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Thiago Santos managed to tread water in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division, all while avoiding potential pitfalls against one of its most dangerous and unpredictable contenders.
The American Top Team standout leveraged opportunistic, high-impact standup into a five-round unanimous decision over Johnny Walker in the UFC Fight Night 193 main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 48-47 for Santos, who outstruck the SBG Ireland export by narrow margins in the second, third and fifth rounds.
Walker was the more active of the two men—he threw 25 more strikes than “Marreta”—and initiated a few of their sporadic exchanges. However, his output was offset by Santos’ focus on the legs and body, particularly with kicks. Neither of them did much to improve their stock in a weight class still struggling to establish an identity without the presence of former two-time champion Jon Jones.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Santos vs. Walker,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev-Volkan Oezdemir winner: Though he stopped the bleeding from a career-worst three-fight losing streak, Santos does not stand to gain much ground from his latest performance. Nevertheless, he found a way to get his hand raised for the first time since he took care of current light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz with punches in the UFC Fight Night 145 main event in February 2019. Where Santos goes from here remains to be seen, but the 37-year-old Brazilian still poses a clear-and-present danger to those who populate the top shelf in the 205-pound weight class. Ankalaev and Oezdemir will lock horns in a pivotal UFC 267 showcase on Oct. 30.
Niko Price vs. Dwight Grant-Francisco Trinaldo winner: Price largely abandoned the reckless approach for which he had become known, fought at a more measured pace and laid claim to a unanimous decision over Alex Oliveira in a three-round welterweight attraction. The Cape Coral, Florida, native swept the scorecards with 29-28 marks across the board. Price outlanded “Cowboy” in the first and third rounds, focusing his efforts on the Brazilian’s head and legs. The win was his first since he knocked out James Vick with an upkick on Oct. 12, 2019. Grant will do battle with the ageless Trinaldo at UFC Fight Night 196 on Oct. 23.
Krzysztof Jotko vs. Edmen Shahbazyan-Nassourdine Imavov winner: Far from the flashiest competitor on the UFC roster, Jotko goes about his business without fanfare and more often than not gets the job done. The Polish grappler won for the fourth time in five outings and spoiled Misha Cirkunov’s debut at 185 pounds, as he captured a unanimous decision in their three-round middleweight feature. Jotko surrendered five takedowns—all in the fifth round—but came off as the more consistent and efficient martial artist in the moments that mattered. Shahbazyan has been booked opposite Imavov at UFC 268 on Nov. 6.
Alexander Hernandez vs. Al Iaquinta-Bobby Green winner: Hernandez made the most of a less-than-ideal situation against promotional newcomer Mike Breeden, as he knocked out the Glory MMA export in the first round of their lightweight pairing. A short-notice replacement for Leonardo Santos, Breeden bowed out 80 seconds into Round 1. Hernandez, who burst on the scene with his stunning upset of Beneil Dariush in 2018, now owns a 5-3 record inside the Octagon; and at just 29 years of age, the Factory X rep has plenty of time and room to grow. Iaquinta and Green are scheduled to square off at UFC 268 on Nov. 6.