Light-heavyweight sensations Magomed Ankalaev and Johnny Walker are set to face off in the PPV main card of UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi.
The ever-unpredictable Johnny Walker is riding high on a three-fight win streak and coming after a dominant win over an established veteran in Anthony Smith. Meanwhile, Ankalaev returns after a nearly year-long layoff following a controversial draw against former champion Jan Blachowicz in a blockbuster title fight, putting together an impressive nine-fight win streak prior to the fight.
Nevertheless, it’s going to be a wild fight between two of the most talented and established kickboxers in their division, and very well may have “fight of the night” written all over it.
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With a visible grappling advantage and a much stronger resume, Magomed Ankalaev enters this bout as a significant favorite.
When it comes to Magomed Ankalaev, there really aren’t any holes in his game. His only real loss is a last-second triangle against Paul Craig in what was a monumental comeback after three rounds of Ankalaev dominating. Aside from that, the only other fight where he’s found adversity was the Blachowicz fight, where an onslaught of leg kicks from a powerful former champion shut down his movement, but even then he was able to come back in the latter rounds with his wrestling to score a draw.
His kickboxing has a perfect balance between power and finesse, using a surprisingly wide array of kicks for a light heavyweight of his size. He has a devastating front kick that he uses to force his opponents on their back foot, and his round kicks to the legs and body work wonders in slowly draining his opponents. His hands are also quick too, as he frequently sets up a devastating right cross to initiate boxing exchanges where he usually finds a clinch and overworks whoever he’s facing.
If he’s not unleashing a dangerous barrage of knees and uppercuts in the clinch, he’s usually forcing his opponents to the mat with impressive trips and throws. His takedowns from the distance are also a sight to behold, executing near-flawless double legs from an otherwise dangerous distance on a number of occasions. Once he gets to the mat the rest of the round, and really the rest of the fight, are all his. Like most of his Dagestani counterparts, his superhuman conditioning and relentless pace quickly wear out his opponents on the ground, allowing him to find ample opportunities for ground and pound or a slick submission to end the fight.
Johnny Walker is the complete opposite of this.
Whereas Ankalaev is a wildly impressive, albeit predictable, fighter in his approach to his fights, there’s really no way to know what’s going to happen in a Johnny Walker fight. Sometimes he comes in with near-perfect accuracy and slick setups that quickly dispatch his opponents with a devastating knockout. Other times it seems like not even he knows what he’s doing in the cage, throwing kicks that make no sense and walking into shots that he would have otherwise defended with ease.
Aside from his innate unpredictability, there are really only three constants in his fights: his unreal power, the wild diversity of his kicks, and his surprisingly solid conditioning. These three qualities always make him one of the most dangerously unorthodox fighters in his division and the entire UFC, and it doesn’t help that it only seems he’s getting better with time.
His most recent performances have shown him to be much more conserved, while still an enigma to his opponents. He’s begun to mix more and more leg kicks to set up the other unorthodox attacks in his arsenal. This, paired with much more frequent and realistic feints, has allowed him to back his opponents against the cage and deal some serious on his opponents rather than when he formerly started most of his exchanges in the open, allowing him to often whiff and get counted by some serious shots.
Prediction and Betting Guide
In every regard, Ankalaev should win this fight. Despite the visible power advantage and diversity of Walker’s striking, he’s a much more disciplined fighter with a much safer approach. His grappling advantage is likely going to gas Walker out despite his otherwise strong conditioning, and I feel like he could still match him on the feet regardless of Walker’s talent and athleticism.
The main caveat is that he needs to fight a near-perfect fight, as he’s sometimes done in the past, in order to not walk into a fight-changing shot or submission attempt, both of which Johnny Walker is fully capable of. I’m going with Anakalaev, but I’m much lighter than the oddsmakers are on him and really wouldn’t be surprised if Walker, once again, pulls a monumental upset.
Pick: Ankalaev by Decision (+225)
Lines to Watch: Ankalaev by Knockout (+100) or Walker by Knockout (+600)
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