The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs. Harris

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2020

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs. Harris

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    Eight days later, and it's the new normal.

    The Saturday after the UFC became the first major sports organization in the U.S. to restart operations amid the coronavirus pandemic, its third card in Jacksonville, Florida—in spite of no fans and a slew of masked corner teams and officials—seemed almost a routine exercise by comparison to the first two.

    ESPN broadcasters Brendan Fitzgerald, Paul Felder and Michael Bisping were again at different tables, and the conversations between fighters and their corners were still as noticeable as they were all week, but the show went on without a noticeable hitch, leaving Felder to suggest the company keeps things just as they are for a while longer.

    "This has been great," he said. "Let's just stay in Florida and keep putting on more fights."

    Indeed, nearly everything fell into predictable place, other than a couple coin-flip judging decisions.

    And the main event delivered on its promise of big-man tumult once the emotions generated by a tragic pre-fight back story were put aside.

    Eleven fights mean there's a full slate of wins and losses in addition to the ones on the results sheet, so we've selected ours for presentation here. Take a look to see how your impressions from the fight night compare with ours.

Winner: Turning 40

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    It's a time when most elite athletes are reminiscing about career successes.

    Alistair Overeem, however, isn't quite ready to act his age.

    Forty years old by the time his main event fight with Walt Harris was finished, Alistair Overeem performed with the enthusiasm and skill of a man in his prime while scoring a second-round TKO win in a matchup of the eighth- and ninth-ranked UFC heavyweights.

    "It's been a long ride, but somehow I keep finding the focus," Overeem told Felder. "It's not a punishment. I love to train. Let's look at the rankings. I'll fight again later this year. And let's see. Maybe there's one more shot at the title out there."

    A UFC mainstay since a first-round stoppage of Brock Lesnar in 2011, Overeem was stopped in one round by Stipe Miocic in a 2016 bid for the heavyweight title. The defeat of Harris was his fifth win in eight fights since that loss and raised his overall career record to 46-18 with 24 knockouts.

    Harris, who had won three straight since 2017—all in two rounds or less—looked poised for another quick result when he quickly dropped Overeem with a series of head strikes in the fight's opening minute. Referee Dan Miragliotta let the action continue as Harris attempted several hammer fists, however, and Overeem was able to regain his feet and continue the bout.

    He took control with a takedown at the first round's midway point and punished Harris both with his fists and his grappling ability, leaving the 36-year-old wobbly and gasping for breath at the round's end.

    Harris was dropped again by a high kick from Overeem's right leg early in the second and was unable to escape the follow-up ground-and-pound, which prompted a stoppage at three minutes.

    "I got caught early," Overeem said. "Walt's a strong guy. But it's a five-round main event, and I'm well-prepared for that. I landed the high kick, finished up on top and concluded it with ground-and-pound. I thought he was tired, but he hung in there."

    It was Harris' first fight since his stepdaughter was killed in November.

    "I want to say thank you to the UFC; everybody has been amazing through this whole process," he said. We owe you guys everything. I'm so grateful. I'm gonna heal emotionally and physically, and I'm gonna be better."

Loser: Winning Money

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    It's been a rough week for the wagering types in northeast Florida.

    Three days after a card in which betting on either a full slate of favorites or underdogs would have resulted in a net loss, the final card of the UFC's Jacksonville stay was little better for bettors.

    A bet on each of the five fighters listed as favorites heading into Saturday's main card, according to odds listed by Patrick L. Stumberg of MMA Mania, would have yielded a profit totaling precisely $10 by night's end. Meanwhile, a full run of $100 wagers on the five underdogs netted speculators a loss of $70.

    Overeem, though he was ranked one place ahead of Harris among the UFC heavyweights, provided the biggest non-chalk payoff, $120, with his upset TKO win in the main event. On the other side, the biggest favorite of the main card night, strawweight Claudia Gadelha, won a split decision over Angela Hill.

    Other favorites winning were Krzysztof Jotko and Song Yadong, while Dan Ige joined Overeem in the victorious underdog column with a victory over Edson Barboza.

