After a blockbuster UFC 266 pay-per-view, this weekend sees the UFC return to its Fight Night series for its latest event.
UFC Fight Night: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker features a major light heavyweight clash between two Brazilians in the headliner, while the rest of the card features plenty of solid fights.
With plenty of high-level contenders in action this weekend, this should be a watchable card for any UFC fan.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker.
#1. UFC light heavyweight division: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker
This all-Brazilian clash could well see the next challenger for the UFC light heavyweight title decided, depending on which way it goes of course.
It’s highly unlikely that Thiago Santos could find himself next in line for a title shot. He’s on a three-fight skid and a win here would be his first since February 2019.
However, Johnny Walker is another matter entirely. Sure, he’s 2-2 in his last four fights, but he is coming off a knockout win over Ryan Spann, has a wildly entertaining style and is the kind of fighter that the UFC would love to push into a major spot on the roster.
So can Walker do it, or will ‘Marreta’ play the role of spoiler and send him crashing down the card again?
Interestingly, you could perhaps argue that this represents a fight of mirror images. Santos is probably the cleaner, more technical striker. However, on the face of it, this should be two wild strikers with semi-questionable chins going at it.
Will either man want this fight on the ground? It seems unlikely. We’ve seen Santos use ground-and-pound to great effect at times, but only against either already beaten foes or smaller opponents like Kevin Holland or Eryk Anders. Really, it should come down to the question of which man can land first and which man can land hardest. In that sense, it’s a tricky one to call.
Santos is obviously the more proven fighter inside the UFC. He took Jon Jones the distance in their fight and has wins over Anthony Smith, Jack Hermansson and even current UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. However, he’s also 37 years old and, worryingly, hasn’t looked like the same fighter since suffering a severe knee injury during his fight with Jones. His loss to Aleksandar Rakic, for instance, wasn’t totally damning, but he certainly didn’t appear to be as explosive as he once was.
Explosive is the word that probably sums up Walker best. Everything he throws is designed to knock his opponent out, and he’s more than willing to throw low-percentage shots like spinning backfists and flying knees in those attempts too.
The fact that none of his UFC wins have gone past the three-minute mark in the first round tells its own story. Essentially, Walker is remarkably dangerous in the early going of a fight and if an opponent allows him to start quickly, it’s probably curtains.
He has lost twice in the UFC, though, and one of those losses stands out more than the other. Nikita Krylov beat him largely on the ground in a war of attrition, but Corey Anderson turned his aggression against him and ended up knocking him out after dodging his early attacks.
So can Santos replicate that result? It’s possible. ‘Marreta’ hits remarkably hard and has been known to land heavy shots on the counter before. However, that was also before his serious knee injury. Since then, he’s looked slower than he once did and that could signal trouble against someone as quick and as explosive as Walker. The younger Brazilian will have to be careful not to leave himself too wide open. However, if he comes out quickly and looks for a quick finish, he may well be able to get it.
The Pick: Walker via first round TKO
#2. UFC middleweight division: Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus
If any fighter sums up the topsy-turvy nature of the UFC in 2021, it’s probably Kevin Holland. ‘Trailblazer’ had a remarkable 2020, winning all five of his fights and signing off with a KO of Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.
That knockout had Holland thinking about a shot at UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. However, 2021 has seen him lose to Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori, sending him tumbling back down the rankings. And worryingly, both losses showed a massive hole in Holland’s game, his takedown defense. It seems unlikely he’ll have been able to fix the issue in the five months since the loss to Vettori.
So can Kyle Daukaus, Holland’s lowest-ranked opponent since Charlie Ontiveros in October 2020, take advantage of this clear deficiency? Thankfully for Holland, Daukaus isn’t the level of wrestler that Brunson is and he probably doesn’t have takedowns as powerful as Vettori, either.
He is a well-rounded fighter, though, and one who prefers to grapple. Eight of his 10 wins came via submissions. Holland has only been submitted twice in his career. But it is worth noting that one of those came to Brendan Allen in 2019. Allen and Daukaus fought last year in the UFC and their fight looked essentially like two mirror images facing off.
Is that worrying for Holland? Perhaps. If Daukaus can get him down, then ‘Trailblazer’ may well find himself in trouble, particularly if he can’t get up from underneath him. However, Holland is definitely the more proven of the two. He’s also highly dangerous on the ground in his own right, even if his wrestling remains a major issue.
This one could honestly go either way. Holland’s record may well have been pumped up a little too much after his win over an aging Jacare and outside of that, his best win is probably Alessio Di Chirico or Gerald Meerschaert. However, Daukaus is even less proven than that and so a win for Holland seems like the more reasonable outcome to predict.
The Pick: Holland via decision
#3. UFC Fight Night – The main card
This weekend’s UFC main card features a further three fights, according to the most recent reports.
At welterweight, Alex Oliveira will fight Niko Price in what should be a surefire contender for the Fight of the Night award. Incredibly, Price has been the distance just twice in a total of 13 UFC bouts, although he’s lost five of those fights.
Oliveira would’ve presented him with a tricky test a couple of years ago, as his length, punching power and submission prowess made him one of the more dangerous welterweights on the roster. However, more recently ‘Cowboy’ has looked a little past his prime, falling to defeat in his last two fights.
Price will need to be careful here, but this should be a winnable fight for him, perhaps even by decision.
At middleweight, Misha Cirkunov will take on Krzysztof Jotko. Quite how Cirkunov expects to make 185 pounds is anyone’s guess given his huge size at 205 pounds. But if he can make the drop safely, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
However, even a drop in weight won’t fix his durability issues, which has largely prevented him from ever moving into title contention. Against Jotko, though, who is hardly the biggest hitter in the UFC, he should probably be okay. In fact, his grappling skills may well be enough to net him a decision or TKO win.
Finally, Aspen Ladd will return to face Macy Chiasson in a women's bantamweight bout. This one is a key fight for Ladd, as a win could well put her in line for a shot at Amanda Nunes somewhere down the line.
Can she pull it off? Assuming she’s fully healed from the severe knee injury that’s sidelined her since 2019, it’s likely. Chiasson’s length and reach will prove to be tricky for her.However, if Ladd can get her opponent down, she’s likely to finish her off with her usual brand of ruthless ground-and-pound.
#4. UFC Fight Night – The prelims
Picks in bold
Lightweight division: Joe Solecki vs. Jared Gordon
Women's flyweight division: Antonina Shevchenko vs. Casey O’Neill
Women's bantamweight division: Bethe Correia vs. Karol Rosa
Lightweight division: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Devonte Smith
Featherweight division: Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Gaetano Pirrello
Bantamweight division: Alejandro Perez vs. Johnny Eduardo
Featherweight division: Sean Soriano vs. Fernando Padilla
Lightweight division: Alexander Hernandez vs. Mike Breeden
Women's bantamweight division: Shanna Young vs. Stephanie Egger