Can Thiago Santos cease Johnny Walker from injecting new blood into UFC gentle heavyweight division?

Within the UFC’s gentle heavyweight division, 40 is the brand new 30.

The present champion, Jan Blachowicz, turns 39 years outdated in February. No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira, who will problem Blachowicz for the title at UFC 267 on Oct. 30, is 41.

Blachowicz and Teixeira each have exhibited longevity and perseverance. Blachowicz was nearly cut from the UFC earlier in his profession, earlier than successful the title a 12 months in the past. Teixeira was written off amid an up-and-down spell following an unsuccessful title problem in 2014 — and right here he’s once more. That title matchup is a superb story for the division, however it additionally does make one marvel: Is there any new blood coming?

The reply to that query is … perhaps. And Saturday’s UFC Combat Evening predominant occasion between Thiago Santos (21-9) and Johnny Walker (18-5) will inform us extra. Santos is 37, and has already fought for the title as soon as, a loss to Jon Jones. He is an thrilling fighter with, presumably, loads of years nonetheless within the tank.

But when we’re speaking about potential new blood, that may be 29-year-old Walker. He signed with the UFC in 2018 at age 26. His athleticism and hazard issue are engaging, however he is skilled hurdles already. After cruising to a 3-Zero document with three first-round stoppages, he suffered robust losses to Corey Anderson and Nikita Krylov.

Walker is a part of a brand new wave of sunshine heavyweights you possibly can see on the horizon, however will they make it to land? Dominick Reyes, 31, regarded like somebody who might take the division’s helm, however he is now misplaced three straight. Magomed Ankalaev, 29, has regarded stable and has a giant take a look at coming subsequent month towards Volkan Oezdemir. Ryan Spann, 30, has promise, however he simply misplaced to veteran Anthony Smith. As did 25-year-old Jimmy Crute. Jamahill Hill, 30, simply suffered his first defeat to veteran Paul Craig.

There may be actually expertise on this 205-pound division. However will new names emerge, or will the names already on the high stay huddled there? Jiri Prochazka and Aleksandar Rakic are two thrilling contenders who have not but fought for the title, however apart from that, the highest of the division is occupied by a whole lot of acquainted figures.

Will this new wave come into its personal over the following 12 months, or will the outdated guard maintain it off? A type of battles will play out on Saturday.

Saturday’s fights are on ESPN+, with the principle card beginning at 7 p.m. ET and prelims at Four p.m.

Numbers that might make a distinction: Three vs. 3:46

3-Zero to 0-3: The quantity Three figures prominently in Santos’ UFC profession. After shifting from middleweight to gentle heavyweight in 2018, he rolled off three straight wins — all knockouts, together with one over now-champion Jan Blachowicz. That put him in a title struggle with then-champ Jon Jones. Santos misplaced that struggle and injured each his knees, which put him out of motion for a 12 months. Now Santos enters this struggle on a three-fight dropping streak.

Brief work: Walker has the shortest common struggle time amongst lively UFC fighters: Three minutes, 46 seconds. He has 4 first-round finishes, the second most of any fighter in the course of the time since Walker’s 2018 debut.

Sources: ESPN Stats & Data and UFC Stats

And the winner is …

“[Santos is] a very good technical striker. He has to maintain it technical, not get too excited if he does harm him or if he will get harm,” mentioned Tyson Chartier, coach of the New England Cartel. “[Walker] has to go first and go arduous and attempt to flip it into slightly messier of a brawl. He will not beat Santos in a straight up technical Muay Thai battle and he in all probability has to attempt to get him early.”

Take a look at how Chartier and different specialists break down the fight and predict a winner.

And the perfect to make is ….

Since his loss to Jones, we’ve got seen a special Santos. Plainly attributable to his accidents, Santos, who as soon as was an aggressive striker, has now develop into a really hesitant and low quantity counter striker. We noticed this in his final outing towards Rakic, which resulted in his third loss in a row.

To ensure that Santos to get again to his successful methods, he has to make use of his kicks and let his palms go whereas shifting ahead and dictating the tempo. Nevertheless, I simply do not see this occurring. I imagine the pace and athleticism of Walker is perhaps an excessive amount of for Santos. For Walker, he has to remain on the skin and avoid brawling with Santos. Walker additionally has the choice of taking this struggle to the bottom as Santos won’t be a menace off of his again (and would additionally take away the ability of Santos in that place).

Coming off a KO win over Ryan Spann, I imagine Walker is getting Santos on the proper time in his profession. Decide: Walker at +135

— Ian Parker

Find out how to watch the fights

Watch all the fights on ESPN+. Download the ESPN App

Haven’t got ESPN+? Get it here.

There’s additionally FightCenter, which provides reside updates for each UFC card.

Saturday’s struggle card

ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Gentle heavyweight: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker
Middleweight: Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus
Welterweight: Alex Oliveira vs. Niko Price
Middleweight: Misha Cirkunov vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Light-weight: Alexander Hernandez vs. Mike Breeden
ESPN+, Four p.m. ET
Light-weight: Joe Solecki vs. Jared Gordon
Ladies’s flyweight: Antonina Shevchenko vs. Casey O’Neill
Ladies’s bantamweight: Bethe Correia vs. Karol Rosa
Light-weight: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Devonte Smith
Males’s featherweight: Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Gaetano Pirrello
Ladies’s bantamweight: Shanna Young vs. Stephanie Egger
Males’s bantamweight: Alejandro Perez vs. Johnny Eduardo

4 extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Data)

1. Kevin Holland returns to the Octagon for the third time in 2021, in search of his first win of the 12 months after losses to Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. Saturday’s middleweight struggle with Kyle Daukaus can be Holland’s eighth because the begin of 2020, greater than another fighter within the UFC.

2. Daukaus is one in all two fighters on the cardboard whose siblings received at UFC 266 every week in the past. Daukaus’ brother, Chris, knocked out ranked heavyweight Shamil Abdurakhimov, and Antonina Shevchenko, sister of flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, faces the one undefeated fighter on the cardboard, 7-Zero Casey O’Neill.

3. In what has the potential to be the struggle of the evening, Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira and Niko Price meet at welterweight. Worth lands 5.29 important strikes per minute, fourth highest amongst lively welterweights.

4. Krzysztof Jotko can be preventing for the 15th time within the UFC when he faces Misha Cirkunov, who can be making his middleweight debut after competing at gentle heavyweight. Jotko has 9 UFC wins, one shy of becoming a member of Jan Blachowicz (11) and Joanna Jedrejczyk (10) as the one Polish fighters in UFC historical past with double-digit wins.

ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim additionally contributed to this struggle preview.

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