Johnny Walker can finally enter title contention with a victory Saturday at UFC 294.
The Brazilian slugger, who made waves early in his UFC career with a trio of wild and flashy knockouts but then hit a rough patch over his next five bouts, is finally back on a three-fight win streak over Ion Cutelaba, Paul Craig, and Anthony Smith. And Walker, who kicks off his new eight-fight UFC contract this weekend, believes he’s one win away from the belt.
“I’m very happy with this fight,” Johnny Walker told MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “It’s going to be another test to show I’m ready for the belt. God willing, by beating him, I’ll have the opportunity to fight the winner of Jiri Prochazka and [Alex] Pereira. That’s the future, but I’m already thinking about it. After this fight, [I’ll go] to New York to watch that [bout].”
Prochazka gets the chance to reclaim the light heavyweight championship when he meets former middleweight titleholder Alex Pereira in the co-main event of UFC 295 on Nov. 11.
“They are both excellent strikers with great knockout power and can knock out a lot of people, we already know that,” Johnny Walker said of UFC 295’s co-headliners, “but they have the same problem, which is fighting with their hands too low. You can’t blink in this division. If the glove touches your face, you’ll go to sleep.”
Jamahal Hill was the most recent man to hold the UFC light heavyweight title. He beat Glover Teixeira and then vacated the belt due to injury. Johnny Walker isn’t concerned that Hill could be next in line over him, even if the American has a win over him. That being said, Walker hopes that whoever does stand in front of him next is coming off a war.
“I hope they break each other completely for five rounds,” Johnny Walker said of Pereira and Prochazka. “You have to understand that we get hurt all the time and we leave a piece of us every time we’re in there. It’s a brutal sport and takes a high toll on your lifestyle, your bones, and your body. If they fight five rounds, they’ll definitely come out with some injury, and then I’m coming after them [with them] already broken.
“That’s what happened to me. I tried to come back too fast after my shoulder injury and the surgery, and I wasn’t 100 percent in there. It takes too long to heal 100 percent, man. Sadly, this sport is very unfair.”
Johnny Walker first must get past Ankalaev, though, and he’s confident in his chances. The Russian fighter is unbeaten over his past 10 appearances under the UFC umbrella, a run highlighted by knockouts of Anthony Smith and Ion Cutelaba, but fought to a split draw against Jan Blachowicz in his most recent bout for the vacant title in December 2022.
“He won’t change his fighting style overnight,” Johnny Walker said. “He may try to come out more aggressive, but his style will be the same. He’s a southpaw and he trusts that lead hand, and he has a bit of wrestling when he starts to lose on the feet. He’s an excellent fighter, high-level, but he can’t go from water to wine. That’s what happened to me over the last two years. I didn’t change my game, but I improved my game.”
“It’s going to be the same Ankalaev in there,” he continued. “Tough fight, for sure. He might play to go to a decision, but he’s never fought someone like me. I’m very big, I’m very strong, I’m very explosive, so it’s going to be a very hard fight for him. He might think he’s in an advantageous position controlling on the ground, but if I have my back on the ground, son, I’ll land elbows, I’ll push him away, I’ll attack with armbars and triangles. It’s going to be hard for him.
“I’m one of the best in the world. I want to knock him out, but that might not happen, so we’ll have to play with all the cards up my sleeve and use all of them. Strategy, to win a decision, to try a submission, to try a knockout.”