Thiago Santos (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Walker Preview and Predictions

The UFC just put on a highly successful pay-per-view card for UFC 266, and they are following it up this weekend with another can’t-miss main event at UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Walker. The main event is a battle of Brazilian versus Brazilian with two of the sport’s most exciting finishers squaring off in a light heavyweight contest.

Thiago Santos is looking to get back to his winning ways after losing his last three contests. He came up short in his title bid against Jon Jones and suffered injuries in both knees that required surgery. He then lost subsequent fights to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakić, but the father-to-be Santos looks to be rejuvenated heading into this contest.

Johnny Walker stormed onto the UFC scene with three straight “Performance of the Night” knockouts before suffering his first defeat. He rebounded nicely after two straight setbacks by knocking out Ryan Spann in his last fight. A victory over a proven commodity in Thiago Santos would be a huge feather in the cap of Johnny Walker.


The co-main event takes place in the middleweight division with Kevin Holland taking on Kyle Daukaus. Holland, like Santos, is looking to snap a two-fight losing skid where he has seen his dynamic striking nullified by dominating wrestlers. His opponent, Kyle Daukaus also comes into this fight off a loss, though he should be bolstered by his older brother Chris’s “Performance of the Night” knockout victory last weekend.

Also on the main card is a welterweight scrap between two of the sport’s most entertaining fighters, Alex Oliveira and Niko Price. The two men have not fared well in their last few outings, but neither man knows how to be in a boring fight. Regardless of the outcome, this is a can’t-miss affair that will have fans on the edges of their seats heading into the final two fights of the evening.

UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Walker will be held inside the UFC Apex in front of a limited audience. It is an afternoon affair with the prelims beginning at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 7 p.m. ET, and the event can be seen in its entirety on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action.

Thiago Santos has not won a fight since dropping a split decision to Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship. Can he get back on track against Johnny Walker?

Sumian: Santos’s epic five-round battle with Jones was one of the more memorable performances a title challenger has been able to pull off against arguably the greatest fighter of all time. Santos pushed the pace and continuously kept Jones on the edge using his notorious Muay Thai. Despite the title fight not ending in his favor, many believed that Santos had done enough to earn the victory. Unfortunately, Santos suffered significant damage to his left leg which resulted in a torn ACL, PCL, MCL, and meniscus, as well as a cracked tibia. He also wound up with a partially torn right meniscus, and he had to take some significant time to recover.

Since returning, Santos has turned in has lost two in a row. It is apparent that the former title challenger is unable to perform at his full potential, and he may never again compete at the caliber he was once capable of. Prior to his injuries, Santos was a pure wrecking machine, who continuously put away any opponent who dared stand against him, including Jimi Manuwa and current light heavyweight champion Jan Błachowicz. The Brazilian knockout artist hits hard, due to his immense power in both hands. In addition, he is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Looking to get back to the win column and return to contender status, Santos will have to take out one of the division’s most entertaining and dynamic athletes in Johnny Walker.

When Walker made his UFC debut back in Nov. 2018, he stunned the crowd with an elbow knockout of Khalil Rountree Jr. Fans never expected him to follow up his incredible UFC debut with two prolific knockouts of Justin Ledet and Misha Cirkunov. This skyrocketed Walker’s stock to elite status and earned him a bout with top-ranked light heavyweight Corey Anderson. Walker’s path to this step-up in competition came too quickly and resulted in Anderson dismantling Walker’s aura with a first-round knockout. After suffering another loss, courtesy of Nikita Krylov, Walker rebounded swiftly with a first-round knockout of fellow prospective contender Ryan Spann. Walker has the personality, athleticism and skillset to continuously develop and grow into one of the best light heavyweights in the world, if he can stay level-headed and composed. Currently ranked number-ten in his division, he looks to further climb the tall mountain light heavyweights when he takes on the fifth-ranked Santos in a pivotal match-up.

Unfortunately for Santos, there just is not a world where he wins this fight, if the true Johnny Walker shows up for battle. Despite being one of the most prolific knockouts of his career, Anderson’s victory over Walker was an anomaly that will happen one out of ten times at best. At 29 years old, he is the definition of a prospective light heavyweight contender who is gradually improving and making the adjustments necessary to compete at the highest level. Santos is always a punch away from victory, but he will find it difficult to land on the taller and more versatile Walker. Walker will use his height and reach advantages to fire off kicks and jabs at range, as Santos struggles to mount any formidable offense. After firing off multiple leg and front kicks on Santos, Walker will connect with a perfectly timed hook that sends Santos to the canvas, ending the night with a bang. Expect the hype for Walker to continue grow, when he takes on a top-five or top-six light heavyweight in his next UFC appearance.

Petela: Walker has lost two fights since joining the UFC, a first-round knockout loss to Anderson and a lopsided unanimous decision to Cirkunov. He also looked vulnerable against Spann, before picking up an emphatic knockout victory. This will be a real test to see if Walker has evolved enough to be considered an elite light heavyweight inside the UFC, or if he’s just a flashy fighter who will deliver highlight-reel moments while struggling to get over the hump and become a title contender. That is not a test he will pass.

This fight will be the resurgence of Santos as a threat to the crown at light heavyweight. His comeback fight, after the devastating knee injuries he suffered against Jones, wasn’t a terrible performance, but it seemed as if his cardio failed him before he succumbed to a rear-naked choke in the third round. He also just looked kind of flat in his last bout against Rakić. This won’t be the case against Walker this weekend. He will be rejuvenated, and has had enough time to let his knees recover fully, so that he can put in the requisite work to build back his cardiovascular base. A poised, methodical Santos will be able to stifle the flamboyant striking of Walker early and wear down his countryman in the later rounds, where Santos will pick up a TKO against an exhausted Johnny Walker.

This will be the beginning of Santos’s second run towards light heavyweight gold. The 37-year-old fighter has a few years left in his career, and even with the new talent emerging at 205 pounds, his road back to a title shot is not unfathomably long. A big win over Walker likely puts him two fights away from a crack at the belt, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Santos with UFC gold wrapped around his waist before he calls it a career.

Kevin Holland has struggled recently against powerful wrestlers. Does he pick up a victory against submission ace Kyle Daukaus?

Petela: He won’t pick up a win but this will be a much better showing for Holland. In large part, his struggles have come because of the smothering ground game of his opponents. Neither Derek Brunson nor Marvin Vettori gave Holland any space to maneuver or really utilize any activity from his guard once they got him down to the canvas. Daukaus has a much different style than those two men, so the complexion of this fight will be very different.

Daukaus doesn’t have the wrestling background of either Brunson or Vettori, but he is a very talented grappler in his own right. He may struggle early to get Holland down to the mat, but once he does, this fight is going to be a ton of fun. It is no secret that Daukaus is going to try and attack Holland’s neck. He has eight submission victories in his career, and they have all come by way of d’arce or rear-naked chokes. What some fans might forget is that Holland is a BJJ black belt under Travis Lutter. This fight will be full of scrambles, but before the final bell sounds, expect Daukaus to snatch the neck of Holland and pick up a submission win.

Sumian: Despite the utmost respect I have for my colleague, he is clearly unwell due to the very questionable pick he just made. Fact: Holland is leaps and bounds a better mixed martial artist than Daukaus. Fact: Holland will defeat Daukaus via unanimous decision, and he will put on a showcase as he displays the vast improvements he has made in recent months. Daukaus is no slouch by any means, but Holland brings about a tenacity, attitude and aura that Daukaus has yet to face in the octagon.

The Philadelphia native, Daukaus, is 1-2 in the Octagon, after suffering fairly lopsided defeats to Brendan Allen and Phil Hawes. Holland has not magically become a talented grappler after a few months of switching things up, but he will look much better in this bout.

In all seriousness, I expect a vastly improved Holland to come out and make a statement in this co-main event and end his losing streak with newfound skills and confidence. Daukaus is a talented middleweight prospect, but still has ways to go before being considered a legitimate threat in a top-heavy division full of notable contenders.

Mike Breeden — do we need to know this name?

