Johnny Walker stole the show at UFC 235 last weekend with one of the most extraordinary flying-knee wins we have ever seen inside the octagon.
Facing an experienced test in the form of Misha Cirkunov, Walker found his feet quickly in there before using them both to vault himself in the direction of his adversary’s chin.
Johnny had him thinking about his right-hand from the get-go and after throwing a few feints with his left, he flipped Misha’s expectations on their head – flattening his man on the biggest stage of his career to date.
Things would have been all golden for Johnny had he left it at that but, of course, being the theatrically-inclined specimen that he is, he managed to etch himself into the history-books with one of the most bizarrely unfortunate post-fight celebrations we have ever played witness to.
Falling into his patented take on ‘The Worm’, Walker was left rolling on his back after seemingly injuring his shoulder as he dropped into it.
It was one of those things you need to see with your own two eyes.
HOLY KNEE 😱
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 3, 2019
According to Ariel Helwani of ESPN, Walker’s return will be pushed back by around four weeks as he rehabs what the legendary reporter described as a ‘mild injury’.
Johnny Walker just got his MRI results back. Per his manager, he has a mild shoulder injury. He’ll need four weeks of rehab. They’re shooting for a return in May or June and are interested in fighting Alexander Gustafsson in Stockholm, his manager said.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 5, 2019
It’s hard to be mad at Johnny Walker.
The man hasn’t demanded our attention over the last few months on the back of his flashy KO’s alone. We’re being sold the entire package and this latest setback to his growth (if you can even really call it that) will only serve to draw more eyes to him.
According to MMAFighting, Walker was quick to express his disappointment at his relatively brief time spent inside the octagon in his three UFC appearances to date – all 2 minutes and 48 seconds of it.
“I am disappointed because I finish fights so quickly.
“I want to fight three rounds.”
He’s a destructive guy, make no mistake. We didn’t exactly learn anything new about this exciting talent as he blasted through his latest challenge on the UFC 235 prelims but what we already know is that he is a very big threat at 205lbs.
So how exactly do you handle a guy like that?
At 17-3, he has now well and truly established himself in the light-heavyweight top-15
After thoroughly flattening Khalil Rountree with elbows to mark his UFC debut, 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 maiden 205lb outing.
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
His electric showdown against former UFC veteran Henrique da Silva on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series 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.
To be honest, though, Da Silva had a very tough time of it in the UFC – going 2-4, sustaining losses by way of finish to some mid-tier opponents like Paul Craig, Gokhan Saki and Ion Cutelaba.
The fact that Walker had issues with him about six months ago is very much worth noting.
With that being said, the three first-round finishes he was able to rack up in the last four months are just as important.
His three losses to date were all finishes – with the most brutal pick of the lot coming at the hands of Henrique Silva (similar name, different guy) – a very quick and vicious finish at Jungle Fight 88 in 2016.
The finish he sustained bordered on hard to watch as he flailed himself around in a state of semi-consciousness upon the fight’s stoppage.
His two losses by knockout only add further proof to the fact that Walker is very hittable. We saw this in his DWTCS showdown last August and even a brief look at some of his longer fights will show his readiness to engage.
Johnny Walker is an action fighter in every sense of the word. His recklessness and incredible athleticism is what has set him apart so far, the thing that allowed him to score a hook-kick/spinning-back-fist combo and a flying-knee back-to-back in the shared space of 51 seconds.
The man is 6’6″ for god sake.
It’s hard to be completely certain with these things but if I was betting man, I’d wager that Walker’s immediate ceiling will soon be discovered.
And yes, I realise that isn’t what most want to hear.
However, it is very important to remember that he is 26-years-old and as a result, he has all of the time in the world to work on the phenomenal skillset he already has.
Sometimes we do need to turn off our minds to a certain extent. His career trajectory up until this point would indicate that an elite technician should be able to take him apart but in all honesty, with a killer instinct like his, you never know.
That athleticism really is a thing of beauty and I have no doubt that if all goes well he’ll be able to navigate his way through the admittedly lacking 205lb weight-class to a title-shot before too long.
Let’s slow this one down, though.
Walker himself made it clear that he needs another three or four fights before he thinks he will be ready to take on the champion Jon Jones.
And yes, there are a lot of people out there who are picking Walker as the man to finally usurp the king. Not a prediction I agree with fully but, he certainly has a better shot than most guys in the rankings right now.
It’s hard to know what type of fighter will be needed to defeat Jon but, again, if I had to put my money where my mouth is, I’d bet that a freakish athlete with a penchant for the violently unorthodox would be right up there.
However, I do think that this guy needs to grow before we even talk about Jon Jones vs. Johnny Walker, so why don’t we all just hop onboard the hype train and enjoy it while it continues to steamroll its way forward before throwing him in there with the best to ever do it.
It’s a lot more fun to root for this guy!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena