Saturday’s UFC fight card, UFC Vegas 38, does not have a title fight in the top spot, but it has a main event between a former title challenger and a fighter who pines for a title shot and that’s not a bad deal.
In the headlining bout of the ESPN+ streaming card, Thiago Santos faces Johnny Walker in a battle between top-10 ranked 205-pounders.
Santos, who is the No. 5 ranked fighter in the official UFC light heavyweight rankings, is on a three-fight losing skid. He was on an 8-1 run when he faced Jon Jones for Jones’ light heavyweight crown in 2019. Santos dropped a split decision to Jones. He then sat out more than a year rehabbing from knee surgeries after that fight. When he returned in November 2020, Glover Teixeira submitted him in the third round. In his most recent outing, the 37-year-old dropped a decision to Aleksandar Rakic.
Walker began his UFC career looking like a world beater. He was fun, energetic and best of all, he finished his first three UFC fights inside two minutes. That run ended in November 2019 when Corey Anderson knocked out Walker. A decision loss to Nikita Krylov followed. Walker righted the ship in September 2020 when scored a knockout win over Ryan Spann. Walker is ranked No. 10 in the UFC light heavyweight division.
The key to this fight is likely to be the striking. The two men are fairly even in significant strikes landed per minute, but there is a pronounced difference in striking defense. Santos absorbs over one strike per minute less than Walker and Walker’s striking defense is a not so robust, 31 percent. Those two stats do not portend a good night for Mr. Walker, unless he can catch Santos early and get a surprise first round stoppage.
If the 37-year-old Santos wants to get back in title contention, he needs to halt his losing skid in a big way against Walker. As for Walker, he’s still young enough that he can afford a loss on Saturday and still work his way back into contention, but a win would be much more helpful to him in the long and short term.
UFC Vegas 38: Santos vs. Walker
|Sig. Strikes Landed Per Min.||4.27||4.41|
|Strikes Absorbed Per Minute||2.33||3.51|
|Takedown Avg./15 min||0.7||0.4|
|Submission Average Per 15 min||0.1||1.2|