Recap: UFC on ESPN 8: Overeem vs Harris


One of the busiest schedules in UFC history wrapped up Saturday night with UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs Harris.


The show marked the third event in eight days for the promotion, and it culminated in a highly emotional affair between the two heavyweights as Harris made his first trip to the Octagon since the tragic murder of his step-daughter Aniah Blanchard last October. 


Photo Credit: MMA fighting

Much of the talk surrounding Saturday’s main event focused on the Harris family and the suffering they have been through since Aniah’s untimely death. Harris was a slight betting favorite going into the fight and a massive fan favorite to make a triumphant return as he fought to honor his daughter. 

After a quick feeling out process between the two heavyweights, Harris connected with a right-left punch combination that knocked Overeem down to the canvas. As he rained down massive punches, it seemed the storybook ending was in sight for Harris. Ever the wily veteran, though, a dazed Overeem managed to find his way back up by attempting a leg lockout of desperation on Harris, and the two were back standing after Harris was forced to escape the submission hold, which gave Overeem space to get back up. 


Still, Overeem had been put in trouble, and Harris smelled blood and looked for the knockout. As he pushed forward to put Overeem away, Harris slipped and hit the canvas.  Overeem quickly took back control and rode the final minutes of the first round raining punches from the back of Harris and severely draining him of energy by the end of the opening round. 

In the second round, Harris was still trying to catch his breath from the energy he exerted in the first. He was much less active offensively and not moving enough to keep his guard up. Overeem recognized this and landed a big head kick to knock down Harris. Once again, Overeem took Harris’ back and flattened him out face down.

The final sequence saw Overeem land several unanswered punches to the head of Harris, who had no answer on how to make his way out of back control. Like he had done for Overeem in the first round, referee Dan Miragliotta gave Harris multiple chances to get himself out of trouble, but he had no answer, and the fight was called at 2:58 of round 2. 

It was a very emotional loss for Harris, who smelled the knockout victory in the first round, only to see it vanish minutes later. The two fighters embraced after the fight, and the lack of a crowd in the arena made the somber moment much more impactful. 


Saturday’s co-main event was a fun scrap between female strawweights Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill.


As the fight began, the two women traded punches in the center of the Octagon, with Hill showing better movement and picking her shots, while Gadelha opted for moving forward with more power shots. It was an even fight at kickboxing range, but when it came to the clinching, Gadelha imposed her will on the smaller Hill, and the strength difference became apparent. Gadelha eventually scored a takedown on Hill and improved to side control position and landed some ground strikes before the end of the round.


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Hill started to let her hands go a lot more round 2. Her lead left hook was finding a home and cut the right eye of Gadelha. This set up better combinations for Hill, and it led to a big straight right that turned Gadelha’s head and knocked her down. Recognizing that Gadelha was too dangerous on the ground, Hill let her up to continue her surgical striking.

The movement and combinations for Hill were much better in the second round.  She was doing a good job mixing it up, attacking the body as well as the head, but being patient and not trying to force the knockout. Gadelha once again tried to take control of the fight by clinching, but Hill had a better answer to escape in the 2nd round and continued to keep the fight at kickboxing distance. 


Both ladies came out trading punches in round 3. Gadelha was landing the heavier shots, but Hill seemed to be getting the better of the striking overall with good footwork. She was doing a good job landing straight punches that weren’t necessarily knockout shots, but they were landing enough to score on Gadelha. Still, Gadelha’s strikes seemed to have more pep in them when the two traded back-and-forth. 

The 10-second clapper sounded, and both women bit down on their mouthpieces and continued to trade and look for the finish. The fight went to the judges’ scorecards, and in a somewhat controversial outcome, the judges gave Gadelha the split decision victory. Still, it was a great fight from both women, and Hill proved she belongs in the UFC strawweight rankings. 


Human highlight reel Edson Barboza shed some extra pounds to make his featherweight debut against Dan Ige Saturday.


Ige came out strong early, rushing Barboza and not giving him a chance to get into kicking range.  Barboza soon countered him though and knocked Ige down with a right hook.  Barboza followed Ige to the canvas to try to end the fight with ground strikes, but Ige found his bearings and kept the damage to a minimum. They made their way to their feet and started trading punches. Ige covered a lot of distance to get his shots in, and his speed advantage made it no problem, but Barboza got the better of him in power shots. A check left hook from Barboza caused a cut under the right eye of Ige before the end of the 1st round.

Photo Credit: MMA fighting

Once again, Ige came out strong in the 2nd round and unleashed relentless combinations on Barboza, who looked visibly tired. Ige went for two takedowns in the round and was stuffed both times, ending the round on bottom with Barboza raining down punches.

In the 3rd round, both men were still looking for the knockout punch, but they had slowed down significantly after the high pace they set in the first two rounds. Barboza started doing some sufficient damage to the body of Ige, but Ige continued headhunting. Ige pushed Barboza against the fence and managed to score a big takedown before the end of the fight. Although nothing came from the takedown in terms of passing or submission attempts, it was vital for Ige, as it allowed him to squeeze out a split decision win in a very close fight. 


Eryk Anders and Krzysztof Jotko fought each other in a middleweight bout.


Anders recognized his speed disadvantage right away and forced Jotko against the cage to implement a grinding style of fight. Anders looked good implementing the clinch and using dirty boxing to make it ugly, but whenever they separated, Jotko took advantage and landed good strikes. 

Anders started round 2 once again, rushing Jotko and giving him no space to find his range. And although he was the more physical fighter, Anders was having difficulty securing the takedown. Jotko was able to stuff the takedown every time and managed to stay on his feet. When they would come back to fighting distance, Jotko continued his effective striking. 

It seemed the gameplan for Anders was to grind out the better striker by using his physicality and securing the takedowns. Still, he just wasn’t able to finish the takedown at any point in the fight and was regularly tagged when they separated. Jotko earned the unanimous decision in a mostly uneventful match. 

UFC bantamweights Marlon Vera and Song Yadong agreed to cut less weight and met each other in the featherweight division to open the main card. Yadong found his range early in the fight and landed better combinations, but Vera seemed unfazed and kept walking forward. As Yadong got better at distance management and picking his shots smartly, Vera looked to clinch and make the fight ugly, landing multiple short elbows from the clinch.

Vera started round 3 with an effective takedown but missed his opportunity to cause damage or look for a submission, and Yadong continued his work on the feet. Vera kept trying to make the fight ugly, but in doing so, frequently left himself open, and Yadong countered him. To his credit, Vera’s chin was on display, as he ate every punch and kept pressuring forward until eventually landing another critical takedown at the end of the last round. Still, it was not enough to come back from the work Yadong had put in throughout the fight, and the judges scored it unanimously for Yadong


The featured fight on the ESPN+ prelims was a welterweight matchup between Matt Brown and Miguel Baeza. 


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Brown landed a great three punch combination to stumble Baeza in the 1st round and clinched him up to follow with his trademark short elbow.  Baeza wore the damage well and made his way back to the middle of the Octagon to continue trading with BrownBrown started to gain momentum and landed another combination in the center of the Octagon, but left himself open and Baeza then landed a straight right of his own to knock down Brown late in the 1st. 

Early in round 2, Baeza threw a leg kick to set up a counter left hook as Brown was moving in. Baeza followed up with a few strikes on the ground and sealed the TKO victory at 18 seconds of the 2nd round. 

Saturday’s ESPN card was a great finisher to a fantastic week of fights for the UFC. The protocols put in place by the company seemed to work as planned, and, as promised, they were able to make a triumphant return to staging events with the safety of the fighters at the forefront. They will take a two-week break and come back on May 30 with a welterweight fight between Tyron Woodley and Gilbert Burns. The location of that event is still pending though the UFC hopes to be able to hold it at their APEX facility in Las Vegas.

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-Leo Schauer – Franchise Sports Media

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