The best and worst from UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs. Harris

  • The UFC's trio of events in Florida was completed last night with another fun show. Here are its best and worst moments.
  • Alistair Overeem defeated Walt Harris in an entertaining main event.
Scott Newman
Modified 17 May 2020, 18:07 IST

Alistair Overeem survived an early scare to take out Walt Harris last night
Alistair Overeem survived an early scare to take out Walt Harris last night

The third of the UFC's trio of events in Jacksonville, Florida went down last night, and while the show wasn't as strong as last weekend's UFC 249, it was still among the better efforts put on by the promotion in 2020. One thing the show did lack was finishes; of the televised fights, just 3 of the 9 shown (in the UK at least) ended before the final buzzer. But realistically, only one of those 9 was dull, so you can't really ask for much more.

Here are the best and worst moments from UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs. Harris.

#1 Best: Overeem shows he's tougher than his detractors would claim

Overeem survived a serious beatdown to turn the tables on Walt Harris
Overeem survived a serious beatdown to turn the tables on Walt Harris

I've always been a big fan of Alistair Overeem; 'The Reem' is perhaps my all-time favorite MMA fighter, in fact. Yet even I'd admit that his big weakness has always been a lack of durability. Initially, that was figured to be a product of the massive weight cuts he performed to make 205lbs, but it's been an even bigger feature of his career at Heavyweight.

The Dutchman has been stopped by strikes on 14 occasions, with half of those losses coming inside the UFC. And early in his fight with Walt Harris last night, it looked like he was heading for a 15th KO/TKO loss.

'The Big Ticket' floored the Dutchman with a heavy flurry in the opening seconds of the fight, but despite Overeem looking to be in deep trouble, referee Dan Miragliotta gave him the benefit of the doubt where others would certainly have stepped in.

It turned out to be the perfect call for 'The Reem'. He was somehow able to recover from the early beating to take over the opening round, and then turned the tables on Harris in the second, dropping him with a head kick and a follow-up left hand before finishing him off with punches from back mount.

The win put Overeem back on track following his disappointing loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik in 2019, and while he's not likely to get a title shot any time soon, it's safe to say that last night proved that he's more durable than his doubters would claim. And at 40 years old – his birthday is today in fact – he's likely to be a staple of the UFC's Heavyweight division for a while yet.

#1 Worst: Harris's story misses its Hollywood ending

It was easy to root for Walt Harris last night - but MMA doesn
It was easy to root for Walt Harris last night - but MMA doesn't conform to Hollywood stereotypes

The UFC doesn't often play to narrative, particularly when it comes to personal tragedy, but that wasn't the case last night. Walt Harris tragically lost his stepdaughter in late 2019 in a horrific kidnap and murder, and rather than brush this under the carpet, the UFC and ESPN decided to focus on Harris's story throughout the show.

 A series of tasteful vignettes were shown on numerous occasion, and the result was that by the time the main event came around, unless you're a hardcore Overeem fan like me, you were probably rooting hugely for 'The Big Ticket' to pick up the biggest win of his career and dedicate it to his late stepdaughter.

Of course, that didn't happen. Harris came close to his third quick knockout in a row, but couldn't quite seal the deal and it appeared that his emotional state caused him to gas out. He was exhausted in the second half of the first round, and then succumbed to a TKO loss shortly after.

What does this tell us? Well, that real-life sport is often cruel and certainly doesn't conform to the Hollywood narrative that some people would like.

It's impossible to paint Overeem as the villain here – he's clearly a classy guy and behaved admirably after his win – but to see Harris on the losing end last night was still hard after learning what he's been through in recent months.

#2 Best: Wacky judging can't take away from a great fight between Vera and Song

Song Yadong and Marlon Vera put on a hell of a fight last night
Song Yadong and Marlon Vera put on a hell of a fight last night

In my preview for this show, I stated that Marlon Vera vs. Song Yadong was probably the best fight on the card on paper, and it turned out to be that way in execution too. The Chinese prospect and his Ecuadorian foe for 15 minutes, and it was unsurprising that the duo were awarded the 'Fight of the Night' bonus after the show.

Did the judges get it right by awarding the fight to Song? In my opinion, no. I felt that 'The Kung Fu Monkey' probably got the better of the first round with his sharp counterpunching, but I also felt that Vera landed the more telling blows in the second and the third round – a body shot late in the second buckled Song for a second and 'Chito' also did a lot of damage from the clinch – and deserved the nod.

Regardless though, this was an excellent fight that saw both men show off the best parts of their game. It was also a tremendous indicator of the depth of the UFC's Bantamweight division (despite last night's bout being fought at 145lbs); for all their talents, neither man is close to a title shot right now.

Hopefully – with seemingly more eyeballs on the UFC product right now – both Vera and Song earned themselves more fans last night.

#2 Worst: Barboza's switch in weight doesn't pay off

A drop to 145lbs didn
A drop to 145lbs didn't turn around Edson Barboza's slump

Going into last night's show, I was cynical of Edson Barboza's decision to drop to 145lbs in an effort to get his career back on track. The Brazilian had lost his last two fights at 155lbs, but I personally couldn't see a safe way for him to somehow lose another 10lbs, especially when he was hardly out of shape as a Lightweight.

Well, 'Junior' proved me wrong in that sense; he looked healthy at Friday's weigh-in and seemed fine inside the cage last night. The problem was that the same issues that cost him fights at 155lbs reared their head again, and while he might've earned a win last night with different judges, the fight doesn't bode well for his future overall.

As has been the case throughout his career, Barboza looked fantastic on offense last night; he dropped opponent Dan Ige in the first round and had him in a lot of trouble, and also hurt him badly in the second round with a nasty knee to the body. But the Hawaiian showed toughness to survive, and then turned the tables on the Brazilian in the final round.

That last round essentially showed why Barboza's never quite reached the top in the UFC; he simply doesn't deal too well with an opponent who's willing to take the fight to him and who can avoid a big shot on the counter. Ige pressured 'Junior' relentlessly in that final stanza, and when he had him on the ground late on, it was easy to see flashbacks to Barboza's losses to Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The truth is that at the age of 34, Barboza probably isn't going to improve dramatically, and while he's still got the skills to kick around in the UFC as an action fighter for some time yet, whether he should – after taking a lot of damage over the years – is another question entirely.

#3 Best: Randleman's induction into the Hall of Fame shows the UFC's class

The UFC paid tribute to Kevin Randleman in a classy way last night
The UFC paid tribute to Kevin Randleman in a classy way last night

Like WWE, the UFC has often been accused in the past of attempting to control the narrative of its history a little too much, particularly when it comes to legendary fighters who left the promotion for pastures new. Detractors would point to the airbrushing from UFC history of famed champions Frank Shamrock and Randy Couture, for instance.

However, that's not entirely the case. The UFC's Hall of Fame – particularly it's 'Pioneer Wing' – is filled with fighters like Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz and Pat Miletich, men who didn't or don't always see eye-to-eye with UFC President Dana White.

And last night was another example of the UFC's more classy side when it comes to their former stars. It was announced that former UFC Heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman – who tragically passed away in 2016 – would be inducted into the Pioneer Wing this year, and the video package dedicated to him was brilliant.

Showing highlights of his fights with fellow legends like Bas Rutten, Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin discussing his career, this was a great display of respect to a former champion, and there's no disputing that 'The Monster' is worthy of a Hall of Fame entry.

Was this segment of the show better than the war between Matt Brown and Miguel Baeza? Well, probably not. But great fights like that are ten to the dozen while Randleman's achievements will live forever in the MMA world, and last night's video package was the perfect tribute. Fellow legend Mark Coleman's emotional reaction only made it more memorable. 

Published 17 May 2020, 18:07 IST
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