UFC on ESPN+ 59: Johnny Walker vs Jamahal Hill - Prediction - 2/19/22
Johnny Walker vs Jamahal Hill
Johnny Walker (18-6) got the call to appear on DWCS back in 2018 after going 13-3 on the regional scene. He made the most of the opportunity by defeating Henrique da Silva by unanimous decision, which netted him a UFC contract. He would then enter the UFC with a bang as he scored 3 straight 1st round knockout victories (2 of those victories came within the 1st minute of the fight). Each one scored him a Performance of the Night bonus. This would set him up with a higher profile fight as he would get the feature prelim slot on a PPV card alongside Corey Anderson. Walker would discover why dropping your guard and clowning around is a terrible idea in combat sports, as Anderson would TKO the Brazilian in the 1st round. He would then go 1-2 in his next three fights; a KO victory over Ryan Spann sandwiched between two decision losses to Nikita Krylov and Thiago Santos. The latter of which being his most recent fight, saw Walker go to the championship rounds for the first time in his career.
Jamahal Hill (9-1 w/ 1 NC) followed a similar path as his opponent. He impressed enough on the regional circuit to get a shot on DWCS (2019). “Sweet Dreams” would score a TKO win at the start of round 3 to lock in a UFC contract. He then made good on his first 3 UFC fights, scoring TKO finishes over the last two fights of that stretch against Klidson Abreu and Ovince St. Preux. Hill would test positive for marijuana shortly after the Abreu fight, which would overtune that victory to a no contest. No one is going to take that seriously however. Hill would suffer another setback after the OSP fight however, seeing his undefeated streak (and his arm) snapped by Paul Craig. Hill would bounce back for his most recent effort, which saw him knock out Jimmy Crute inside the first minute of their fight back in December.
He will concede 2 inches of height and 3 inches of reach to Walker for this main event contest.
How They Match Up
Hill is a striker first and foremost. He hasn’t ever gone for a takedown in his life. That’s why it was a bit troubling seeing him execute such poor fight IQ by rolling around in Paul Craig’s guard. On the plus side, he showed some ridiculous toughness by not tapping and I get the feeling if the ref hadn’t stepped in he would have fought the rest of the fight out with one arm. Despite that outlier, he’s been able to get the fights he’s wanted in the UFC and Walker will fit that mold perfectly. Hill switches stances fairly often but he’s primarily a southpaw who is on the technical side of the technical/brawler spectrum. He’s also not a big kicker so expect this to be a boxing match.
Walker is a wild man who will throw a lot of high flying attacks and showcase an active footwork game. Or at least, he was before the Santos fight. That fight showed a more cautious Walker who was looking to feint and counter for the majority of the fight. Unfortunately, Santos was content to do the same and we were treated to a very uneventful fight over 25 minutes. In his fight before Santos, we saw a more vintage Johnny Walker take on Ryan Spann. It was incredibly impressive how Walker turned the tides in that fight to be honest. He was rocked on the feet and then immediately mounted. Most guys would fold there but he reversed the position and managed to finish the fight less than a minute later. I think the fact Spann brought the fight to Walker helped bring the fight out of him, whereas a power punching counter artist like Santos caused him to play it safe.
That’s good news for us and probably bad news for Walker as Hill will march forward and take the fight to him. Hill did show a weakness in absorbing leg kicks during that OSP fight, something Walker is decent at, but it shouldn’t be a big factor. As mentioned, Hill is a stance switcher so even if he absorbs too many, he can change out legs. Another factor that shouldn’t come into play is the grappling from both fighters. Both have used their grappling defensively only to keep it standing to decent success other than a brief WrestleWalker experiment he tried out against Nikita Krylov.
So that leaves boxing/kickboxing the main avenue to analyze. I actually think Walker has decent striking defense (as long as he’s not clowning around which I don’t think we’ll ever see again), but there’s no doubt his chin has let him down a few times in his career. Being chinny is a really tough thing to overcome in the light heavyweight division. Hill is technical and aggressive enough to find it. He’ll also have 25 minutes to do so in a small cage. Lastly, if Walker comes in with a low output counter style again, then his only real hope is to score a KO finish as he won’t win on the judges cards by sitting back. Although that isn’t out of the realm of possibility by any stretch, we haven’t really seen Hill show any signs of being hurt on the feet. I admit this feels like the exact kind of fight where I stop doubting Hill and side with him, only for it to blow up in my face. But I have to take him here regardless.