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Walt Harris carrying boxing lessons with Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder into MMA

Walt Harris (pictured) fights Andrei Arlovski in a heavyweight bout Saturday at UFC 232 in Inglewood, Calif.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As much as anyone on the UFC roster, Walt Harris is eager to show off his hands.

That might sound obvious given his line of work, but few fighters can claim to have the recent boxing experience that Harris can. The 35-year-old has had the opportunity to train with both WBC champion Deontay Wilder, a fellow Alabama native, and Wilder’s recent foe, former WBA, WBO, and IBF champion Tyson Fury.

Harris’s striking has brought him plenty of success in his 18-fight career so far, with all 11 of his wins coming by way of knockout. He’s developed a reputation for being able to go from 0 to 60 when he sees an opening, a trait that has only become further pronounced as he’s put in time with high-level boxing instructors.

His plan is to put those skills to use on Saturday at UFC 232 in Inglewood, Calif., where he fights former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski on the preliminary portion of the card.

“When I started training with Deontay I got a chance to work with Mark Breland, one of his coaches who’s a legend in amateur boxing and Olympic boxing, so he kind of showed me how to settle in and how to be patient and relaxed,” Harris recently told MMA Fighting. “And when you relaxed you see things a lot better and a lot clearer, so I kind of carried that over to the MMA and I try to utilize that.”

As for how Harris ended up working with the “Gypsy King”, an old friend arranged for him to travel to England where he was able get tips from Fury, widely regarded as one of boxing’s most unorthodox and mystifying fighters. That style suited the versatile Harris just fine.

“Technique and setting things up. Learning to be patient and allowing the strikes to come to me and not forcing things. Learning how to work behind your jab and different types of head movements and angles and how to get to where you want in the ring. I think that’s been my biggest takeaway with training with somebody like Tyson,” Harris said.

Harris flirted with the idea of booking a pro boxing bout himself, though it was shot down by UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard when Harris half-jokingly, half-seriously brought the possibility up to him. “The Big Ticket” was simply growing restless with what has been a relatively inactive 2018 and it wasn’t until the contract to fight Arlovski was sent his way that Harris was satisfied.

Satisfied may be an understatement, because as Harris tells it, he was ecstatic when he realized he’d be taking on a fighter with Arlovski’s storied resume.

“I was excited,” Harris said. “Me and my wife were hugging and yelling and screaming because it’s just being able to do what I love to do, whether it’s Arlovski or not. I’m excited whenever I get the call to fight, but then when I saw his name, literally the text bubbles weren’t even off the screen and I was already replying, ‘Yes.’

“I felt like this is it, this is the one I want, so I’m excited. I’ve been busting my ass and I’m excited to show you guys what I’ve been working on.”

In his lone fight of 2018 so far, Harris ended a two-fight skid that came under odd circumstances. At UFC 216 last October, he accepted a fight with Fabricio Werdum on less than 24 hours’ notice after back issues forced Werdum’s originally scheduled opponent Derrick Lewis to withdraw. Harris was submitted by Werdum in just 65 seconds.

Mostly unharmed, Harris fought again at UFC 217 less than a month later against the man he was supposed to fight at UFC 216, Mark Godbeer. That bout ended anticlimactically when Harris was disqualified for an illegal kick to the head that was thrown as the referee was calling for a pause in the action due to what appeared to be an accidental strike to Godbeer’s groin.

That made Harris’s controversy-free TKO-win over Daniel Spitz this past June all the more satisfying. He’s in the midst of appealing the Godbeer result (though he’s also prepared to move on from the incident should nothing come of it) and he has no regrets about taking the Werdum matchup, a fight that he’s still confident he could win with a proper training camp to prepare for Werdum’s grappling mastery.

But his immediate concern is defeating Arlovski on Saturday, which would put him one step closer to becoming the title contender he hopes to be in 2019. With luck, he might snag his first post-fight bonus too.

“Sometimes it is, especially when you get your hopes up very high and you feel like you’ve got it in the bag and people around you are excited and it just doesn’t happen,” Harris said when asked if he was frustrated about not receiving a bonus check despite recording four knockouts in the UFC so far. “I think everything happens for a reason and I think in due time I will get that bonus. I don’t want to be the guy that goes in there with the sole focus of I gotta get a bonus.

“I want to win fights and winning takes care of everything else, so if the bonus comes along then I’m happy. But I mainly want the win, I want to be victorious, I want to be the champion one day, so that’s the goal.”

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