Late in the build to Saturday's UFC Fight Night card, the planned main event between Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev was postponed to UFC 272. With the main event slot left open, light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill were given the last-minute opportunity to serve as headliners.
Walker (18-6) is in need of a win after suffering losses in three of his four most recent fights, including a unanimous decision loss to Thiago Santos this past October. The loss to Santos was especially concerning given Walker showed little of the explosiveness that made him a rising star through his first three fights in the UFC. In those first three bouts, Walker scored three first-round knockouts, including one in 15 seconds and another in 36 seconds.
Instead of explosiveness, Walker looked hesitant to engage, an issue partially spurred on by a new coaching team led by John Kavanagh. Heading into Round 5 of the bout with Santos, the fight was still very much up for grabs. Rather than telling Walker to step on the gas and go for the win, Kavanagh told Walker he was ahead on the cards, and as a result, Walker didn't push for the victory as he needed to.
"This is my career, it's my life," Walker said in a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour." "Nobody pays my bills. I have to produce my own money to pay my bills, so it's my responsibility to go and put the show on, get the bonus, and focus on that. I'm not focused on nobody else, what they say or what they think. I know if I do a good job, everybody is gonna be glad to watch so that's my plan.
"I'm gonna do 100 percent to finish the fight. I don't want to leave my fights anymore [in the judges' hands], because I trained so much, I've come from hard history, and I'm gonna put everything on the edge of my glove this Saturday, and go out there and do my best. ... I'm gonna be very professional. I'm gonna use all of my level, all of my experience. I'm gonna be explosive, I'm gonna be unpredictable, I'm gonna use all of my weapons, but I'm gonna take my time as well. I'm gonna just be another level. You have to go to another level, and I'm gonna do that."
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Against Hill (9-1), Walker will need to be sharp. Hill is coming off a knockout of Jimmy Crute in just 48 seconds in December. That victory helped him rebound from a stunning loss to Paul Craig six months earlier. In that fight, Craig locked up an armbar, dislocated Hill's elbow and finished the fight with elbows.
The Craig fight was Hill's first career loss and broke a bit of momentum that he'd built by winning his first three fights in the Octagon -- though one was overturned after Hill had tested positive for marijuana, a rule the Nevada State Athletic Commission has since taken off the books.
The rest of the five fight main card fills out with intriguing bouts. Kyle Daukaus returns for a catchweight showdown with Jamie Pickett at 195 pounds. Heavyweights Parker Porter and Alan Baudot meet up in a featured contest. Veteran Jim Miller returns once again as he extends his record for most appearances in the Octagon against rising prospect Nikolas Motta. And viral knockout sensation Joaquin Buckley is back in what should be a slugfest with Abdul Razak Alhassan at middleweight.
Here's the fight card for UFC Fight Night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
UFC Fight Night card, odds
Jamahal Hill -240
Johnny Walker +200
Kyle Daukaus -270
Jamie Pickett +220
Parker Porter -270
Alan Baudot +220
|Nikolas Motta -175||Jim Miller +150||Lightweight|
|Joaquin Buckley -170||Abdul Razak Alhassan +145 ||Middleweight|
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: Feb. 19 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: UFC Apex -- Las Vegas
Jamahal Hill vs. Johnny Walker: First things first, when Hill and Walker are fighting like their usual selves, they're finishing fights quickly. In 12 combined UFC bouts, they have seven finishes before the end of the second round. They also both have suffered first-round stoppage losses in the Octagon. Walker's most recent fight could have provided a new red flag if his work with Kavanagh has forced him into a style that doesn't utilize his explosive gifts. Given his past issues with stamina and new issues with passivity, it's easy to see why Hill has been placed as the favorite by the sportsbooks. Pick: Jamahal Hill via TKO2
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