Winner: Dream-Chasing

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    Six years later, and the dream is still alive for Gadelha.

    But only barely.

    The 31-year-old Brazilian was a UFC trailblazer at strawweight in 2014 and a failed title challenger there two years later. She maintained her place in the division in 2020 by escaping with a three-round split-decision win over Hill in Saturday's co-main event fight.

    Two cards went Gadelha's favor at 29-28, while the third went to Hill by the same score.

    Bleacher Report went with the dissenter and also saw it 29-28 for Hill.

    "I think [I did enough]," Gadelha told Felder. "Angela is fast, but I moved to America three years ago by myself, and I'm here following a dream. I'm not ready to let it go yet."

    The win was Gadelha's seventh in the strawweight division since 2014, when she was involved in its first fight—a three-round decision over Tina Lahdemaki. It put her in a four-way tie for second in the division's history.

    Gadelha won the first round decisively via superior grappling and effective work in close while the two women fought on their feet. Hill, who also has seven wins at strawweight, took the second with superior punching.

    She appeared to control the third as well with sharper punches, which led her to raise her hands immediately at the final bell, while Gadelha did so only after Hill started parading around the ring.

    Nevertheless, it went her way. 

    "I showed a lot of heart," she said in a post-fight press release. " I'm a jungle kid. I'm from the northeast in Brazil. I grew up very poor, and I had a very tough life growing up. Now I live a beautiful life. I've been fighting for so long. I'm a pioneer of the sport. I came here to fight in these crazy times, and you guys saw me so going after it and trying to overcome adversity tonight."

Loser: Weight-Dropping

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    It took Edson Barboza 10 years to leave the UFC's lightweight division.

    But after Saturday night's luck, he might be considering a return.

    Though the Brazilian looked faster and sharper through much of his three-rounder with No. 15 featherweight Dan Ige, Barboza found himself on the wrong end of a split nod in his 145-pound debut.

    Ige got scores of 29-28 on two cards. Barboza was a 29-28 winner on the other.

    Bleacher Report agreed with the minority.

    The aggressive Ige began the fight with a swarming style and kept the pressure on the 34-year-old in the early going until being dropped with a quick right hook to the temple and subsequently taking a series of hammer blows while on his back.

    Ige managed to get back to his feet about a minute later but was out-hustled and out-landed for the better part of 10 minutes before rallying and getting the fight to the ground for a prolonged and apparently decisive stretch in the third. Ige wound up with a 100-87 advantage in overall strikes, but Barboza held a slim 80-79 edge in significant strikes.

    Barboza was 13-4 in his first 17 UFC outings at lightweight between 2010 and 2017 but has now dropped five of six—including a decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 219 in December 2017 and a first-round KO at the fists of Justin Gaethje on a Fight Night show in March 2019.

    Ige, though, believes the verdict validated his progression.

    "I proved that I'm definitely I'm a contender," he said in a post-fight press release. "I belong in there with the best guys. I'm one of the best guys. I showed that tonight against Edson. Edson is so good, man; people don't realize just because he's had a skid in his last five fights, but it doesn't take anything away from him. He's only lost to the best guys, the Khabibs, the Gaethjes, the Felders and now Ige, so that puts my name up there as one of the best guys in the world."

Winner: Showing Off

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    Sometimes, the optics are what matters.

    Though he was narrowly out-struck by featherweight rival Darren Elkins, and despite the fact that Elkins' torrential bleeding was instigated by a headbutt, Nate Landwehr didn't stop coming forward and didn't stop carrying himself as if he were comfortably in charge.

    It added up to a perhaps wider-than-appropriate unanimous decision for the second-time UFC competitor, with the scorecards 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 in his favor. That also meant a fourth straight loss for Elkins.

    That skid, incidentally, began in 2018 with a unanimous loss to Alexander Volkanovski, who's now the UFC's featherweight champion.

    "I could have poured it on a little bit more if I wasn't doing so much entertaining," Landwehr said in a post-fight press release. "I think I just proved that I am one of the most elite fighters on the planet."

