After a tremendous event last week in Houston, the UFC returns to Las Vegas and the cozy confines of the APEX, where the smaller cage is used and there is little to no public attendance. Many fighters prefer to compete in front of a raucous crowd while others are more comfortable in a setting that resembles their practice environment, which is quiet. In events from the APEX, announcers and corners are easily heard by fighters and viewers alike.
As a note: Fighters 185 pounds and larger realize a 5% higher finish rate (57%) in the APEX cage since the start of 2020.
From marquee headliners to more obscure, lower-grade fighters we go this week as the main event of Johnny Walker vs. Jamahal Hill is actually a short-notice main event with fighters now having a couple of weeks to prepare for the two extra rounds. The originally scheduled main event of Rafael Fiziev vs. Rafael Dos Anjos had to be postponed because Fiziev had visa issues. That battle of the Rafaels will take place in an upcoming card.
Johnny Walker (+ 200) vs. Jamahal Hill (-240)
Light heavyweight (205 pounds) main event
Tenth-ranked Walker hit the light-heavyweight scene with a striking style that employed flamboyant athletic movement, pronounced power and creativity fueled by an ultra-high confidence that produced impressive finishes.
However, once Walker was forced to compete with higher-caliber fighters, his weaknesses were exposed, evidenced by his having won just one of his last four bouts. It has become apparent that Walker’s brown belt in BJJ is insufficient defense against opponents who employ any wrestling ability or takedown prowess.
His last victory, a win against Ryan Spann, was a back-and-forth stand-up war that saw Walker stunned, staggered and wobbly before he caught Spann with a flush elbow to the teeth and finishing his opponent in the first round. Walker’s best opportunity in that fight or any fight is if the opponent will compete with him standing.
Walker lands 3.4 significant strikes per minute but accepts 2.8. His strike differential of + 0.6 has been reduced as he’s been forced to compete with more well-rounded fighters and fighters who are able to back him up as Walker’s last opponent, Thiago Santos, did.
In that last bout, Walker competed without using his natural athleticism, flamboyance or innate aggressiveness, and the result was a one-sided loss to a top-10 fighter in the division. Is it possible that in his quest to become a more complete fighter, Walker lost the freedom of movement, striking virtuosity and freedom of expression that allowed him to light up the division early in his career?
Hill, ranked 12th, is a deft striker who uses movement and athleticism to create angles for his power-based striking. Hill lands 7.45 significant strikes per minute on opponents and takes 3.7, a differential of + 3.7, an astounding number for a man of his size, power and bad intention.
Smugger in personality than his effervescent opponent, Hill employs a deliberate, straight-forward “walk your ass down” style, which he developed growing up on the streets of Chicago.
Hill’s direct fighting approach is as innate to him as Walker’s use of space to create openings for his more elaborate striking style is for him.
Walker is two inches taller and has a three-inch reach advantage. Height and reach advantages of this amount in stand-up fights present great advantage for the taller, longer fighter. However, in this bout each man’s mentality must also be accounted for.
Despite giving away height and reach, Hill will be able to pressure Walker and eventually close distance on him to make this his type of fight. Hill needs a barroom brawl. He needs to pressure Walker backward and into the fence, then open up a barrage of power striking from inside position, where he is most effective and his opponent’s length is squelched.
Walker needs to command space, a challenging task for large men in a cage that is 20% smaller than the octagon that was used last week. He must force Hill to pay for pressing forward by cracking him with counter kicks, elbows and knees.
Neither man will press for any form of takedown unless one gets stung by the other, so look for this fight to be a furious, intense battle of strikers. Should this fight be waged in space, Walker has every chance to win. But large, aggressive men in a small cage more than often than not leads to close confrontation, which favors Hill.
Total for this fight: Over 1.5 opened -130 and now stands -110
David Onama (-150) vs. Gabriel Benitez (+ 125)
Lightweight (155 pounds)
Oftentimes when watching UFC bouts, I make notes on which fighters I should fade at all costs based on any number of criteria. There are other times when an athlete makes such a positive impression on me that despite the results of their fight, I am interested in taking a close look at them in their next outing.
This is one such bout.
Benitez is a solid fighter in the lightweight division. A groundbreaker in many ways, Benitez was one of the first Mexican fighters to compete in the UFC. However, at 33 and with almost 15 years of professional fighting under his belt, it’s my judgment that Moggly’s best days are behind him.
Benitez is tough, durable and has advantages in experience and level of competition faced, but I question whether that will be enough as he is also somewhat telegraphing with his striking.
Onama enters off a loss in his debut, which was a short-notice fight against Mason Jones, who I handicap to be an outright killer. Jones had to use every tool in his arsenal to earn a decision win over Onama last October.
Onama, who trains at Glory MMA, has a three-inch height advantage and a three-inch reach edge over his left-handed opponent. Onama is in a very good spot here, and -150 is an opportunity as I believe he’ll close higher than that.
Play: Onama -150
Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -145