If Walt Harris wanted to take off an indefinite amount of time before booking his next fight, there’s not a soul on Earth who could blame him.
The veteran heavyweight competitor, who is currently riding a four-fight unbeaten streak, faced an unspeakable tragedy along with his family following the kidnapping and death of his 19-year-old stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard last year.
There was an overwhelming outpouring of support for Harris and his family from the MMA community in the wake of his stepdaughter’s death but it seemed for a time like fighting would probably be the last thing on his mind.
Slowly but surely Harris returned to the gym to train again and that’s when he knew that returning to the cage was exactly what Aniah would have wanted for him.
“She was probably my biggest fan,” Harris said when speaking about his stepdaughter in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I feel like I’m being powered by a whole different source now.”
Throughout his career, Harris has never lacked motivation but now that he’s fighting for so much more than just himself while honoring his stepdaughter’s memory, he feels like there’s a greater purpose to his career.
“It’s a different fire right now for me,” Harris said. “It’s something I can’t hardly explain. I’m not propelled by just my motivations anymore. I know I’m doing something for her.”
With thoughts of Aniah never far from his mind, Harris feels like it’s going to be tough night for anyone willing to set foot in the Octagon to do battle with him.
“I feel like anybody who gets in the cage with me at this point, it’s dangerous for that person,” Harris said. “I feel like that. I always feel like that but now you’re not going to just be fighting me. You’re going to be fighting two people.
“You’re going to be fighting me and her. Motivation is definitely on 12 right now. I can’t wait.”
In his first fight back since July 2019, Harris will compete in the main event this Saturday night against former title contender Alistair Overeem.
The fight was originally scheduled in April but due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the heavyweights will finally clash in Jacksonville, Fla. this weekend.
Always labeled as a top prospect in the division, Harris has finally started to reach his true potential with his most recent performances, which led to the chance to face a true legend of the heavyweight division in Overeem.
“I’ve always admired Overeem,” Harris explained. “I watched him fight well before I was even fighting. So to get in there is surreal, it’s coming full circle but I’m excited to get in there and do it.
“I feel like I can compete with all the top guys in the division. I think me beating Overeem is going to put me right in that conversation. I think a lot of people are avid fans of the sport and they know that I belong in that conversation.”
While he’s always carried dynamite in both of his fists, Harris has really started to add new layers to his game over the past couple of years to transform him into a legitimate threat from the first minute of a fight until the last.
Of course it’s hard to imagine a fight like this making it past the first couple of rounds, Harris has prepared himself to go all 25 minutes if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
“I definitely think I’m coming into my own,” Harris said. “I think the change in gyms and scenery was the biggest key to my success. It’s recharged my batteries. I’m getting that attention that I’ve always needed.
“I felt like if somebody put a little extra time into me with my skill set and my abilities, I could be everything that you’re saying right now and that’s happening.”
It might be a later start in 2020 than he originally intended but Harris anticipates a busy year ahead if he can get past Overeem.
He’s always dreamed of competing for a UFC title and Harris knows adding Overeem’s name to his win column is a tremendous step in the right direction towards that ultimate goal.
“That’s going to set me up for great things,” Harris said. “I feel like I can compete with all the top guys in the division. I think me beating Overeem is going to put me right in that conversation. I think a lot of people are avid fans of the sport and they know that I belong in that conversation.
“I feel like I’m still right where I need to be. It’s going to propel me into that spot in 2020 and getting even stronger. Hopefully getting that title shot.”