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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s three-card residency in Jacksonville, Florida, ends on Saturday with a surprisingly strong show. The UFC Fight Night 172 main event has its foibles, as the promotion continues to put together five-round heavyweight fights, but everything here is well-matched, including excellent tilts like Edson Barboza's featherweight debut against Dan Ige and bantamweight prospect Yadong Song’s battle with Marlon Vera at 145 pounds. While there is not much name value on the undercard, save for Matt Brown and Darren Elkins, the early slate should provide some fun action and answer quite a few questions about quite a few fighters.
Now to the UFC Fight Night 172 “Overeem vs. Harris” preview:
HeavyweightsAlistair Overeem (45-18, +140) vs. Walt Harris (13-7, -160)
ODDS: Harris (-160), Overeem (+140)
Harris is the sentimental favorite heading into the headliner. Entering 2019, he was a relatively anonymous undercard heavyweight who washed out of the UFC at one point. A strong athlete who came to the sport late, “The Big Ticket” got to the point where he could easily handle the lower reaches of the heavyweight roster but faltered upon any sort of step up in competition. However, after beating Andrei Arlovski to cap his 2018 campaign, Harris absolutely wrecked shop in his next two fights, knocking out Sergey Spivak and Alexey Oleynik in 62 seconds combined. The Oleynik win in particular was impressive. Not only was it the best victory of his career, but taking care of things so quickly suggested that Harris had found some newfound initiative that should serve him well. The UFC then set up Harris for the biggest fight of his career—a main event slot in December opposite Overeem. However, what had been a year of professional success for Harris instead became one of personal tragedy. In what turned into a national news story, Aniah Blanchard, Harris’ stepdaughter, went missing and was eventually found murdered. Harris pulled out of the fight during the search but made it clear he would be back in the cage, and this marks his return. It is still the same chance for the most significant win of his career, even if the circumstances are still heart-wrenching.
As for Overeem, he has settled in nicely as a gatekeeper to heavyweight contention—a nice surprise given some of the rough patches over the course of his career. After a solid run in Pride Fighting Championships as a reedy light heavyweight, Overeem bulked up to a massive size by eating horse meat, he claimed, even if drug tests would later say otherwise. He then became the biggest bully around, running through opposition in K-1 and Strikeforce. “The Demolition Man” finally made his way to the UFC at the tail end of 2011, and after quickly disposing of Brock Lesnar, it looked like Overeem was on the fast track to a title shot. However, drug testing got in his way, and upon his return, a deflated Overeem was no longer the same fighter. He started fights well enough, but after quickly sapping his own gas tank, he was a sitting duck and was often quickly obliterated. Given his hype and his contract, he probably needed wins over Frank Mir and Stefan Struve to keep his spot on the UFC roster. Impressively, a humbled Overeem eventually learned to adjust and work around his weak chin. He stayed patient and mindful of his defense and even mixed in some wrestling in spots, earning four straight wins to land an unsuccessful title shot at Stipe Miocic. Since then, Overeem has continued to hang around the edges of the title picture, easily handling most of the flawed opponents the UFC throws his way, all while constantly in danger of getting knocked out. His last bout—against Jairzinho Rozenstruik—basically outlined the good and the bad of Overeem nowadays. He easily controlled the fight with a patient and well-rounded game for 24-plus minutes, only for Rozenstruik to turn up the pressure and knock him out in the last five seconds of the bout. If it was not for durability, Overeem would still be among the elite heavyweights in the world.
This fight basically follows the dynamic of most of Overeem’s fights nowadays: The Dutchman should be able to handle this bout wherever it goes, but there is always the danger that one good shot will knock him out; and Harris has a decent shot at doing so. While a lot of his career has been marked by a patient style, the wins over Spivak and Oleynik showed a newfound willingness to adjourn things as soon as the opportunity presents itself. However, past that one shot, there just is not much here to recommend Harris, particularly if Overeem can get any sort of grappling game going. Even beyond Overeem’s wrestling being underrated when he actually applies it, Harris just has not shown anything during any of his fights when they have gone to the mat. It may take a few minutes, but as long as Overeem survives early, he should be able to make this an ugly fight and then finish things shortly thereafter. The pick is for Overeem to get this to the ground and earn a first-round stoppage.
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