Preview: UFC Fight Night 193 ‘Santos vs. Walker’ - Santos vs. Walker

By: Tom Feely
Oct 1, 2021

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship shifts back to the UFC Apex for UFC Fight Night 193 on Saturday in Las Vegas. Light heavyweights take center stage for what should be an enjoyable main event, as former title challenger Thiago Santos looks to break his three-fight losing streak against Johnny Walker. Meanwhile, Kevin Holland returns for a sneakily tough test from Kyle Daukaus in the middleweight co-feature, and beyond that, there is some guaranteed violence with a welterweight showcase between Alex Oliveira and Niko Price. Filling out the main draw: Misha Cirkunov makes an intriguing cut down to middleweight, two of the best young women’s bantamweight prospects—Aspen Ladd and Macy Chiasson—collide at 135 pounds and Alexander Hernandez gets a bounce-back opportunity against promotional newcomer Mike Breeden.

Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night “Santos vs. Walker” main card:

Light Heavyweights

#5 LHW | Thiago Santos (21-9, 13-8 UFC) vs. #10 LHW | Johnny Walker (18-5, 4-2 UFC)

ODDS: Santos (-170), Walker (+150)

Santos could use a win, though it has been an impressive rise for the “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 2 alum. “Marreta” was signed as a late replacement for a blowout loss at middleweight against Cezar Ferreira, then likely saved his spot on the roster with a massive upset of Ronny Markes back in 2014. From there, Santos carved out a niche as one the most impressively violent finishers in the UFC, particularly thanks to a dynamic kicking game that saw him score some brutal finishes over Jack Hermansson and Anthony Smith, among others. However, there was also the idea that Santos could get taken out of his game rather easily, particularly against opponents who were willing to charge through his power and attempt some wrestling or clinch work. Gegard Mousasi and David Branch each dispatched Santos within a round, and that is before counting his stunning upset loss to Eric Spicely, who injured the Brazilian’s knee in a grappling exchange before clamping on a submission. After plateauing at 185 pounds, Santos followed Smith’s lead and moved up to light heavyweight; and much like his former opponent, it took only a matter of months before Santos was named Jon Jones’ top contender. Amazingly, Santos came as close as anyone to unseating Jones as light heavyweight champion, as the threat of his kicking game seemed to defuse a lot of the all-time great’s approach—even after the challenger suffered a major knee injury in the second round. After roughly 16 months on the shelf, Santos looked much the same as ever in his return fight against Glover Teixeira. It was a wild mess of a bout that saw Santos repeatedly have Teixeira nearly knocked out until the veteran turned things around for a third-round submission. Santos’ most recent bout against Aleksandar Rakic was much more of a cause for worry, as it was a surprisingly ponderous affair that saw neither man do much in a decision win for the Austrian. Santos is now 37 years old, so there is a chance that he is just hitting a rough post-prime slide, or perhaps Rakic was just the type of neutralizing force that can make him look terrible at this point in his career. At any rate, the action figures to be much more exciting against Walker.

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the UFC, PFL, Dana White’s Contender Series and “The Ultimate Fighter” live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

Some men are perfect for their divisions, and Walker’s style would not work anywhere but light heavyweight. Heading into his 2018 UFC debut, not much was expected of Walker; a striker mostly known for his wild creativity and long frame, it was not a particularly promising sign that he could not finish Henrique da Silva on the Brazilian edition of Dana White’s Contender Series. Naturally, it took Walker less than three minutes of fight time over the course of four months to become the division’s most exciting prospect. Walker quickly took care of Khalil Rountree, then obliterated Justin Ledet and Misha Cirkunov in 51 combined seconds. The most damage that Walker suffered was after the Cirkunov fight, when he injured himself dropping to the mat as part of his post-fight celebration. Beyond the exciting finishing ability that Walker brings to the table, the fact that he is somewhat odd-looking with a flair for the theatric helped him stick out as someone with some legitimate star potential. Then reality hit. Walker’s return from injury lasted a shade over two minutes and was mostly a one-sided beating suffered at the hands of Corey Anderson, and the Brazilian’s next bout saw him get out-wrestled by Nikita Krylov without much issue. However, Walker managed to rebound against Ryan Spann in the type of messy performance that only this division can provide, as both men repeatedly stole defeat from the jaws of victory until the Brazilian finally landed a fight-ending blow. That was all the UFC needed to put Walker in a main event, and it should end in a bang, whether he wins or loses.

This figures to be a mess, which is also sort of the point. At its best, Santos’ style works by keeping his opponent intimidated and at range—something that is not going to happen here. Beyond Walker being the larger and longer fighter, he is also the shining example of a fighter who is often too reckless for his own good. Walker will try some crazy things, and from there, it becomes a two true outcome fight: Either his speed and volume overwhelm Santos for a quick victory or something gone wrong, likely of the spinning variety, and sets him up to get absolutely obliterated with a counter. There is not much to glean from Santos’ performance against the much more patient Rakic, but the Teixeira bout showed that he can still absolutely wallop an opponent who wades into close quarters; and while Walker is much faster than Teixeira, he does not take a punch nearly as well. The pick is Santos via first-round knockout.

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