible stats of his storied combat sports career is that in 64 professional fights, Overeem has only been to a decision eight times, a stat that no doubt endears him to the JUST BLEED! faithful and finicky matchmakers. I’m not a big fan of Wrestle-Reem, who gameplans his way to victory, but that’s because I came up in this sport watching the killer who once held three heavyweight titles at the same damn time.

I could say a lot of the same things about Walt Harris, and will, because I have a word count to hit. Like Overeem, “The Big Ticket” hates the third round and has finished all 13 of his wins by way of knockout. He would currently be enjoying a four-fight win streak, but Harris failed his UFC 232 drug test — later proven to be a tainted supplement — and his split-decision victory over Andrei Arlovski was overturned. That’s an important fight for the purposes of this breakdown, because the record of Harris combined with the chin of Overeem suggests this outcome is a foregone conclusion; however, Arlovski also has double-digit knockout losses (11) and was able to avoid the killing blow. Superior technique did not result in the win, at least for two of the three judges, but it did demonstrate that not all heavyweights are husky bar fighters with little nuance. Overeem, for all his faults, is an accomplished kickboxer with serious power. You don't get to rack up 23 knockout wins via lucky punch and we haven’t even talked about his 17 wins by submission. The good news for Harris is that he’s not lost a fight by knockout in nearly six years and I’m not sure it’s fair to punish him for a submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum, who happens to be one of the most talented grapplers in the sport.

No discussion about Harris would be complete without mentioning the loss of his stepdaughter. We don’t yet know how that personal tragedy affected “The Big Ticket” because we have yet to see him compete since she was killed last October. Sadly, Overeem will not be taking his foot off the pedal either way because this is a cage fight and both athletes have a job to do. I don’t like to make predictions based on what I don’t know, but I do think it was worth mentioning. What I can say for certain is that Overeem is a more refined striker and a lifelong martial artist, whereas Harris was an exceptional college athlete who found purpose (and livelihood) in cage fighting. His debut in 2011 was a memorable one, though I should probably mention that it was the same year Overeem beat Fabricio Werdum and Brock Lesnar in back-to-back fights. Their experience — and level of competition — are about as close as apogee and perigee. No question this is a winnable fight for Harris, who can barrel forward and unload bombs, Ngannou-Rozenstruick style, but if he plans to stand and bang at range, he’s going to get pieced up and put down, with the occasional takedown thrown in for good measure. That’s assuming “Demolition Man” doesn’t detonate his own gameplan with that perilous “lumber forward with hands low to show I don’t respect your hands” offense.

Prediction: Overeem def. Harris by technical knockout

115 lbs.: Claudia Gadelha vs. Angela Hill

Claudia “Claudinha” Gadelha

Record: 17-4 | Age: 31 | Betting line: -190
Wins: 2 KO/TKO, 7 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 5’4“ | Reach: 63” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 470 of 1114 (42%) | Takedown attempts: 31 of 70 (47%)
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Decision win over Randa Markos

Angela “Overkill” Hill

Record: 12-7 | Age: 35 | Betting line: +155
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 5’3“ | Reach: 64” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 976 of 1945 (50%) | Takedown attempts: 6 of 16 (38%)
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Decision win over Konklak Suphisara

I’ve seen more than a few MMA fans poo-pooing the placement of this strawweight showdown because it doesn’t have the stakes to warrant a co-main event slot. Who cares? It’s the third fight card in seven days and if you aren’t entertained by either Claudia Gadelha or Angela Hill, then you haven’t witnessed their body of work or simply hate women’s MMA. Gadelha, specifically, is one of those combatants who mirrors her opponent’s output, which is why she fought so savagely against Joanna Jedrzejczyk and so tepidly against Randa Markos. I know there was some trepidation about “Claudinha” becoming a “safe” fighter after losing to Nina Ansaroff, evidenced by her lackluster performance against “Quiet Storm,” but the Brazilian was candid about the egg she laid in Toronto and promised to bring back the Gadelha of old. If that’s the case, we should expect a murderous round one, a competitive round two, and a practically lopsided round three. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drop off quite like hers over the last few years, which is likely a combination of her output and physical attributes. It’s certainly no secret: Gadelha pays a hefty price for those muscles.

I did not expect much from Angela Hill after her unsuccessful run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, simply because she entered the combat sports reality show with just one professional fight (and it showed). A 1-2 stint inside the Octagon sent her packing and “Overkill” did what any warrior would. She hooked up with another promotion (Invicta FC) and tore the fucking house down. Hill fought with a vengeance in 2016, competing four times and scoring two brutal knockouts. That warranted a return to UFC in early 2017 and she’s been keeping busy ever since. Her record has been nothing to brag about (6-5) but Hill has captured three in a row for just the second time of her career and she’s done it on the biggest stage of them all over pretty solid competition. I know purists like to turn their noses up at the depths of the women’s divisions, but you can’t punish the athletes for what’s available in the global market. It’s May 2020 and UFC still does not have enough female featherweights to populate the official rankings, which makes me wonder what exactly Amanda Nunes is the champion of, but we’ll save that discussion for another post.

Hill is an action fighter and the kind of gamer who will fight anyone, anywhere, at any time. She has a formidable Muay Thai attack and is not afraid to make it an ugly fight. She’s also been taken down 14 times in her UFC career, something that does not have me feeling overly optimistic heading into this bout, particularly with the durability of Gadelha. “Claudinha” has not been finished in 21 professional fights and I don’t expect that to change here. That said, I could very easily see the Brazilian erupting for a big first round and then fading midway through the contest, getting pieced up en route to a decision loss. Based on the trajectories of their careers over the last two years I won’t rule it out, I’m just not ready to hop off the Gadelha hype train just yet. Last year saw a bevy of personal and professional changes — for the better — and I think we see a return to form in Jacksonville. A performance bonus for this 115-pound affair would not surprise me.

Prediction: Gadelha def. Hill by submission

Remember, the rest of the UFC on ESPN 8 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 8 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.

For the rest of the UFC on ESPN 8 fight card and line up click here.