UFC 244: Could Johnny Walker’s uniqueness and unpredictability be the perfect style to challenge Jones?
The uniqueness of Johnny Walker (17-3) has quickly made him become one of the most popular fighters on the current UFC roster. His on-camera personality comes across as that of a man who is extremely outgoing and who takes life very lightly. Those are certainly things that make him likable to many — while the rest of the admiration comes from the fact that he is an absolute killer once he enters the Octagon.
Walker has taken the UFC by storm since his arrival at the end of last year, with his rise being much quicker than most for the very reasons mentioned above. You could see glimpses of that nonchalance with which he normally fights during his decision victory on Dana White’s Contender Series, but that little snippet of the Brazilian could not have predicted what he would become once he was signed to the promotion.
In less than four months, spanning from late November of 2018 to early March of this year, Walker has put on show after show — with his unorthodox style earning him three performance bonuses in three UFC appearances (all first round victories). He announced himself on the scene with a vicious elbow to the head of Khalil Rountree Jr. Walker then followed his debut up with a flashy spinning back-fist to knockout Justin Ledet, before starching Misha Cirkunov with a flying knee seven months ago.
The hype train was picking up speed at a frightening pace. Walker slotted in at No. 11 in the Light Heavyweight rankings and he was well underway to getting a big fight in his next outing. But then, the freak injury happened.
Overwhelmed by the euphoria of his spectacular victory over a tough opponent in Cirkunov and with his playful personality shining through, Walker celebrated by doing “the worm” in the cage. The innocent act of joy went very wrong, resulting in Walker hurting his shoulder and putting himself on the shelf for the foreseeable future. It was a total buzz kill for everyone involved. People wanted to continue watching this dynamic enigma fight.
Now, in terms of entertainment, Walker’s injury was terrible. But, the pace at which his hype train was picking up speed was lightning, and perhaps an injury that has forced him to pump the brakes a little and take some time out to recover and continue to hone his skills may turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.
We all know how the hype works, especially in the UFC. You start winning, you become increasingly famous, you end up accepting fights on quick turnarounds, and it all likely derails sooner rather than later. That is for most cases. And that’s not to say that this was definitely going to happen to Walker, but with the way he fights, getting caught by a heavy hitter in that weight class is not something out of the realms of possibility — especially if you are a natural showman, like Walker.
Walker recovered from his injury pretty quickly (around two and a half months according to his coaches) and he was probably ready to fight again in the summer. The UFC though allowed one of their brightest rising stars to recover fully before booking him for a huge showdown in terms of the Light Heavyweight division against Corey Anderson (12-4). Now, after taking the most time off in his still young career, Walker (27) is raring to go again and keen to prove a point.
His often eccentric fighting style and physical attributes (6 ft 6 in tall) have led many fans to ponder whether Walker might be the man to finally dethrone the reigning 205lbs King in Jon Jones. Having seen the variety of athletes and styles that Jones has faced over the course of his career, it’s obvious that it will take something out of the ordinary to put a stop to his dominance. Walker’s unpredictability and almost recklessness at times may just be the right style to ask “Bones” the kind of questions that he has never answered before. But on Saturday, the Brazilian wants to show a different, more complete side to his game.
Walker explained during his pre-fight media duties that he wants to go all three rounds with Anderson in order to show that he is not just a flashy knockout artist. He wants to display all of the other tools in his arsenal that the fans have not had a chance to see yet in the 2 minutes and 46 seconds that he has spent inside the Octagon so far. That may be a risky approach to take against someone who is as decorated of a grappler as the No. 7 ranked Anderson, but if you watch any of Walker’s fights, be it recently or in the past, you will figure out that risks are what he is all about.
Defeating an opponent of Anderson’s caliber over three rounds would prove a lot about Walker and his championship pedigree. He has not shied away from claiming that he wants to face Jones sooner rather than later — and an extensive display of the range of his skills on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, in front of the brightest lights in combat sports, would go a long way in showing that the Brazilian is ready to take the next step.
Watch Walker face arguably the biggest test in his career in Corey Anderson in the featured prelim of UFC 244 on Saturday on ESPN2. The prelims are set to kick off at 8 p.m. ET/ 1 a.m. British time).
Sports journalist based in CA, USA.