UFC heavyweight contender Walt Harris issued an emotional statement Thursday on social media a day after police in Alabama identified remains found in a wooded area this week as that of his missing stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard.
“My sweet baby girl,” he wrote. “I just wanna thank you for helping me change my life for the better… For teaching me how to be a man and a better father! For being my biggest fan win, lose, or draw! For always knowing what to say to put a smile on my face and lift me up when I was down and wanted to give up. You light up my world (in) so many ways.”
The monthlong search for the 19-year-old had captivated the mixed martial arts community.
While no cause of death has been released, three men have been arrested in connection with her disappearance from a convenience store.
Ibraheem Yazeed, 30, has been charged with kidnapping. More charges are expected.
“This pain is unbearable,” Harris wrote. “I know you want me to be strong but it so hard baby it so hard. I’m gonna find a way I promise you I will. Right now nothing makes sense and I’m so lost. I just want you back. I hope I made you proud… I’m gonna keep going daddy just needs time. I love you so much. Look after us like you always did. We need you now more than ever. My lil mighty mighty tiger is an angel now. I love you baby girl forever and ever!”
Harris, a winner of three straight contests, was slated to fight Alistair Overeem on Dec. 7. He withdrew from the bout shortly after Blanchard went missing.
New policy announced
An extensive revision to the UFC’s anti-doping policy, administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, was released this week.
It marks the most dramatic change to the policy since it was first unveiled in June 2015.
One of the main objectives of the updated policy, first announced last month, was to reduce the number of fighters sanctioned because of tainted supplements.
“Putting forth a fair anti-doping program with due process protection is integral to having a strong and comprehensive program,” UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said. “A combination of the pervasiveness of low level contaminates in our environment and the increased levels of testing sensitivity of anti-doping laboratories has created an explicit need for decision concentration levels to ensure that the program is penalizing intentional cheaters and not those athletes who have been faithfully adhering to the anti-doping policy.
“We’re excited about this next step and where this can lead anti-doping hopefully.”
Under the new rules, microscopic amounts of certain substances won’t automatically qualify as a violation. Instead, those samples will be deemed atypical and investigated further.
Athletes will still be allowed to compete until the case is adjudicated under the revisions.
The policy also updates language on third-party supplement certification and IV usage by athletes.
Title bout nearly set
UFC president Dana White once famously said he was done booking a potential mega-fight between Tony Ferguson and champion Khabib Nurmagomedov because the booking had fallen apart on four previous occasions.
It appears he is ready to give it another shot.
The organization is targeting an April 18 date in New York for the lightweight showdown, according to ESPN. It is expected to headline a pay-per-view card.
Nurmagomedov’s manager posted a signed bout agreement on social media.
VanZant to return
Popular UFC women’s strawweight fighter Paige VanZant appears set to return to action on March 14 against Amanda Ribas in Brazil.
MMA Fighting first reported the news, though the bout has not been formally announced.
VanZant has been challenged by rising star Maycee Barber repeatedly over the last few months, but VanZant has refused to take that fight. VanZant said she doesn’t respect how Barber is trying to build her brand.
VanZant, 25, last fought in January 2019 with a submission win over Rachael Ostovich. This is the last fight on her UFC contract.
■ Dec. 7: UFC on ESPN (ESPN), Washington, D.C.
■ Dec. 14: UFC 245 (ESPN Plus), T-Mobile Arena
■ Dec. 20: Bellator Salute to the Troops (Paramount), Honolulu
■ Dec. 21: UFC Fight Night 165 (ESPN-Plus), Busan, South Korea