The intrigue of mixed martial arts as a spectacle sport is the air of finality that hangs over the competition. For viewers who are both casual and obsessive in their fandom level, it’s a combination of the ‘don’t blink or you might miss it’ suspense and the degree to which ‘anything can happen’. That being said, sometimes it’s the most binary and predictable fight that delivers the most compelling, violent, and quickest conclusion. Johnny Walker and Thiago Santos have been booked for the main event of UFC Vegas 38 precisely because they are violent hitters who can kill or be killed, and who risk finding themselves in the middle of the octagon with clashes of violence punctuated until the fall of a giant.
UFC Vegas 38 chances: Walker vs. Santos
The fight doesn’t go all the way to the open distance line at -350 (~ 78% implied) and was quickly bet down to a market average of -527 (~ 84% implied). Much like Ryan Spann vs. Anthony Smith a few weekends ago, this light heavyweight fight has enough explosive firepower, enough durability issues, and at least one athlete with bad cardio, making it a fight. ripe for a gamble of violence.
Since Thiago Santos was at a scoreboard holding a UFC Championship belt in his only title opportunity, it is certainly understandable that punters open the favorite at this location. Thiago got finishes on current tastes UFC Champion Jan Blachowicz, light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith (although he weighs 185 pounds) and former division star Jimi Manuwa. However, Thiago suffered devastating injuries to both knees in the Jon Jones fight and was ruled out from major knee surgeries. I was able to cash tickets on Glover Teixeira and Aleksander Rakic against Thiago in his last two fights as I expected to see a diminished version and a regression in his average performance. Before rejuvenating his career in the light heavyweight division, Thiago Santos was a talented but somewhat average middleweight contender who had just been put down by JJB Black belt and primary grappler David Branch. Now, after knee surgeries, at an advanced age (37.75), against a much younger and longer opponent, I find it difficult to support Thiago Santos from a silver line perspective as a that favorite. Against Rakic, Santos looked very measured to the point of being lifeless at times, and his once fearful lightning attacks were often countered, thwarted, or avoided entirely.
Unfortunately for gamers, Johnny Walker doesn’t represent the most reliable fighter to lean on from a combat IQ or durability standpoint. Walker is a quintessential glass cannon in Mma. It has a remarkable KD rate of 10.3% for, but a mediocre KD rate of 9.4% against. Even in fights that Walker won, like the Ryan Spann fight, Walker was the one who absorbed 2 knockdowns before finding the knockout finish. Walker is built for excitement, getting 15 KOs and 2 UNDERs in 18 pro wins for a 94% finish rate. However, he’s not built for the long haul, having finished in 80% of his professional defeats, often brutally in the first round (i.e. Corey Anderson or Henrique Silva fights). Even in the decision loss to Nikita Krylov, Walker slowed down tremendously and was breathing deeply between round one and round two.
The things to love about Johnny Walker in this game are physical and stylistic. Walker is reliable at showing up with fierce bursts of explosive attack like flying knees, high kicks, long straight punches, and hellish melee strikes (both elbows and knees). He also has a massive frame, measuring 6’6 “tall (4” adv. Height), with an 82 “reach (6” adv.), And a chiseled athletic physique. As a much taller and younger fighter, Johnny Walker certainly has some attributes that you want to see in a big, more money underdog. Walker’s cardio limitations are what make him hard to sustain in his first five-lap competition, especially when paired with questionable durability. We’ve also seen that the threat of the fight has been an effective tool in putting pressure on Walker, but Santos is averaging less than one out every fifteen minutes in less than two attempts on average.
In the end, while this fight is hard to read in terms of a winner, it seems pretty straightforward to me how this fight is most likely to play out. These fighters are likely to engage early and often until a man falls, and I think our betting priorities should be aimed at exploiting the predictable nature of this violence. The way I chose to target this is multifaceted.
UFC Vegas 38 Betting Tips
One of my biggest bets followed on this event will be Fight Does Not Start Rd. 4 (alternately listed as Fight Ends in Rd. 1, 2 or 3) at -240. I put a bet of 2.5U at -240, believing that -400 (80% indication) is closer to accuracy. With tremendous finishing power on both sides and a combined total of 30 KO wins and 6 KO losses between them, the fight to finish in a -360 KO / TKO can be a wise buy option if you have a bigger bankroll. and want to reduce the price to FDGTD to -500. I think if you are doomed on the Thiago Santos line it makes sense to play him straight at the -155 figure available on Draftkings because his ITD line offers very little added value (-120 best market price). However, for those with access to Fanduel Sportsbook, you can still bet the Boosted Santos to win per line KO / TKO at +130 (rest of the market +105 best available). If you are doomed on Walker’s side, the value of the silver line has been fully mined at +133, but its ITD The line at +210 seems worth playing. I do believe Walker is a first round fighter (at most a 2 round fighter) so Walker won in Rd. 1 at +470 on Fanduel is a no-brainer as a hedge if you are big on Santos or as a game if you try to maximize the value on Walker. I’m also thinking of Walker Rd. 1/2 at +275 is better value than the +133 available on its silver line.
Reasoning: Although he believes Thiago Santos is the most skilled fighter in all facets of Mma, I think it is a difficult game for him at his advanced age and his reduced physical capacities. Without his power and explosiveness, much of the dynamism seeped into Thiago’s game and left him with an uninspiring kickboxing offer. Santos will need to poke Walker with an early block or proactive wrestling in order to avoid the four-minute barrage of effective violence that the taller and younger man will bring to the feet. I think Santos would have been a nightmare for Walker earlier in his career, but at this point it can be a manageable task. The UFC obviously want to build Johnny Walker because he’s a marketable and interesting character in a division devoid of youth and excitement. I think matchmakers see what I see; a lesser version of Thiago Santos ready to be exploited by future title contenders (see Rakic / Texeria fights). Even an aged and aged Glover Texeira was able to outlast Thiago’s best efforts and find a finish. Rakic fought a measured game plan with patience and tact to win a fifteen minute decision, which we won’t see from Walker. I expect a car crash in the middle of the octagon with the biggest and newest vehicle coming out damaged but ultimately victorious. The longer the fight lasts, the more he favors Thiago, but I expect violence sooner and later.
Prediction: Johnny Walker defeats Thiago Santos via KO1 (GNP header / punches)
My bets tracked:
- 2.5U Walker / Santos Fight does not start Rd. 4 -240
- .51U Johnny Walker ML 195
- .19U Walker Road 1 +470
Exposure monitored: 3.2U
Degeneration not followed:
- .25U chemin Walker 1/2 +275
- 2U Walker / Santos ends GOING THROUGH KO / TKO -370
Exposure not monitored: 2.25U
Image Credit: Imag