LAS VEGAS — Johnny Walker earned a UFC contract with a win on "Dana White’s Contender Series" in 2018, and he appeared to justify that decision when he reeled off three consecutive first-round finishes in as many official UFC bouts.
But that hot start has not lasted, and he goes into his fight on Saturday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+) against Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC Vegas 38 at Apex 1-2 in his last three bouts.
That is better than Santos, who is 0-3 and hasn’t won since knocking out Jan Blachowicz on Feb. 23, 2019.
There has been a decided difference in class of opponent between them, which is why Santos is a -175 favorite at BetMGM. Blachowicz, of course, is the UFC’s light heavyweight champion. Santos’ losses came to Jon Jones, who was the champion at the time before giving it up to move to heavyweight; Glover Teixeira, who fights for the belt in October, and Aleksandr Rakic, the fourth-ranked light heavyweight.
Walker is almost the perfect opponent for Santos to turn things around. He’s high-energy and high risk and that’s the kind of fighter that Santos figures to handle all the time.
Santos is 37 now and has had several surgeries which have slowed him a bit. But he’s technically proficient, well-rounded and smart enough to induce, and take advantage of, mistakes made by his opponent.
The number on Santos seems low, honestly. Given the quality of opponents they have beaten and faced and Walker’s tendency to make mistakes, I figured Santos would be over 2-1 in this fight.
Santos figures to have the advantage standing and on the ground, and he’ll be able to determine how the fight proceeds. He’s got the power to finish Walker — Santos’ nickname, "Marreta" is Portuguese for "The Sledgehammer" — and he’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Santos also knows a fourth consecutive loss would probably mean the end of the line for him in the UFC. That will be plenty of motivation for him in and of itself.
So I will lay two units on Santos at -175 to win.
There’s a chance that Santos finishes the fight, but I’m going to stay away from the totals here.
Other plays for UFC Vegas 38 and Bellator 267
• I’ll play Nike Price at -155 to win over Alex Oliveira (+130).
• I’ll bet Kevin Holland, laying two units at -145, to win over Kyle Daukaus (+120).
• I like Alex Hernandez to finish Mike Breeden, but Hernandez is -500 to win and that’s too much to lay so I will pass that fight.
• I will take Michael Page at -105 to win over Douglas Lima (-115) in their bout at Bellator 267 on Friday.