Going the Distance: Walker misses chance against Santos

By Ian Wind, Fight Night Picks Contributor

In his first ever UFC main event, Johnny Walker (18-6, 4-3 UFC) was unable to defeat Thiago “Marreta” Santos (22-9, 14-8 UFC) at UFC Vegas 38, dropping a unanimous 48-47 decision to Santos. It seemed like a good spot for Walker, who is 6-foot-6 and an incredible athlete, to announce himself as the next contender in the division. Walker was a slight betting underdog against a powerful, but out-of-form Santos, who was on a three-fight losing streak going into the night. As they often do, Vegas got it right once again. 

The fight took place exclusively on the feet and was a chess match, as both men respected each other’s one-strike knockout power. While it was intense from a strategy perspective, this fight was more or less a disappointment from an entertainment perspective, as the fighters stood in front of each other for 25 full minutes without taking many big chances. Most of us expected a quick finish in this fight, but nonetheless Thiago Santos got the job done, and possibly revived his UFC career as this was one of the last fights on his contract. 

Light Heavyweight Landscape

Jan Błachowicz (C) vs. Glover “The Brazilian Pitbull” Teixeira (No. 1): This fight will headline UFC 267 later in the month, an Abu Dhabi card shaping up to be among the promotion’s best in 2021. The champ is coming off an impressive first title defense against Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya earlier this year, while Teixeira has won his last five fights in the UFC and made the most of his late-career resurgence.

Jiri “Denisa” Procházka (No. 2) vs. Aleksander “Rocket” Rakić (No. 3): Procházka will be weighing in as a backup fighter for the Blachowicz vs. Teixeira fight, which means he’s unlikely to fight in the next month or so. While he’s done enough to earn a title shot in only two UFC fights, the timing makes me lean toward a title eliminator fight against Rakic. With four unanimous decision victories and highlight-reel head kick and spinning backfist knockouts, “Rocket” is both a disciplined fighter and capable of big moments as well. I’d like to see how his style would mesh with Procházka, who is by all accounts one of the most exciting and unorthodox athletes in the division. The winner here should undoubtedly be next to challenge for the belt.

Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (No. 4) vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos (No. 5): While the seeding of these matchups has been a bit vanilla, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for both Smith and Santos to remain this high in the division. Both are veterans who have already had their shot at gold, so why not put them against each other to see who really still has it? To add some intrigue, these fighters have faced off once before, when Santos defeated Smith via TKO in 2018.

Dominick “The Devastator” Reyes (No. 6) vs. Johnny Walker (No. 10): Despite owning the nickname, it’s been a devastating last few fights for Reyes, having lost a close title fight to Jon “Bones” Jones, and subsequently being knocked out by both Błachowicz and Procházka. Despite the skid, I think Reyes still has something left to show us. We didn’t learn much about Walker from his fight with Santos this weekend, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him take on another veteran in the division in a matchup where we can learn something about both competitors. 

Magomed Ankalaev (No. 7) vs. Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir (No. 8): This fight is scheduled for UFC 267 later in the month. Ankalaev is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC; had he waited a split second longer before tapping out to a last ditch triangle choke effort by Paul Craig in 2018, he would still be undefeated. While “No Time” is no pushover, I doubt he will have what it takes to best Ankalaev, who could earn himself an appointment to the top of the division should he put together an impressive performance against Oezdemir. 

Nikita “The Miner” Krylov (No. 9) vs. Paul “Bearjew” Craig (No. 12): Krylov lost a competitive fight to the aforementioned skillful Ankalaev, but nonetheless he should fight someone below him to get back on track. I like Craig for this spot here. Craig has historically been a gatekeeper in the division, but has not lost in his last five fights. He deserves a top-10 opponent for that reason alone. As a BJJ specialist, Craig is very dangerous on the ground, and is capable of beating anyone in the division if he can get the fight to the canvas. 

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