Weeks and weeks of hard training and preparation lead Walt Harris down the aisle to step into the Octagon against a dangerous opponent in Aleksei Oleinik at UFC San Antonio. “The Big Ticket” taking on the master of the Ezekiel choke in the co-main event of the evening. The referee says fight and the two heavyweights begin to walk toward each other.
Just 12 seconds later, the fight is over.
Harris landed a quick, perfectly timed left hand to drop Oleinik — who looked like he was out before he hit the mat. The referee stepped in after a couple of follow up punches landed by Harris.
It was a big win that solidified Harris as a serious threat in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Before we get into what the win meant to Harris, along with what he would ideally like it to lead to, take a moment to live vicariously through “The Big Ticket” and what those 12 seconds of Octagon time felt like.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, man,” Harris told The Body Lock. “It sounds crazy because you just punched another human being, but that’s our job. Speaking from the professional aspect of it, it’s like hitting a home run. You know when it lands that it’s a good shot. I didn’t feel like I exerted any energy with it. I’ve been in fights where I was trying to put the guy away, I’m throwing as hard as I can and the guy’s not going anywhere. Then you throw that one shot and it just connects right, you feel it in your feet, almost. Like, Jesus, that was a good shot. And then you see the reaction from him and you’re just like, wow! All of the hard work and everything… that’s why I ran off. I had to run it off. It’s the best feeling in the world, that’s for sure.
“I know the power I possess in both of my hands. I’ve been striking and boxing for so many years that you hit, you land, and you just feel it. I’ll hit the pad, I’ll be training with my coach and I’ll hit a pad one time and I’ll say, ‘That was a good shot right there. Let’s try to duplicate that.’ It’s the same thing in a fight. When you hit that perfect spot, boom — you know what that reaction is going to be. Especially at heavyweight. It’s just what it is.”
Along with the third-fastest knockout in UFC history, Harris was able to cash in his proverbial big-ticket for a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. Following his four-month suspension from USADA due to a tainted supplement, Harris has picked up back-to-back first-round finishes and performance bonuses. An extra $100,000 for 62 seconds of fighting time? That’s a profitable minute for Harris.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in,” Harris said on his second consecutive finish. “I’m just trying to stay humble and keep grinding. I’m already back in the gym training. We’re still working. We’re not content, but I am happy and grateful for sure.
“I didn’t take any damage so going back to the gym and getting back around the guys, keeping that mindset like I’m still in camp, it’s good for me. All my coaches are telling me I need to take some time, so I’m going to take my kids to the beach this weekend and we’ll take a couple of days off, then get right back to grinding. I’ll probably train while I’m at the beach because I can’t stop, man.”
Chips on his shoulder
Although Harris was subsequently cleared by USADA of any wrongdoing following his positive test related to his UFC 232 win over Andrei Arlovski, Harris told Ariel Helwani that he is taking legal action against the company who makes the supplement. With the devastating finishes, Harris said that the suspension was something he used as motivation and a chip on his shoulder — one of many as a matter of fact.
While speaking to The Body Lock, Harris was asked about the other chips and motivational tools he uses in his fighting career. One of which happens to be American Top Team, a gym Harris was a longtime member of. While he still has great relationships with many of the members of ATT, the parting of the ways has helped spark that needed fire in the fight game.
“Being from the State of Alabama, we don’t get a lot of respect,” Harris explained. “I feel like my entire athletic career has been that way. I want to prove that we are capable, we have talent here and I want to be a catalyst and a leader for that. That’s one thing.
“I feel a certain type of way about the way I was done at Top Team and the way things were handled at Top Team. I carry a lot of that on me. I don’t harbor any ill feelings or resentment towards anybody, but I use things like that as motivation. I feel like that situation I was in, I was very open and willing to be a good teammate for everybody. I sparred and trained, was a body for a lot of guys and I didn’t get that same love in return. So at the end of the day, you got two choices: you can be bitter about it or you can use it as motivation to do something great. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Harris knows that being locked in a cage with another heavyweight human being carries a lot of motivation with it. As a professional athlete, especially in the fight game, Harris believes you need to find motivation wherever you can get it. There’s no need for fabrication, but if there’s something, an extra log in the fire so to speak, use it. It’s a lesson he has learned throughout his basketball career.
There’s a difference between using the log and adding gasoline.
“Kobe (Bryant) talks about that,” Harris said. “Reinventing yourself, finding new ways to push yourself and motivate yourself, it’s so important. As fighters, we have a tendency — and people in general — when you’re having success with what you do, you become complacent. To keep that edge, you always have to find little things to motivate you. The great ones always do: Kobe did, Jordan did it and just look at their careers. I think that’s important, not to make up things like fake beefs and all of that stuff, to find your why. Find your why! Find that reason for wanting to be successful and pushing yourself to be successful. I think that’s what I’ve done at this point in my career. I know my why. I know why I’m doing what I’m doing.
“Use what’s already in there to spark it up. If you get to a point in this sport where you don’t have the motivation to be in there then you’re probably gonna get hurt and you need to get out of there. I have enough motivation where I throw those little extra pieces of coal on the fire just to say, ‘All right, let’s go out there and prove something.’ I believe in myself. I always bet on myself. That’s what that is.”
Could a ‘dream fight’ be next?
After a highlight-reel finish like Harris just had against an accomplished veteran, chances are that it will lead to some big things. There are plenty of exciting and dangerous matchups in the UFC heavyweight division. For Harris, currently ranked #12 in the division, there is absolutely zero intention of going backward when it comes to his next opponent.
Harris wants to become a world champion. To take that next step, he wants to take on a big name. One of the name’s on the list would be in the category of a dream fight for the 36-year-old.
“September, I’m looking to be back in there,” Harris stated. “I’m going to take about a week to let my body heal up from the training camp before, try to get some work in and not get too out of shape. But September, six weeks, seven weeks from now, I’d love to get back in there for sure.
“I like the (Alistair) Overeem fight. I like the Derrick Lewis fight. Anybody can get it. But if I had to say a dream fight for me, it would probably be Overeem because I’ve watched his career. I’m a bit of a fan so that would be a fun fight for me, for sure.”