UFC 235 will showcase light-heavyweight prospect, Johnny Walker, as he makes his third octagon outing against Misha Cirkunov on the prelims.
For those who aren’t aware of this vibrant young talent, I would recommend revisiting the entirety of Johnny Walker’s UFC career to date.
You’ll need about 2 minutes and 12 seconds.
There are a lot of reasons for the pretty sizeable levels of hype that this man has attracted but before we get into the important stuff – the fights – the man’s antics outside of the octagon deserve a mention.
He’s about as odd a character as you’re likely to see under these bright lights and over the course of his two-fight run in the UFC so far, he has well and truly endeared himself to the hardcore fans.
Debuting against hard-hitting Ultimate Fighter standout Khalil Rountree – a man who was fresh off of a thunderous knockout of kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki – the 6’6″ Brazilian was able to take home the win, again in the first-round, showing a strong muay-thai plum clinch and impeccable use of elbows to close the show in violent fashion.
In his second appearance, he took on Justin Ledet – a former heavyweight who had won his first three UFC bouts before dropping his first career-defeat to Aleksander Rakic on the scorecards in his 205lb debut.
The American’s 80″ inch reach was one that could well have stifled the rangey 26-year-old had the fight been given an opportunity to breathe but Johnny took just 15 seconds to shut his man down with one of the most bizarre combinations you’ll ever see.
Opening up with a side-kick to the knee, he followed it up with a hook-kick/spinning back-first combo – flattening his man before most of the crowd had the opportunity to get back to their seats.
— Paddy Brady (@BradyWacka) February 3, 2019
As impressive as these wins were, it’s too hard to make any judgements about his overall game without an adequate test of his abilities against a UFC level opponent.
Although, in his appearance on the Brazilian edition of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Walker faced off against the former UFC rostered Luis Henrique da Silva – a man who went 2-4 in the promotion.
Da Silva is by no means a world-beater, nor was he really even good enough to make a splash in the world’s premier MMA stage but with fights against the likes of Paul Craig, Gokhan Saki, and Ion Cutelaba under his belt – he at least brought experience to the table.
It was also a three-round decision, something that offered a greater understanding of Johnny’s skillset and whether he is built to go for fifteen minutes or longer.
Overall, his showdown with his fellow Brazilian was a strong one that displayed his solid use of distance, lengthy strikes, and explosiveness both on the feet and on the ground.
We did learn, however, that he is very willing to hang in there and eat punches – particularly in the clinch and that his style borders on reckless at times.
By the third-round, he had definitely slowed down to a certain extent but I do believe that credit should be given to da Silva’s ability to absorb punishment. Walker was hitting him with crisp boxing combos, flying knees, vicious kicks and these odd back-fists that his long and lanky build allows him to throw without the spin.
Overall, it was a solid win and good experience for a guy who had not once seen the judges’ scorecards.
With a matchup against the underrated Misha Cirkunov up next, the obvious path to victory for his more-experienced adversary will be to avoid the stand-up where possible.
Both of Cirkunov’s losses in the UFC to date have come by way of first-round knockout – to Glover Teixeira and Volkan Oezdemir – and with Walker’s penchant for a fast start, this fight could well be a springboard into the top-10.
Like the aforementioned Oezdemir before him, though, the question is whether or not a quick KO will prove anything about his ability to hang with the best of the best.
Volkan was found out very, very quickly by champion Daniel Cormier after blazing his way towards a premature title-shot and with a guy like Walker, it’s hard to know if we’ll be fully sure of his capabilities until he meets his match.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is worth noting.
So am I convinced? Am I onboard this hype-train?
To be honest, there is a particular breed of MMA fan who holds off on getting excited about rising prospects until they’ve truly been dragged into and later emerged from deep waters.
But like MMAFighting analyst Luke Thomas so frequently says, the most exciting part of a fighter’s career can often be their original rise through the rankings. The part where the questions have yet to be answered and every bout they sign to fight to leaves us wondering if they will finally hit their ceiling.
With a fighter as destructive and as much fun as Walker is, it would truly be a shame to miss out on that.
There’s no shame in being proven wrong but in the case of this guy, we could well have a star on our hands if he can rise to the challenge.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena