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UFC Vegas 38 preview, ‘Santos vs Walker’ predictions

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UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz v Santos Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Former UFC light heavyweight title contender Thiago Santos will look to punch his way back into the win column opposite hot-and-cold 205-pound bruiser Johnny Walker in the UFC Vegas 38 main event, which takes place this Sat. night (Oct. 2, 2021) inside the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. And like every UFC fight card, we’re here to help decide who wins and who loses tomorrow night in “Sin City.”

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 41 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Oct. 23, 2021, with a highly-anticipated match up in the Middleweight division, as No. 2-ranked contender Paulo Costa returns to action against No. 5-seeded Marvin Vettori. In UFC Vegas 41’s Lightweight co-main event, Grant Dawson looks to remain undefeated in UFC when he locks horns with Ricky Glenn

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which includes the middleweight mashup between Kevin Holland and Kyle Daukaus, head over to the UFC Vegas 38 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by the shamelessly overworked Patrick Stumberg here and here. Resident MMA hero Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC Vegas 38 main card right here.

For the latest “Santos vs. Walker” odds and betting lines be sure to check out the updated numbers right here.

Let’s break it down ...

205 lbs.: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker

Thiago “Marreta” Santos

Record: 21-9 | Age: 37 | Betting line: -160
Wins: 15 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.27 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.33 | Striking Defense: 55%
Takedown Average: 0.70 (38% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 66%
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Aleksandar Rakic

Johnny Walker

Record: 18-5 | Age: 29 | Betting line: +140
Wins: 15 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’6“ | Reach: 82” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.41 | Striking accuracy: 72%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.51 | Striking Defense: 31%
Takedown Average: 0.40 (100% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 60%
Current Ranking: No. 10 | Last fight: Knockout win over Ryan Spann

Thiago Santos had a pretty inconsistent run as a UFC middleweight, showing flashes of his trademark power in between head-scratching losses to Cezar Ferreira and Eric Spicely, among others. Like most fighters in their mid-thirties, “Marreta” got tired of cutting weight and moved up to the 205-pound division, where he blasted his way to a light heavyweight title shot on the strength of an 8-1 run that includes a highlight-reel knockout over current division champion Jan Blachowicz. At the time, the Brazilian’s performance against Jones was seen as a reflection of his ever-evolving skills as a mixed martial artist ... though weighed against his subsequent losses — as well as Jones’ performances against Anthony Smith and Dominick Reyes — I can’t help but wonder if Santos over-performed against a stale and somewhat faded version of “Bones,” who’s now gone to a decision in seven of his last nine fights.

Speaking of Jones, light heavyweight phenom Johnny Walker was already putting the pound-for-pound great on blast after racking up nine straight wins, eight of which ended violently. Then Walker got lit up by the since-departed Corey Anderson and followed up that performance with a disappointing decision loss to Nikita Krylov. That didn’t stop him from doubling down on his Jones talk, and I guess you could say he’s “back” after laying waste to Ryan Spann last September in Las Vegas, a first-round finish that left Walker with 15 knockouts in 18 wins, a staggering 83 percent. Unfortunately his “live by the sword” mentality also left him with four finishes in five losses, so that’s definitely something to consider for this weekend’s headliner against one of the most powerful punchers at 205 pounds. Working in Walker’s favor is the fact that he’s eight years younger than Santos, who is basically held together by duct tape and Popsicle sticks at this point.

Walker feels like the right pick for this fight, despite his role as betting underdog. His athleticism, coupled with his tremendous height and reach advantage leave him far ahead of Santos when you overlay their transparencies on the overhead projector. “Marreta” — which is Portuguese for “Sledgehammer” — has one big punch and little else. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that was enough to keep him among the 205-pound elite but as the Brazilian bomber slowly creeps toward his 38th birthday, it feels like the division has left the party without telling him goodbye. Defensively, you can argue that Walker makes more mistakes than Santos, just as you can argue that “Marreta” has faced — and beaten — much stiffer competition. While both of those statements are true, I think Santos is not the same fighter after double knee surgery and that’s going to become painfully obvious (for him) on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Prediction: Walker def. Santos by technical knockout

185 lbs.: Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus

Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland

Record: 21-7 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -145
Wins: 12 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 81” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.74 | Striking accuracy: 54%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.33 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 0.92 (45% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 47%
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Marvin Vettori

Kyle Daukaus

Record: 10-2 | Age: 28 | Betting line: +120
Wins: 0 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.23 | Striking accuracy: 53%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.72 | Striking Defense: 39%
Takedown Average: 1.75 (29% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 85%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Phil Hawes

Kevin Holland was a pretty big name on the regional circuit, even securing his own main event for Legacy Fighting Alliance back in June 2017 before punching his way into Dana White’s “Contender Series” the following year, earning a UFC contract with a unanimous decision nod over the venerable Will Santiago. The fast-talking middleweight would capture eight of his next 10, including a sensational knockout victory over aging veteran Ronaldo Souza, though we should probably accept that “Jacare,” who turns 42 in just a few weeks, is merely a shell of his old self and recently dropped four in a row (and six of his last eight). Holland endeared himself to UFC fans by taking short-notice fights, using high-risk maneuvers inside the cage, and talking trash to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately for “Trailblazer,” his defensive wrestling — or lack thereof — was eventually exposed against the upper echelon of the division. To wit: Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori combined for 17 takedowns against Holland, sending him into training with former UFC welterweight champion (and decorated collegiate wrestler) Johnny Hendricks.

Kyle Daukaus had a pretty lengthy amateur career before turning pro in early 2017. The running joke is how Daukaus — younger brother of UFC heavyweight Chris Daukaus — teaches kickboxing at Martinez BJJ in Philadelphia but has yet to win a fight by knockout. Instead, the former light heavyweight racked up an impressive eight wins by submission, though Daukaus has a losing record since joining UFC in July 2020 and all three of his fights have gone to the judges’ scorecards. Well, four if you count his ho-hum decision victory over Michael Lombardo on Dana White’s “Contender Series” in June 2019, a performance that did not earn Daukaus an immediate UFC contact. That could be attributed to a number of things, but I think it’s fair to say that finishes don’t come as easy when you’re no longer fighting 30-something journeymen like Nolan Norwood and Stephen Regman, among others.

Holland might act like the class clown and give up takedowns way too easily, but he’s also faced killers like Thiago Santos and Top 5 contenders like Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. The best Daukaus has to offer is a forgettable decision win over the great and powerful ... Dustin Stoltzfus. Daukaus remains a threat on the ground but first he has to find a way to get the fight to the floor. He’s certainly had success in some of his previous fights so we’ll see if Holland’s wrestling camp with Hendricks was worth the effort (and price). I wish I had something exciting to say about this middleweight co-headliner, but I have a sinking feeling Holland will spend all three rounds juking and jiving while a frustrated Daukaus tries to get his offense going — to no avail.

Prediction: Holland def. Daukaus by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 38 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 38 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 38 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archives here. For the updated and finalized “Santos vs. Walker” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.