Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight contenders Anthony Smith and Johnny Walker will collide this weekend (Sat., May 13, 2023) inside Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Smith hasn’t been inside the cage since July 2022, when he suffered an unfortunate ankle injury that resulted in a loss to Magomed Ankalaev. Prior to that defeat, Smith had put together a quality trio of finish victories, restating himself as a top contender at 205 pounds. Meanwhile, Walker is in the midst of a minor resurgence of his own. After losing four of five fights between 2019-2022, Walker enters this co-main event slot riding a two-fight win streak that comprises solely first round finishes.
Both men are looking to break back into the title mix, so let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Ryan Spann (UFC Vegas 37), Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 138), Alexander Gustafsson (UFC Fight Night 153), Jimmy Crute (UFC 261), Mauricio Rua (UFC Fight Night 134), Hector Lombard (UFC Fight Night 116), Devin Clark (UFC Vegas 15)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 235), Glover Teixeira (UFC Jacksonville), Aleksandar Rakic (UFC Vegas 8), Thiago Santos (UFC Fight Night 125), Magomed Ankalaev (UFC 277)
Keys to Victory: With more than 50 professional fights on his record, Smith is a veteran of the highest order. He’s been competing for a long time now, and he’s managed to improve all his areas of weakness by at least some degree, as well as strengthen up his excellent finishing instincts.
In this bout, Smith’s durability is his greatest asset. That’s a strange thing to say about a man with 14 losses via stoppage, but many of those defeats came early in his career. Anyone who has stopped “Lionheart” in the last decade has been forced to really take him out, and Smith has survived some rough spots to come back in other wins.
Comparatively, Walker just doesn’t react well to being hit. Therefore, Smith’s strategy should be to patiently press his way forward and force the pocket. If he can create exchanges where both athletes are landing, chances are high that Walker fall first.
Key Wins: Paul Craig (UFC 283), Misha Cirkunov (UFC 235), Ryan Spann (UFC Vegas 11), Khalil Rountree Jr (UFC Fight Night 140), Ion Cutelaba (UFC 279)
Key Losses: Jamahal Hill (UFC Vegas 48), Corey Anderson (UFC 244), Nikita Krylov (UFC Fight Night 170), Thiago Santos (UFC Vegas 38)
Keys to Victory: Walker is a definite glass cannon. He’s an excellent finisher with huge power in all of his weapons on the feet, but he’s also vulnerable to getting clipped and finished in return. He’s also a jiu-jitsu black belt, but Walker has been bullied on the floor, too.
This bout reads like a test of how well Walker can implement a gameplan. Sure, he could attempt to just destroy Smith immediately, it might work. It also might result in his fifth knockout loss, which seems avoidable if Walker makes full use of his skill set.
The Brazilian is going to be the faster man by a significant margin. He can use that advantage by maintaining his distance and blasting powerful kicks, particularly to the lead leg. If he’s moving his feet and slamming home kicks, Walker should be able to stay ahead on the scorecards.
In response, Smith will have to kick more or pressure more heavily. In either case, that’s an opening for Walker to look to wrestle offensively, another strategy that has troubled Smith over the years. Kicking and wrestling seems like the safest bet for Walker, who wants to avoid that middle range where he tends to get clobbered.
This should be a fun match between two finishers ranked in the Light Heavyweight Top 10.
Smith, remarkably, is still just 34 years of age. He’s still in the prime of his athletic career, and he’s got more than enough experience to capitalize. At this point, Smith is gunning for a late career, Robbie Lawler-esque moment where everything clicks and he goes on a tear. He’s got a year or two left where that’s feasible, and victory here puts him right back in contention.
It wasn’t all that long ago that he was scheduled to fight the current champion, after all.
Walker is also in the prime of his career, and it remains to be seen if he can rebuild the momentum he had back in 2018. His 2022 knockout loss to Jamahal Hill keeps him further from a title shot than Smith, but he’s a popular finisher who could leave the cage with his first Top Five victory. Light Heavyweight is wide open right now, so victory here could still set him up for a title eliminator next time out.
At UFC Charlotte, Anthony Smith and Johnny Walker will throw down in the co-main event. Which man earns the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Charlotte fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ABC/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET.
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