This Saturday sees two big prospects at Light Heavyweight face off when Johnny Walker (17-5) takes on Ryan Spann (18-5). While the latter tries to continue a huge win streak, the former is looking to get back on track and pique interest in him once again.
Johnny Walker got his UFC career off to a flying start after making a big impression with a unanimous decision win against Luis Henrique da Silva on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. After grabbing his contract Walker went on to have three first-round finishes against Khalil Rountree, Justin Ledet, and Misha Cirkunov. Walker wasn’t only winning, he was winning in spectacular fashion. Many touted Walker as the next big test for Jon Jones but the hype all came to a halt after he suffered his first UFC loss to Corey Anderson in November of last year. Since then Walker also suffered a unanimous decision loss to Nikita Krylov in March this year so it’s safe to say Walker needs a win to get himself back on the path into the Light Heavyweight title picture.
Standing across from Walker is former LFA champion, Ryan “Superman” Spann. Another alumni of Dana White’s Contender Series, Spann has quietly built up an impressive eight-fight win streak which includes wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Devin Clark, and most recently Sam Alvey. A win over someone with as much hype as Walker would be great for Spann, securing himself a top ten ranked opponent and inserting himself into the discussion of future contenders for the Light Heavyweight strap.
In his last fight, Walker showed a slightly more measured approach to his striking rather than the throw-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style we’re used to seeing from him. This change probably comes from training with Firas Zahabi of Tristar Gym. Walker made the move to Tristar after the Anderson loss, perhaps realizing that his striking had to be ‘tamed’ in order to be more effective both offensively and defensively. Despite the change of gym, Walker struggled with his last fight against Krylov, particularly with the takedowns. The longer the fight went on, the more issues Walker had with staying on his feet and despite landing a few solid shots even when he was on his back, Krylov’s wrestling was too much for him. The pressure from Krylov and constantly having to defend takedown attempts also meant Walker was looking very tired going into the third round. With Walker only going the distance in two of his fights, he isn’t used to relying on his cardio to outwork his opponents – a problem that he will no doubt have been focussed on for this fight. If Walker wants to be successful he’s going to have to use improved takedown defense to keep the fight on the feet and conserve his energy.
Ryan Spann is one of the most overlooked prospects in the Light Heavyweight division. Undefeated in the UFC, Spann has shown he has great striking prowess, knocking out Little Nog with a beautiful uppercut in the first round of their bout last year. He also owns a huge eleven submission wins showing he’s no slouch on the ground either. Spann is a confident enough striker to use his skill to close the distance and look to exploit Walker’s weaknesses on the ground. Spann will be hoping to follow Krylov’s lead and push the pressure against Walker to tire him out and secure another impressive win.
At this point, on a 2 fight skid, it really seems like Johnny Walker needs a win this weekend. Despite being ranked 12 in the division, three straight losses don’t look good for anyone. Losing a third could even send Walker dangerously close to the territory of being cut, regardless of his exciting style. It’s arguable that a loss wouldn’t have as much of a negative impact on Spann, after all, it would only be his first loss in the UFC and Johnny Walker is still a big enough name that a loss against him isn’t viewed too badly. If either fighter were to lose, a match against Anthony Smith would make sense for both men. With a win against a surging prospect in Spann, Walker could bag himself a match against the likes of Aleksander Rakic and put himself back in the contender talks at Light Heavyweight in a fight that would surely leave us on the edge of our seats. A win for Spann could make him more of a household name and a match against someone like Volkan Oezdimir could be on the cards if he were to be successful this weekend. Either way, this fight goes, it’s sure to be entertaining and leave an impact on the Light Heavyweight division.
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