UFC Vegas 38: Explosive Arsenals on Display with Santos vs Walker

Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker, UFC Vegas 38
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 01: (L-R) Opponents Thiago Santos of Brazil and Johnny Walker of Brazil face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 01, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Saturday night is promising extreme damage as menacing powerhouse Thiago Santos looks to get back in the win-column against the ever electric Johnny Walker at UFC Vegas 38.

Things can often change in a single night in the fight game, sometimes frighteningly unexpectedly.  Going into 2019, Thiago “Marreta” Santos was the most intimidating engine of destruction at 205 pounds who had carved a path of destruction that included a knockout win over current champion Jan Blachowicz.  Santos pushed longtime champion Jon Jones to the limit but ended up on the wrong side of a split decision.  More unfortunately, he suffered serious damage to both knees and required surgery that kept him out of action for more than a year.

In his two appearances since then, against Glover Teixeira and Aleksander Rakic, Santos struggled to shine like he did prior to his injuries.  While credit should be given to his opponents, the fact remains that Santos at 37 years old can not afford to go 0-4 if he wants to remain in the mix in the increasingly competitive UFC light heavyweight division.  That said, he has an opponent on Saturday that is perfect to not only have an exciting performance but to also deliver the type of highlight reel finish that injects momentum back into his career.

Johnny Walker is out to show that the style that made him a star can still get him into the upper-echelon of his division.  When he arrived through Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, his electrifying performances and energetic entrances made him the much desired breath of fresh air in what at the time was a slowly stagnating division.  After three straight first round knockouts, Walker was on the cusp of a title contention before being halted by perennial contender Corey Anderson.

Following the loss, Walker had another favorable matchup with respected striker Nikita Krylov but came up short after being unexpectedly grappled for most of the bout.  Still only 29 years old,  the man who once injured himself by doing the worm in his post-fight celebration was never going to be kept down.  Last September, in serious trouble against Ryan Spann, Walker rallied back a first round KO and secured one the best comebacks of 2020.  A chest injury has kept him out of action so far in 2021, but Saturday is expected to be a great showcase for as long as it lasts.

Santos goes in as the more conventional fighter while Walker will have the more unorthodox attacks in his arsenal.  “Marreta” must look to attack the legs and mobility of Walker early as to make his countryman a more stationary target.  Though he is known for fast knockouts, a more patient approach may benefit Santos as more risks early favors Walker.  Walker must look to use his length and speed to get in-and-out against the former title challenger.  Shot selection will be the most important as Santos does carry the power to do serious damage should Walker leave openings as he goes for spinning attacks or other unorthodox strikes.

Saturday’s contest is expected to help propel the winner towards another high profile bout in 2022.  Considering Santos’ status in the division and Walker’s propensity for electrifying performances, the winner could see a highly ranked foe in their next outing.  Surveying the division,  Dominick Reyes stands out as does the winner of the upcoming fight between Magomed Ankalaev and Volkan Oezdemir.