Two of the UFC’s biggest, and most dangerous, strikers squared off Saturday with much at stake in the bout between light heavyweights Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker.
Walker entered the fight with 18 wins in his 23 bouts, 15 of those knockouts. He’d also had three bouts go to submission, two of which were wins. Santos had 18 of his 30 bouts end in knockouts and four end by submission, one of which was a win.
Between them in 53 bouts entering UFC Vegas 38 at Apex, they’d combined for 30 knockout victories and had been stopped themselves six times. That boded well for a slugfest.
What it turned into was a tactical fight that was a battle of kicks. And Santos pulled that out in the final round, winning 48-47 on the cards of judges Derek Cleary, Sal D’Amato and Junichiro Kamijo. He pulled out the fight by taking the final round on all three cards. Yahoo Sports also had it 48-47 for Santos.
The judges saw every round the same, giving Santos Rounds 2, 3 and 5.
Santos, who ended a three-fight losing skid, was emotional in the cage. It was probably a hard straight left two minutes into the final round that rocked Walker and won him the fight.
But he found Walker difficult to attack. Santos is 6-2, but had a four-inch height disadvantage to the 6-6 Walker. Walker also had a three-inch reach edge.
So Santos reverted to fighting out of the southpaw stance and firing body kicks. The strategy worked — barely — to give him the win.
“It was super hard to train for him,” Santos said. “He’s very unpredictable.”
Walker used his height and reach in the opening round to pick away at Santos and get up on the scorecards. Santos was tentative and not as aggressive as he often is.
But in the second, he began to have success by cutting the distance, getting into the middle range and connecting with both good kicks and his hands.
Walker, whom Santos said afterward is faster than ex-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, began to open up in the fourth and seemed to have the momentum in the last. But he wasn’t able to come up with any significant moments in the final round.
The win came at an opportune time for Santos, who was in the final fight of his contract. At nearly 38, he entered the bout having lost to Jones, Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in succession and without a win for 31 months.
He pleaded in the cage for a new contract, which he may be able to get now that he came out on top. A loss might have left him out on the street.
Replay saves the day
In the co-main event, Kyle Daukaus forced Kevin Holland to tap to a rear-naked choke in the waning seconds of the first round.
But an accidental head butt that briefly knocked Holland cold wiped that out and forced the bout to be declared a no contest, ending it at 3:43 of the first.
Daukaus had ducked under a big punch from Holland. As Holland moved in, Daukaus came up and the top of his head banged Holland in the side of his cheek.
Holland went down face-first and was out. Referee Dan Miragliotta saw the head butt and ran in to stop it. But when Holland quickly began to fight, Miragliotta allowed it to continue.
Daukaus took advantage and snapped a choke on Holland, who tapped as they were standing against the cage. But Miragliotta had ordered a replay when he saw the head butt.
After looking at the replay and conferring with Jeff Mullen, the Nevada Athletic Commission’s assistant executive director, and fellow referee Herb Dean, Miragliotta changed it from a submission victory for Daukaus to a no contest.
Douglas Silva de Andrade scored a wild knockout of Gaetano Pirrello on Saturday, putting him airborne with a left hook. The shot lifted Pirrello off of his feet and onto his back, ending the bout at 2:04 of the first.
— UFC (@ufc) October 2, 2021
Silva de Andrade did several back flips off the cage in his excitement. The knockout earned Silva de Andrade a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus.