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UFC Vegas 48 preview: Which version of Johnny Walker will we get?

Get the scoop on the main card of UFC Vegas 48, headlined by rangy light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill looking to do serious harm to one another.

Johnny Walker fighting Thiago Santos at UFC Vegas 38
Johnny Walker fighting Thiago Santos at UFC Vegas 38
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Had Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev been able to maintain their spot atop UFC Vegas 48, it would have been a perfectly acceptable Fight Night card. As it is, there is a lot of interchangeable parts on this card from the opening contest of the night up to the co-main event. I’m not trying to be too harsh, as any card that loses the main event about a week-and-a-half out is taking a major hit, but that’s how things played out.

As it is, Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill is an alright main event, but it was the co-main event prior to the removal of dos Anjos and Fiziev for a reason. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe it won’t be a short night for Walker and Hill. The rest of the contests are of low stakes – at least in the fans eyes – but the fights are well-matched, so I’d say it’s a worthwhile time to tune in.

For my prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Johnny Walker vs. Jamahal Hill, Light Heavyweight

Walker has been receiving nonstop hate for his latest appearance, a lackluster staring contest against Thiago Santos. While I agree most of it is well-deserved, there is at least one positive if taken in perspective: his reckless attack has been reigned in. Granted, it created another problem as he basically did nothing other than throw the occasional low kick. What I’m getting at is Walker has the ideal frame to execute a rangy attack from the outside. Walker stayed on the outside; now he needs to take the next step and utilize a jab, something I’m not sure he has ever thrown.

Make no mistake, there’s a reason why so many people went ga-ga over Walker over his first three UFC fights. He’s a MASSIVE light heavyweight, perhaps the biggest who has consistently made weight. Despite his frame, he’s still extremely explosive, not to mention athletic enough to successfully throw high risk strikes with impressive athlete. Unfortunately for Walker, he has become predictably unpredictable, opponents looking for those explosive moments, especially early on. Even more problematic is his chin has been exposed as a seriously sketchy issue. One KO loss in seven UFC fights isn’t too worrisome, but he was hurt multiple times by Ryan Spann – not known for his power – and his fight with Santos is indicative of someone reluctant to allow his chin to be touched. It has made many take a second look at the pair of KO losses he had on the regional scene.

For all the mystery that remains around Hill, his chin doesn’t appear to be a problem. The lanky 205er has no problem wading into the pocket and throwing fisticuffs. Despite his relative inexperience, Hill is already one of the more technical strikers in the division. Perhaps he could learn to make better use of his length to protect his chin – his defense has been atrocious – but he at least has a jab, something Walker is severely lacking.

One thing that has people jumping on Hill’s bandwagon was his loss to Paul Craig. Not that it was a good loss, but Hill acknowledged after the loss that he was overconfident going into that fight and paid the price. It appears to have served the purpose a prospect loss is supposed to serve, giving a talented fighter a sense of caution. Not that he showed a lot of caution against Jimmy Crute, but Hill also demonstrated he knew where he should attack Crute and did so with zero signs of his confidence being deflated.

The trajectory of these two fighters makes it obvious which way most people are swaying in this contest. Hill is an overwhelming favorite. However, before putting money on this contest, I’d caution people to remember Hill’s defense is still a sore spot and Walker doesn’t appear to have lost any of his power or explosion. It just takes one moment for Walker to turn out the lights. If there’s anything worth betting, it’s that this fight won’t go the distance, especially given neither were training for a five-round fight until just over a week ago. Hill will push Walker to action and will look to touch up his chin. That seems to be the most likely outcome. Hill via TKO of RD2

