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UFC 235: Cirkunov v Walker Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 48’s Johnny Walker

Knockout artist, Johnny Walker, will attempt to return to the win column vs. fast-rising puncher, Jamahal Hill, this Saturday (Feb. 19, 2022) at UFC Vegas 48 from UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What version of Walker will make the walk to the cage? Walker made his name on the strength of his explosiveness and power, shocking opponents with sudden jump knees and backfists to become the division’s hottest prospect. He subsequently hit a rough patch, prompting a complete reinvention of his game vs. Thiago Santos. Walker 2.0 was rather conservative, kicking and looking for counters in a fairly ho-hum decision loss.

Will Walker attempt to bounce back with fire, remain “technical,” or mix those attributes? It’s impossible to say until fight night, but let’s first take a closer look at his skill set:

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Ahead of Walker’s last main event slot in Oct. 2021, I wrote all about his unique and explosive offensive style ... only for him to completely abandon it for 25 minutes. I’m still going to recap all of that, but first, we have to discuss Walker’s latest stylistic approach even if it’s not terribly interesting.

Against Santos, Walker was attempting to maximize his range. The Light Heavyweight stands at 6’6” with an 82-inch reach, so that’s not a terrible idea by any means. Rather than do big damage with jump knees, however, Walker was extremely content to hang back behind his kicks. Mostly, he worked with the inside low kick and front kick. Any time the two engaged, Walker was looking for his check hook.

UFC Fight Night: Santos v Walker Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The problem with this strategy is that he tried it versus Santos. “Marreta” is an even better kicker than Walker, a claim few at 205-pounds can make. As a result, Santos didn’t have to rush forward to close distance, which Walker seemed to be expecting. Instead, the two traded potshots for five rounds, and Santos picked up the decision nod.

It made for fairly awful viewing.

Historically, Walker is a fighter who explodes at range and in the clinch, avoiding that middle range. Overall, Walker has yet to show much depth in the way of a traditional boxing game. He’ll occasionally stick out a seriously hard jab or fire off an overhand, but mostly, Walker does not pursue exchanges with his opponents.

Instead, Walker wants to fight from his kickboxing distance, which is typically longer than his opponent’s. At this range, Walker has a lot of weapons. He can blast long round kicks with the best of them, but Walker will also look to stomp his foe’s knee with low side kicks. He’s also played around with jumping kicks and worked some trickery that involves chambering the knee then firing to different directions.

This is a big man, so all those kicks hurt. Hang out at distance with Walker for too long, and a jump knee may just end the night (GIF).

In truth, Walker does his absolute best work as his foes try to close the distance in one way or another. It’s very true that Walker is not the hardest to hit as he fades away from exchanges, but he almost always lands himself too. As Walker’s foe presses forward, the Brazilian will look to time him with a switch-stance check hook, jump knee, or spinning backfist.

Of course, opponents know that Walker is looking to counter any over-aggression or rushed charge. Walker still manages to force this reaction often though, and part of that is due to the aforementioned effectiveness of his kicks. In addition, Walker can really throw opponents off with his confusing actions.

Walker will make funny faces and other displays of bravado. At times, he’ll start frantically feinting, bobbing and weaving and shifting his shoulders like a child overdosed on sweets. This off-beat, strange movement can freeze his opponents or convince them to lunge forward with a big punch — exactly what Walker wants!

Perhaps the most clear double-edged sword in Walker’s arsenal is his reaction to being pressed off kicks. Several times in his short UFC career, opponents have managed to stun Walker by passing his kick to the side then stepping through with a power punch. Future Walker foes would be well-advised, however, to keep their non-punching hand glues to their chin, because Walker loves to spin into a backfist/elbow when opponents attempt this strategy.

One way or another, someone is probably getting hurt (.GIF).

Whether he initiates or is defending a grappling attempt, Walker is positively violent in close quarters exchanges. He really excels at doing big damage given even small opportunities, and his Muay Thai experience often shines through.

Walker made his UFC debut in style thanks to his clinch skills. After stunning Khalil Rountree with a high kick, Walker immediately latched onto the double-collar tie. Rountree tried to punch his way out, but Walker countered by really cranking on his opponent’s neck and keeping tight pressure.

UFC Fight Night: Rountree Jr. v Walker Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Stuck in the Muay Thai plum, Rountree showed a bit of inexperience from that position. Rather than reaching outside of Walker’s grip and grabbing the head — probably the most common defense to a single- or double-collar tie — Rountree kept his arm low to block the potential knee and tried to shuck off the grip with his elbow. As a result, there was nothing preventing Walker from winding up an elbow and delivering it directly to the side of Rountree’s skull (.GIF).

Defensively, Walker has been stunned several times, a result of his wildness and generally iffy durability. Typically, Walker runs into trouble in extended boxing exchanges or when foes are able to successfully parry his kicks without getting creamed by a spinning backfist in the process.


Walker has yet to score or even attempt a takedown inside UFC’s Octagon.

Defensively, we’re still in something of a weird space with figuring out just how good (or bad) Walker’s takedown defense is. In two of his fights that Walker surrendered takedowns (vs. Corey Anderson and Ryan Spann), the Brazilian was already badly hurt by strikes before his opponents opted to wrestle.

UFC Fight Night: Walker v Krylov Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

The most telling fight yet came against Nikita Krylov, who was fairly straightforward in his grinding wrestling strategy. Early on, Walker did well to use to the fence, spreading out his base and fighting hands. However, his use of the Travis Browne-style elbows to counter takedowns is another double-edged sword moment for the Brazilian. On one hand, he was able to knock out Spann in a fight he was otherwise losing. Against Krylov, however, the tough Ukranian endured the elbows and used his foe’s movement as an opportunity to lock his hands and complete double leg takedowns.

In general, Walker’s defense deteriorated further as he fatigued. Early in the fight, Krylov really couldn’t drag his foe down, whereas in the second half of the bout, Krylov’s trips and single legs worked much more effectively.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Again, for the most recent look at Walker’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu, we can check out his fight versus Krylov. Prior to his UFC career, the brown belt did score a pair of tapout wins via guillotine and rear-naked choke early in his career.

From his back, Walker actually did some nice work! When able to secure full guard, the Brazilian was active in throwing up his legs in pursuit of armbars and triangles, the latter of which was at least fairly tight at one point in the match. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to hang onto the triangle choke when tired and sweaty. Perhaps Walker’s best moment from his back was a nice reversal from half guard, which came about by kicking off the fence at an opportune time.

UFC Fight Night: Walker v Krylov Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

Walker did run into a couple problems on the mat vs. “Miner.” For one, he did not find a good answer to the leg triangle, spending large portions of the fight with his legs wrapped up by Krylov’s. Additionally, in the couple moments where Walker did manage to gain top position in scrambles, his focus on jumping the back or landing big shots allowed Krylov to hustle his way back into top position.


Walker has lost three of his last four bouts, and he seems unsure of how to progress at the highest level of combat. If he can start to figure out his path, however, Walker remains one of the most physically talented and dangerous men in the division, so it would be ill-advised to count the Brazilian out just yet.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 48 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 48: “Walker vs. Hill” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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