When heavyweight Walt Harris makes his walk to the octagon at UFC on ESPN 8, he’ll do so with the heaviest of hearts.
Last October, Harris’ stepdaughter, 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard, went missing in Alabama. Roughly one month later, after an intense search that made national headlines and with her accused kidnapper in custody, Blanchard was found dead. Her accused killer, Ibraheem Yazeed, is facing the death penalty.
On Friday, ESPN’s “SportsCenter” premiered a nearly 15-minute profile on Harris’ return to the octagon Saturday night after dealing with unspeakable tragedy, focusing on Harris’ connection with Aniah from the time he entered her life when she was 4 years old.
“Immediate connection,” Harris’ wife, Angela, said. “Aniah and him had a very, very close bond. It was just like, ‘That’s my dad.’ And he was like, ‘That’s my baby girl.’”
That’s exactly how Harris felt.
“We were attached at the hip everywhere we went,” he said of Blanchard. “She even acted like me. Angela would always say, ‘That’s your baby.’ And I’m like, ‘I know.’ … I didn’t feel like a stepdad. I just felt like a dad who stepped up.”
As the “SportsCenter” feature highlights, the father-daughter bond between Harris and Blanchard only strengthened through the years until her untimely death. Now, Harris is set to return to the cage after dealing with unspeakable tragedy.
You can watch the full “Fighting For Aniah” feature in the video above.