Saturday’s UFC Fight Night event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Jacksonville, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
I’ve seen it said throughout the weekend, and I’m in full agreement that regardless of what happened in his fight with Alistair Overeem, Walt Harris was a winner simply for making it back to the Octagon following the loss of his daughter Aniah last fall. As a father of a daughter, I can’t imagine getting out of bed in the morning after such a tragedy, let alone getting into a fistfight with one of the best heavyweights of this era. Yet Harris not only returned to active duty, but he fielded all the questions about the worst moments of his life all week with class and grace. It was a reminder that even though we’re keeping score in the sports world, sometimes the results don’t matter. The bottom line is that Walt Harris is back, and we should be happy that he gets to do something he loves again. For Aniah.
I don’t think Alistair Overeem has ever been in a situation like he was last Saturday night. It was a no-win situation in the best of scenarios simply because everyone wanted to see Walt Harris have a successful return to the Octagon. But like Harris, Overeem handled it all with class, and it was clear all week and even before the fight started that he wanted his opponent to know that he felt for him and that this was just business. And once business took place, Overeem rebounded from a near stoppage in the first round to finish Harris in the second. It was a big win for “The Demolition Man,” who turned 40 a few minutes later, but the lasting impression of the fight for me was watching Overeem console Harris and ask for the two to train together. Again, all class from Overeem. Watching this whole week reminded me just what good folks we have in this sport.
I think everyone appreciated Dan Ige admit to being worried about facing Edson Barboza in his post-fight interview, and what made his close win over the Brazilian wrecking machine even more impressive as that he didn’t get the victory by playing it safe. He stood in the line of fire all night, and while he took his share of shots, knowing that he will be walking funny this week, he kept pressing and notched an important win on his road to the top of the featherweight division.
As talented as Miguel Baeza is, I’ve got to say that I didn’t know if he was ready for a veteran like Matt Brown in only his ninth pro fight. But like I wrote last week, the UFC must have seen something in the Floridian that said he could take this step-up in competition, and he delivered when it mattered. And as important as the win was, the fact that Baeza had to weather some storms from “The Immortal” showed that he doesn’t just have talent, but he’s got grit, and that will serve him well moving forward.
How can you not love Nate Landwehr? With no fans in the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, “The Train” brought a party out in Jacksonville, and you would have thought there were 20,000 people there the way he performed against Darren Elkins. And yeah, people are talking about the cuts that flowed freely from Elkins’ face and the showboating and post-fight interview from Landwehr, but take all that away and realize that Landwehr beat a guy who, until recently, was a staple of the featherweight top 15. That was a statement-making win, and you know you want to see Landwehr again. ASAP.
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