UFC Vegas: Thiago Santos beats Johnny Walker in 25-minute snoozer
Josh McNally

UFC matchmakers are pretty good at making sure every main event bout has important implications, with the direction almost always pointing toward the championship. Occasionally, however, the end goal is a little bit more bleak.

The main event of this UFC Vegas event, a light heavyweight bout between Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker, was more about the winner making sure they still had a job at the UFC rather than pushing them a step closer to Jan Blachowicz's throne.

Santos' last win came in 2019 against current-champion Blachowicz and began with a loss to then-champion Jon Jones. That particular fight put Santos on a list alongside Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith for guys who appeared to beat Jones, only to lose a close decision on the scorecards – and just like those guys, the mental toll of losing to a champion when all but two judges believe otherwise was too much and he since went on to lose to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. Now 37 and with only one fight remaining on his contract, this is his last stand.

Walker, on the other hand, already broke his losing streak with a win over Ryan Spann at the end of last year. In a fight that was a total scramble, Walker was knocked down twice and looked terrible before swinging the momentum the other way to grab a flash TKO victory.

Thiago Santos (L) jabs Johnny Walker. /Zuffa

Thiago Santos (L) jabs Johnny Walker. /Zuffa

His first three UFC fights were won by KO/TKO in a combined two minutes 48 seconds, each getting him a Performance of the Night bonus. They earned him a reputation as a wild, unorthodox striker – perhaps the Tony Ferguson of the light heavyweight division – then his next two fights, both decisive losses of differing kinds, instead made it clear that he went all out in his matches because he had no defense. That meant his win over Spann did nothing to suggest he'd improved at all, arguably making it worse than another loss, especially as he was coming in off a bout of COVID-19 and easily had an excuse.

A year after that fight and a switch of gyms to SBG in Dublin, Ireland, Walker had to prove he was more than a whirling dervish against an opponent literally fighting to save their career. He began admirably slow; if Conor McGregor's trainer John Kavanagh had managed to teach him anything at all, it's that a fight doesn't have to be settled on the first or second punch.

Likewise, Santos began slowly too, well aware that Walker has a level of explosiveness in him that can end fights early. They spent the first round feeling each other out, testing their respective ranges and settling in for a five-round scrap – and then continued to do so for the remaining four rounds.

Johnny Walker (R) hits Thiago Santos with a straight punch. /Zuffa

Johnny Walker (R) hits Thiago Santos with a straight punch. /Zuffa

From one point of view, it's understandable behavior. Neither man is in any position to lose and one is known for flashy finishes and the other has a hammer tattooed on his chest which signifies his punching power.

From a fan's perspective, 25 minutes of fighters not really fighting is incredibly tedious. Only in Rounds 2, 3 and 4 did one man land at least 11 significant strikes; in the fourth that was from Walker, it came out of 41 attempts and, to make matters even worse, only one landed to the head. Instead of seeming like a man who's learned how to defend, he fought like a man afraid to pull the trigger.

After the final bell rang, Thiago Santos was awarded the win by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) and the commentators were unanimous themselves in believing the only reason why is because his hammer strength put more snaps on the few punches that landed. If it wasn't for that, it should have been a draw.

Much like Walker getting a win that meant nothing, Santos' win was so slight and, frankly, so boring that it may not even get him the new contract he needs.

[Header: Thiago Stantos gets his hand raised by referee Herb Dean following his unanimous decision win over Johnny Walker in the light heavyweight main event of UFC Vegas: Santos vs. Walker at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on October 2, 2021. /Zuffa]

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