Alistair Overeem mounted Walt Harris’ back and pummeled him with a barrage of right hands for nearly a minute before the referee called a stop to their UFC on ESPN 8 main event heavyweight bout on Saturday night in an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Then Overeem stopped the beating and immediately embraced an emotional Harris on the mat.
Harris was competing for the first time since his 19-year-old stepdaughter was kidnapped and murdered in October.
Overeem and Harris were scheduled to fight in December, but the bout was postponed because of the murder.
Harris thanked the UFC and his fight team through tears for standing behind him and his family.
“Also, I want to thank my community,” he said. “Homewood (Alabama), I love you guys. I’m sorry I didn’t get the ‘W’ for you tonight, but you’ve been there for my family and I through everything.
“And I want to thank the fans. I know you all couldn’t be in here tonight, but I’m sorry. I’ll be back better, I promise you. You haven’t seen the last of ‘The Big Ticket.’ I’m going to go home and recover physically and emotionally, and I promise you I’ll be better.”
He looked just fine early, dropping Overeem in the first round and battering him on the mat. Referee Dan Miragliotta leaned in but decided to give Overeem a chance to continue.
Overeem, who turns 40 on Sunday, took advantage. He got Harris to the ground late in the first round and then did it again with a head kick that led to the decisive sequence.
“I got cut in the first round,” he said. “I hear it’s not looking too good, but I haven’t seen it myself. Walt is a strong guy, man. But it’s five rounds, and I’m well prepared for that.
“I landed a low kick and i knew his attention would be there on his legs so I went high. He was tough. He didn’t want to give up, I felt he was tired, but he hung in there. I just had him really tight.
Gadelha called for a rematch against former women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza even though Gadelha won the first matchup between the two by split decision in June 2018.
UFC on ESPN 8
Main card results from Saturday’s event in Jacksonville, Florida
Alistair Overeem (46-18) def.. Walt Harris (13-8), KO, second round (3:00), heavyweights
Claudia Gadelha (18-4) def. Angela Hill (12-8), split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), women’s strawweights
Dan Ige (14-2) def. Edson Barboza (20-9), split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), featherweights
Krzysztof Jotko (22-4) def. Eryk Anders (13-5), unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), middleweights
Song Yadong (16-4-1) def.. Marlon Vera (15-6-1), unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), featherweights