    Indeed, Landwehr played to the sparse audience by occasionally squaring off with Elkins while holding his own right arm behind his back, and he was directly seeking the attention of the UFC's hierarchy in the second round when he landed an elbow to Elkins' chin and shouted "Dana!"

    Statistically, Elkins landed 142 strikes to Landwehr's 121 and had 121 significant strikes to his foe's 118.

    "I knew [Elkins] had fought the who's who," Landwehr said. "I beat him just as bad as the champ beat him. He's beat a lot of good people, and he's had close fights with a lot of people. I think I beat him pretty handily."

Loser: Arriving Late

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    Once in a while, a late-stage sub comes in and makes a big impression. 

    More often than not, though, it ends in a footnote.

    And unfortunately for UFC newbie Irwin Rivera, Saturday night was far closer to the latter.

    The gutty lightweight took a match with Giga Chikadze on just two days' notice after scheduled opponent Mike Davis fell victim to a rugged weight cut. But he wasn't able to turn it into anything beyond an unexpected paycheck while dropping a one-sided decision in the penultimate bout on the prelim card.

    Two judges scored it 30-27, while a third had it 30-26.

    Rivera was competitive on his feet in the opening round but was rendered a bloody mess by the end of the second. He went to the ground to try to cinch in a desperation leg lock after Chikadze's missed try for a rolling thunder kick late in the third, but the Floridian—who resides a few hours down the Atlantic Coast in Boca Raton—was turned aside by an expiring clock.

    Having sidestepped the unheralded hurdle, Chikadze immediately focused on bigger things.

    "I think most fans have only seen Giga at 25 percent," he said in a post-fight press release. "There is a lot more to see. I just want to show more. All of my fights were in the prelims or the beginning of the show, so I want a good fight against a good name that people know so that I can show a bigger audience my skills, my fight and make more people happy with the show."

Winner: New Blood

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    A couple of guys early in their UFC runs showed signs of star-quality staying power.

    Brazilian heavyweight Rodrigo Nascimento and Florida-born welterweight Miguel Baeza delivered two of the evening's most memorable highlights, each scoring an early victory to maintain a perfect record.

    Nascimento showed signs of ground success in the opening round and continued to press the advantage into the second before getting a submission via rear-naked choke over Don'Tale Mayes.

    It was his first UFC fight since emerging from the Dana White's Contender Series pipeline, and the end came at 2:05 of the middle session.

    "Our game plan was always try to put pressure on him, take him down and make him make a mistake, which he did, and I was there to capitalize," Nascimento said in a post-fight press release. "The message was very clear. I'm here, I have variety and if you don't train jiu-jitsu, you will die."

    Meanwhile, Baeza added a high-profile victim to his resume with a dramatic one-punch erasure of veteran Matt Brown in the second round.

    Both fighters took heavy punishment in a back-and-forth first five minutes, and Brown was pressing forward to initiate a similar start to the second before taking a counter left hook that led to the finish after just 18 seconds.

    Baeza is 9-0 as a pro and 2-0 in the UFC.

    "I missed my opportunity the first time to finish him, so the second round I wanted to make sure I finished the fight right there," he said in a post-fight press release. "As soon as I knocked him down, I tried to get on top of him because his nickname is The Immortal, so I'm not about to let a guy with that name get away after I get a knockdown like that."

UFC Fight Night Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Alistair Overeem def. Walt Harris by TKO, Round 2, 3:00.

    Claudia Gadelha def. Angela Hill by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29).

    Dan Ige def. Edson Barboza by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29).

    Krzysztof Jotko defeats Eryk Anders by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).

    Song Yadong def. Marlon Vera by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).


    Preliminary Card

    Miguel Baeza def Matt Brown by KO, Round 2, 0:18.

    Kevin Holland def. Anthony Hernandez by TKO, Round 1, 0:39.

    Giga Chikadze def. Irwin Rivera by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27).

    Nate Landwehr def. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27).

    Cortney Casey def. Mara Romero Borella by submission (arm bar), Round 1, 3:36.

    Rodrigo Nascimento def. Don'Tale Mayes by submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2, 2:05.