On paper at least, UFC Fight Night: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker looked like one of 2021’s most exciting events. It didn’t quite reach that standard, but it was a fun show nonetheless.
UFC Fight Night: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker featured a number of high-end contenders in action. In the end, some of them pulled out impressive performances and picked up big wins.
With some of last night’s fighters entering UFC title contention and others re-establishing themselves in their respective divisions, this will probably be considered one of 2021’s more memorable Fight Night cards.
With that considered, here are the five biggest winners from UFC Fight Night: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker.
#5. Thiago Santos – defeated Johnny Walker in the UFC Fight Night main event
However, Santos’ win comes with a number of caveats. Firstly, everyone was expecting fireworks in this fight, as both ‘Marreta’ and Walker came in with reputations as two of the most ruthless finishers in the UFC.
The fact that the fight was largely uneventful and went the distance meant that, for the most part, it was a largely disappointing outing for both men.
Furthermore, the decision could easily have gone the other way, as all five rounds were tight ones to score. Walker also often seemed like the fighter more willing to push the action.
However, it was ‘Marreta’ who had his hand raised in the end, and with that, he picked up his first win inside the UFC since his 2019 victory over Jan Blachowicz.
Santos isn’t likely to move back into title contention with the win due to its slow nature, but it should be enough to keep his head above water in the UFC.
At 37 years old, he should now be seen as the 205lbs division’s premier gatekeeper – and he shut that gate on Johnny Walker’s title hopes last night.
#4. Douglas Silva de Andrade – defeated Gaetano Pirrello in a UFC bantamweight bout
The night’s most explosive finish belonged to Douglas Silva de Andrade, who picked up his first UFC win since 2019 in brutal fashion over Gaetano Pirrello.
‘D’Silva’ hit his opponent with a left hook in the first round that was so hard, it outright took Pirrello off his feet. It was the best finish of Silva de Andrade’s UFC career, and has every chance of going viral.
The Brazilian has been around the UFC for a surprisingly long time, seven years to be exact. While he’s never really made his way into title contention, he’s always been a reliable action fighter to watch.
However, his loss to Lerone Murphy in January suggested that ‘D’Silva’ had perhaps moved past his prime. It also implied had probably lost a lot during 2020, a year in which he failed to compete inside the octagon.
This win last night showed that he’s still got a lot to offer at 135lbs, though. Even if he can’t move too highly up the ladder, his previous wins over the likes of Marlon Vera and Renan Barao show that he’s more than capable of bothering the division’s better fighters.
If nothing else, a knockout like this should guarantee ‘D’Silva’ a shot on the main card next time around, making him one of last night’s biggest winners.
#3. Niko Price – defeated Alex Oliveira in a UFC welterweight bout
Like last night’s main event, nobody really expected the welterweight bout between Niko Price and Alex Oliveira to go the distance. The fight surprisingly did reach its final buzzer, but unlike Santos vs. Walker, it was hugely entertaining.
‘The Hybrid’ and ‘Cowboy’ threw everything they had at one another for fifteen minutes. While neither man came razor-close to finishing the other, it was Price who ultimately had his hand raised. Essentially, he had too much in the tank in the final round and forced Oliveira to tire.
It’s hard to dispute the importance of this win to Price’s UFC career. While he had carved a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters on the roster, to remain in the UFC you have to win fights, and ‘The Hybrid’ hadn’t actually done that since October 2019.
A loss here may well have left him clinging to his UFC career by his fingertips. Despite not picking up his customary explosive finish, this win proved that he still belongs at the top level in MMA.
Will he return to his finishing ways in his next trip to the octagon? Hopefully, but for now, last night’s win will do just fine for him.
#2. Alexander Hernandez – defeated Mike Breeden in a UFC lightweight bout
UFC lightweight contender Alexander Hernandez was largely in a no-win situation last night. Faced with a late replacement opponent in the form of UFC newcomer Mike Breeden, everyone expected ‘Alexander the Great’ to come away with a win, and an impressive one at that.
Had he failed to finish Breeden – or even worse, lost to the debutant – it may well have left Hernandez in the last chance saloon with the promotion.
However, the Texas native basically did as well as he possibly could’ve been expected to given the circumstances. He took out Breeden with a flurry of brutal strikes in just over a minute of the first round.
The win erased the memories of Hernandez’s disappointing February loss to Thiago Moises. While nobody can pretend that it’ll move him into title contention, it was still nice to see him return to form.
Whether ‘Alexander the Great’ can produce similarly explosive performances against the better fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division is still up in the air. However, this was an important win for him, making him one of last night’s biggest victors.
#1. Casey O’Neill – defeated Antonina Shevchenko in a UFC flyweight bout
She may not have featured on the main card of last night’s UFC Fight Night, but it’s hard to argue that Casey O’Neill was the biggest winner overall.
This was a complete showing from O’Neill, who survived an early blitz from Shevchenko to dominate in all areas. She eventually finished Shevchenko off by beating her down from top position on the ground.
Sure, ‘El Pantera’ isn’t close to being as good a fighter as her sister, reigning UFC flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, but she’s a strong fighter in her own right. Nobody had ever really dominated her like this previously.
When you consider that O’Neill is now 3-0 in the UFC and 8-0 overall, it’s hard not to imagine her as a genuine title contender.
So could she be next for ‘Bullet’? It’s doubtful given that she came into this fight outside of the UFC’s top 15. However, it’s also hard to imagine her losing to some of the division’s ranked fighters such as Joanne Calderwood and Taila Santos.
That means that one more big win should move her onto the radar of the champion. Therefore, she could easily claim a title shot in 2022. Based on that, ‘King Casey’ should be seen as last night’s biggest winner.