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UFC on ESPN 8’s Walt Harris details near-retirement following loss of stepdaughter: ‘Now, I’m fighting for her’

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Walt Harris will make his return to the Octagon tomorrow night (Sat., May 16, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 8 live on ESPN and ESPN+ from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., when he takes on heavyweight veteran Alistair Overeem in the main event.

As if a headlining showdown with “The Reem” during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic isn’t enough, Harris will be competing for the first time since the tragic kidnap and murder of his stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard, late last year (full story above courtesy of ESPN MMA). The MMA world has tried its best to support “Big Ticket” over the past six months, but nothing can console a parent when they’re dealing with the loss of a child.

“People who saw us together, we were so close they couldn’t believe that she wasn’t my biological daughter,” Harris told Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole.

“Aniah had such a big heart and she’d do anything for you,” he continued.

“She was a caregiver and when her mom was working so many hours while I was trying to make it to the UFC, she helped me so much. It was me and her so often and she was just an amazing girl. She was so caring and so loving and was just a beam of sunlight. Anytime she came around, she brightened up the room. She was my everything.”

Harris, 36, has become one of the most promising names in the UFC’s heavyweight division. After a rocky beginning to his UFC career, which included a 4-6 record from 2013-2017, “Big Ticket” has drastically turned things around. He has produced a 3-0 (1 NC) record over his last four Octagon appearances with three individually impressive knockout victories.

All of that said, Harris’ MMA career was the last thing on his mind just a couple months ago. With the untimely death of his stepdaughter the heavyweight knockout specialist was seriously considering walking away from the sport for good.

“For a while, I went back and forth, but I really considered [giving up fighting],” he said. “It was an extremely difficult time. But the more I thought about it, I realized that giving up at that point was the opposite of what she would have wanted me to do. She was so supportive of my fighting and she was so encouraging and always believed in me so much.

“I think if I’d have given it up, I would have fallen deeper and deeper into depression. This is something that she wanted me to do, so everything I do now will be to honor her.”

With Harris back in the mix and one day away from the biggest fight of his UFC career, he’ll have the opportunity to take something positive away from the last six months. The pain of losing his stepdaughter will surely never go away, but “Big Ticket” will at least have the chance to fight in her honor and make her proud.

“When I started this journey, it was about proving to myself that I could do it,” he said. “But when you start to realize that you can, it becomes about titles and belts and success, however you define that. She believed in me so much and she had faith that I would get to where I wanted to go even at times when I was doubting myself.

“So now, I’m fighting for her. Every fight I have, this is something I am doing to honor her and remember her. When you put that kind of motivation in front of a father, you make him a dangerous man. After what I have been through, there is nothing another human can do to make me afraid or get me to worry about. So I want to go out there and do this to glorify her.”

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 8 fight card blow, 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 more news and notes on UFC on ESPN 8 click here.