Sumian: It is hard to tell when it comes to Breeden. The Missouri native has compiled a 10-3 record outside the UFC, with eight wins coming by way of knockout. However, he takes on a very tough opponent in this debut in the form of Alexander Hernandez. Hernandez started off his UFC career hot but has fallen into a win-one-lose-one routine. Breeden certainly has a chance to stun in his UFC debut, but has not yet faced the level of competition he will find in the UFC. Expect a back-and-forth brawl between the two, with Breeden holding his own, but ultimately falling short.

Petela: There is one big reason why Breeden is a name fans should keep their eye on, and that reason is James Krause. Krause has shown to be one of the best coaches and cornermen in mixed martial arts today. Fighters out of his gym in Lee’s Summit, Mo. always come into their fights well-prepared, and as long as they execute the game plan and listen to Krause’s advice mid-fight, they have a chance at victory.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Alex Oliveira. The Brazilian “Cowboy” has been submitted in his two most recent fights and sports a 2-5 record over his last seven bouts. He is only 33 years old, but he has put a lot of wear and tear on his body over his 35 professional MMA fights. He is certainly drawing to the close of his time competing against elite competition, and a third-straight loss this weekend might just close the door on his UFC career. He has an uphill battle against Niko Price and isn’t likely to come away with his hand raised.

Sumian: The loser of Alejandro Perez and Johnny Eduardo is as good as gone. Both are on two-fight losing streaks and have been out of action for a long time. Perez suffered back-to-back defeats in 2019, while Eduardo has not competed in the Octagon since 2018, after suffering finishing losses to Nathaniel Wood and Matthew Lopez. I expect Perez to pull off the victory here and send the 43-year-old Eduardo packing, possibly into retirement.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Sumian: Something about the Bethe Correia and Karol Rosa bout comes off as a potential “Fight of the Night.” I imagine both women will stand in the center of the Octagon and swing, hoping to entertain fans. This won’t necessarily be a competitive fight, as I expect Rosa to thoroughly dominate Correia from start to finish, as the Brazilian holds her own and fires back powerful shots.

Petela: Devonte Smith vs. Jamie Mullarkey. This one is going to be wild. Both men are coming off big finishes and will be looking to replicate that effort. They have a combined 19 knockout victories, and it would be shocking if this one doesn’t end with one of these men scoring an emphatic finish.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Petela: Casey O’Neill. She is undefeated at 7-0 and picked up a standing rear-naked choke in her last fight to earn her second finish inside the UFC. She will make it three straight with a submission win over Antonina Shevchenko, who has been susceptible to submissions, and pick up a post-fight bonus along the way.

Sumian: Misha Cirkunov. The 34-year-old Russian tank is a known finisher and will have his way with Krzysztof Jotko. Cirkunov will finish via submission or knockout in whatever round he chooses.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: Brazilian barbecued meat. This main bout features two of the most well-known Brazilians in the light heavyweight division today. Honor their battle with some delicious Brazilian meat, and watch this card deliver some very highlight-worthy finishes.

Petela: The co-main event will belong to Philadelphia’s Kyle Daukaus. It’s fall, so it’s too cold for a “wooder ice,” but it is always cheesesteak season so find some high-quality long rolls and do your best to replicate the Philadelphia staple. Of course, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether to have yours “wit” or “witout” onions.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
LHW: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker Walker Santos
MW: Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus Holland Daukaus
WW: Alex Oliveira vs. Niko Price Price Price
MW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Krzysztof Jotko Cirkunov Cirkunov
Women’s BW: Aspen Ladd vs Macy Chiasson Ladd Ladd
LW: Alexander Hernandez vs. Mike Breeden Hernandez Breeden
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Joe Solecki vs. Jared Gordon Gordon Gordon
Women’s FlyW: Antonia Shevchenko vs. Casey O’Neill O’Neil O’Neill
Women’s BW: Bethe Correia vs. Karol Rosa Rosa Rosa
LW: Devonte Smith vs. Jamie Mullarkey Smith Mullarkey
BW: Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Gaetano Pirrello Andrade Andrade
BW: Alejandro Perez vs. Johnny Eduardo Perez Eduardo