UFC fighter Walt Harris returns to the octagon for the first time since his stepdaughter’s killing Amir Vera bylineJamiel Lynch

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Walt Harris celebrates after defeating Andrei Arlovski in a heavyweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 232, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

(CNN) — Walt Harris wasn’t sure if he’d return to the octagon after the death of his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard.

The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound UFC fighter said he went through a dark period after Blanchard’s death. He wondered if going back to fighting meant he wasn’t thinking about her.

“There was a point, honestly, where I felt like thinking of anything but my daughter was wrong,” Harris told reporters this week.

But he says thanks to the support of his wife and prayer, Harris will be returning to the octagon Saturday to fight Alistair Overeem as the main event for the “UFC on ESPN 8.” There will be no fans in the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, due to Covid-19.

Harris and Overeem were initially supposed to fight in December, but Harris pulled out after his daughter’s death. As he contemplated a return to UFC, Harris said he could hear is daughter talking to him, pushing him to get back in shape and fight.

“My focus has been razor-sharp since the tragedy. I’m fighting for a different purpose,” Harris said. “My daughter is with me everywhere I go.”

Blanchard, 19, went missing in late October in Auburn, Alabama. Her remains were then discovered in late November in a wooded area of Macon County.

An autopsy determined Blanchard died of a gunshot wound, and the medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said in December.

The Auburn Police Department issued a warrant for Ibraheem Yazeed who they believe abducted Blanchard from a Chevron station on College Street, Hughes said. Yazeed was arrested November 7 in Florida by members of the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the Escambia County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office on the warrant from police in Auburn.

Hughes said his office plans to seek the death penalty against Yazeed. His charges were upgraded in December from first-degree kidnapping to capital murder.


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