Explosive wild man, Johnny Walker, will duel with Muay Thai specialist, Thiago Santos, this Saturday (Oct. 2, 2021) at UFC Vegas 38 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Walker is just six fights into his UFC career, but the Brazilian has developed one hell of a reputation. The No. 10-ranked Light Heavyweight contender has already scored dramatic knockouts, found himself on the wrong end of the highlight reel, and managed to injure himself doing the worm. In short, Walker stands out at least a bit more than the average “Contender Series” product.
However, it remains to be seen if he can parlay his considerable athleticism and offensive prowess into a real title run. For now, let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Walker has one of the more unique styles of kickboxing to ever grace the Light Heavyweight division. He excels at distance and inside the clinch, two areas where Walker can end the fight in an instant.
Given his 6’6” frame and 82-inch reach, Walker’s style makes sense. Sure, that build would benefit him in the middle range as well, but 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 almost certainly much 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. Additionally, 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 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.
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. and Ryan Spann), the Brazilian was already badly hurt by strikes before his opponents opted to wrestle.
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.
Again, for the most recent look at Walker’s jiu-jitsu, we can check out his fight vs. 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.
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 remains a wild card, an incredibly athletic talent who is perhaps limited by his durability and defense. Still, at just 29 years of age, Walker remains a very real prospect at Light Heavyweight, and he’s more than capable of wiping out just about any opponent in the opening minute if one of his high-flying shots connect.
Remember that 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+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 38: “Santos vs. Walker” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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.