"This is the perfect opportunity for me to go in and show everyone what I’m really capable of when I’m at my full capacity." - Walt Harris
In Walt Harris’ own words “the third time is a charm.”
At least in his mind, that’s the way things have to be as “The Big Ticket” has put every ounce of what he has into his preparation for his upcoming bout with Soa Palelei at Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Bisping. The 31-year-old American Top Team representative is determined to prove he belongs on the UFC roster, and toppling “The Hulk” is exactly what he needs to do in order to get this done.
While the Homewood, Alabama native has stepped into the Octagon on two previous occasions, that coveted first UFC victory eluded him. Despite a gritty showing in his promotional debut where he dropped Jared Rosholt in the opening round, Harris ultimately fell victim to the Team Takedown fighter’s wrestling savvy. He was eager to get things back on track in his next outing, but Russian upstart Nikia Krylov’s offensive attack proved to be too much. Back-to-back losses cost Harris his spot on the UFC roster and put him at a crossroads in his MMA career.
It is in those moments of adversity where a fighter discovers what they are made of. While making it to the UFC was Harris’ initial dream, things simply didn’t fall his way during his time on the sport’s biggest stage. Therefore, he could find comfort in taking a step back and continuing to grind things out on the regional circuit, or he could re-ignite the fire that drove him to the steps of the Octagon. For Harris, the choice was an easy one and he wasted no time diving into the work he needed to do.
“I believe it is all about timing,” Harris said. “In my first stint with the UFC I was a little taken back by the whole situation and finally attaining my goal and my dream. I’m not going to say I was overwhelmed by the moment, but I held back when I should have just gone out there and let it fly. I was in a different place mentally than I am now. When those fights were going on and I was getting ready for them, I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life. Now, I’m in a better space. I feel better and I’m more mentally prepared for the situation.”
With a reinvigorated passion for the fight and his mindset on lock, Harris set about earning his way back to the UFC. He figured it would take a few solid victories to earn another call, but after scoring a knockout over veteran D.J. Linderman for another promotion, he was tapped to step in on short notice to face Palelei in Sydney, Australia. And while taking a late replacement slot against a proven talent the likes of the Perth native is risky business, it is the ideal opportunity where Harris is concerned.
He is eager to prove he’s a better fighter than what was previously displayed, and tussling with the Australian heavyweight brings the chance to do just that front and center. Palelei has won three out of four showings since returning to the UFC last year and is on an impressive run where he’s found success in 11 of his past 12. Harris sees a formidable opponent in Palelei, but more importantly, he sees the perfect situation to make the statement he’s so eager to make.
“This is perfect timing and everything happens for a reason,” Harris said. “I was preparing for a title fight in another promotion, but the UFC is where I feel I belong. It was just a blessing to get that phone call. This is the perfect opportunity for me to go in and show everyone what I’m really capable of when I’m at my full capacity.
“I’m excited to test myself against somebody of Soa’s caliber. I’ve watched him real close and he does some things really well, but I think this is a perfect fight for me stylistically. I’ve fought a lot of guys in the past who fight a lot like Soa. It’s a great opportunity for me to go out there and do what I do best and showcase my talent to the world.”
And when the cage door closes, what Harris seeks will be there for the taking with the potential to come in rapid fashion. In the heavyweight division, where fighters throw lumber-like force, it only takes one clean shot to either become the victor or the fallen in several seconds worth of fury and aggression. Fights can turn in a heartbeat, and both Harris and Palelei have experienced both ends of the spectrum firsthand.
Therefore, things often come down to styles, and Harris believes he will have the advantage in this fight for several reasons, the biggest of which being speed. He’s fully aware of the power that Palelei possesses, but Harris also feels like he will have the perfect remedy to that thunder in the speed and agility he brings to the table. Both men are going to throw everything they have, but Harris feels the speed advantage he’ll have will allow him to be the one who lands first.
And sometimes that’s all it takes. In fact…Harris is counting on it.
“Speed is going to be a huge factor in this fight,” Harris said. “I think speed and the ability to adapt is what sets fighters apart from one another. Speed kills and it’s not a myth. This fight is going to give me the chance to show a lot of people things they didn’t see out of me when I was in the UFC the first time.
“I’m going to make this one count. I need this win more than I need to breathe. I have to go out there and get it.”
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