  • Given he only has a single win in four UFC appearances, Kyle Daukaus surprisingly has a lot of believers in him becoming a longtime mainstay on the roster. I’m one of those believers. Daukaus has faced some tough competition for someone entering the organization and has hung tough in the fights he did end up losing. Though well-rounded, it’s on the mat where he shines, having secured eight of his ten career wins via submission. What has held him back is overconfidence in his grappling, conceding position too often as he believes he can find the submission from off his back. Plus, while Daukaus is technical and accurate on the feet, he is a bit on the slow side. Those worries have many believing short-notice opponent Jamie Pickett is in prime position to score an upset. Pickett has begun to put things together, making better use of his length and displaying improved wrestling. Pickett can’t hope to match Daukaus in submission grappling, but it isn’t impossible to see him staying on top and holding Daukaus in place for a lengthy period. Maybe even taking a round or two from Daukaus. I’m not that concerned about Pickett taking the fight on short notice as a 195-pound catchweight has been agreed upon. However, Pickett’s recent success came against one opponent who was significantly smaller than him and another with gas tank issues. Daukaus suffers from neither problem. I feel confident in picking Daukaus. Daukaus via submission of RD3
  • It’s hard not to root for Parker Porter. A family dude who looks more like the majority of fans who watch the sport as opposed to those who participate in it, Porter isn’t someone who is ever going to fight for the title. However, he has put together two consecutive wins on the back of a surprisingly high level of cardio, aggression, and simplistic boxing. Porter’s wrestling hasn’t translated over to the UFC as well as it did on the regional scene, but that hasn’t mattered all that much, at least not yet. Don’t be surprised if he makes a more concentrated effort to get the fight to the mat as Alan Baudot is very untested in that department. The training partner of Ciryl Gane has proven to be light on his feet and has some KO power. Unfortunately for Baudot, he’s also proven to be chinny himself and has a very padded record devoid of quality wins. It’s undeniable Porter is less physically gifted than Baudot, but Porter has the mentality of a fighter who has been hardened by the battles he has endured. Baudot appears to lose confidence with every loss. Perhaps something will click in Baudot this time around, but I’m not believing it until I see it. Porter via submission of RD2
  • While he’s a far cry from the fighter he was in his prime, it’s impossible not to admire the changes Jim Miller has made late in his career to find ways to win fights. The UFC’s all-time leader in fights is aware that his age and physical limitations prevent him from fighting effectively for 15 minutes anymore, but he can put in a good six or seven minutes before he goes into survival mode. Given all his experience, Miller uses all the savvy he possesses to go balls out in the opening round in hopes of dragging his opponent to the mat and snatching a submission. Sure, there’s limitations to that approach, but it’s worked well enough for Miller to have a winning record of 5-4 since that strategy has been consistently put forth. Thus, the question becomes whether Nikolas Motta can avoid the trappings of Miller. Most would agree Motta can’t hope to compete with Miller on the mat – at least early in the fight – and no one should be completely sold his takedown defense will hold up against Miller. However, Motta is one of the better athletes Miller has faced in quite some time. Miller may be used to being at a physical disadvantage in those terms, but he‘ll hoping Motta fights with overconfidence the way Roosevelt Roberts did. Given we’ve seen Miller outwit opponent after opponent, it’s safe to assume Motta shows him the proper respect. It doesn’t guarantee Motta avoids a sub, but I think he can do that. Beyond the first round, it’s a question of whether Miller can survive Motta’s heavy hands. He may have been able to in his prime, I doubt he can now. Motta via TKO of RD2
  • Most were ready to give up on Abdul Razak Alhassan after he dropped three in a row and moved up to middleweight. It made sense. At 36, his durability appears to be on the decline. The move up to 185 was due to his inability to make 170, leaving him undersized for his new division. Given Alhassan struggled to stop takedowns at welterweight, what makes anyone believe he’d be any better trying to stop bigger opponents from dragging him down? Throw in Alhassan has never won a fight that left the first round and it appeared his UFC career was over. However, Alhassan can still do one thing especially well: knock people out. It can’t be denied he hits hard as hell and Alhassan is an accurate striker in the opening round, snapping his losing streak with a head kick to Alession Di Chirico. He’s fortunate enough he’s unlikely to have to worry about takedowns as Joaquin Buckley has quite a few similarities. He’s on the small side for middleweight, his chin has been cracked, and he typically has no interest in taking the fight to the mat. Buckley is the more dynamic striker and has proven he can remain effective outside the opening round. The more Buckley extends the fight, the greater his chances of winning. However, while I’m not denying that Buckley has power, it doesn’t show up as consistently as Alhassan’s does. This should be a fun fight, but I think Alhassan strikes first. Alhassan via KO of RD1