Brazil’s Johnny Walker will look to continue his momentum in the light heavyweight division this weekend when he takes on Paul Craig of Scotland.
Walker, who most recently submitted Ion Cutelaba, has been hailed as the next big talent of Brazil since appearing on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. Thrust into high-level competition almost immediately, Walker would see mixed results in the following years with jaw-dropping KO wins over the likes of Khalil Rountree Jr., Misha Cirkunov, and Ryan Spann, but equally disheartening losses to Corey Anderson and Jamahal Hill, among others. Under the current tutelage of John Kavanagh and the team at Straight Blast Gym, however, it seems that Walker is entering the cage with a new maturity and tactical approach atop his physical talents.
Paul Craig is one of the division’s scariest submission artists, unafraid of eating a few shots from up top in his pursuit of the neck or limbs. Throwing himself into the figurative fire, Craig has become not only Scotland’s next-best hope at a top contender but also a massive fan favorite. He is coming off a loss to former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir but proceeded with four straight victories, including a win over Jamahal Hill, who fights for the vacant title later in the night.
Paul Craig will come into the bout as a +170 underdog meaning that a $100 wager will return $170 profit in an upset.
- Paul Craig: +170
- Johnny Walker: -190
Paul Craig has seen a massive improvement in his striking game on top of his top-of-the-food chain grappling skills. He has a wide variety of kicks, from spinning back kicks to snappy question mark head kicks, and he can get away with these high-risk, high-reward strikes because he ultimately wants to end up on his back working his guard anyway. He has good punches and combinations but his offensive striking has come much further than his defensive. Moving forward, Craig is extremely effective, but as he slows down he can seem to drop his hands more often and eat jabs due to leaving his head on the centreline. While this is not necessarily due to technical efficiency, his reaction time is affected by fatigue more because striking is not as reactionary as his jiu-jitsu.
Craig strikes as if he doesn’t care about being taken down, but if his coaching staff is smart, he should work toward striking for the goal of getting his takedowns. For most of his career, falling to his back was enough bait to get his opponents engaging in his guard, but as he climbs the 205lb ladder, fewer will be willing to go there, so he has to be more proactive in getting there. In his most recent fight, his transitions between strikes and level changes were somewhat predictable and did not grant as much success as he needed, this is one major adjustment he should be working towards in this camp.
That being said, if and when he can get Walker to engage on the mat, Craig should hold a solid advantage. What sets Craig apart is his ability to go from 0-100 so fast, from eating shots to instantly sending up a triangle or an armbar and chaining these submissions together. Most often, you will see him hunt for the over-hook first to isolate an arm, transition to a high guard, and work from there. Both in terms of striking and grappling, Craig fights like a double-edged sword and puts himself into positions where he will eat shots and give up top control, essentially willing to lose on paper until he wins by finish.
Johnny Walker is one of the most talented and physically gifted fighters in the division. He is both big and strong as well as agile and speedy. At certain points, we have seen Walker fight very wildly. He will burst into range in a flurry of punches, banking on his ability to win out in the chaos. Since moving through gyms and ultimately landing at Tristar, he has also pulled very far back and come out looking almost too hesitant and shifting between these two natures sometimes unable to find the balance. A composed but confident Walker is very dangerous though as we saw in his last fight. Walker will explode and techniques to look out for are his jumping knees, left head kick from a stutter step right, and a lunging right cross. Where in the past he would become overzealous, we now see him strike and reset, and if the risk doesn’t pay off and he finds himself in a bad position because of it, he can stay composed and fight out of it. The developments in his grappling are evident, and while they may still be a far cry from Craig’s prowess, due to his power he is always a threat via ground and pound.
Prediction and Betting Guide
This fight offers fans a lot of exciting variables. Paul Craig risks a lot in his style of fighting, but the payoff is usually a stunning submission. Walker’s greatest enemy is inconsistency, and while he is always growing as a fighter, he still makes mistakes which can be fight-ending against Craig.
Like the oddsmakers, I do like Johnny Walker’s chances of victory, with his power, how hittable Paul Craig is, and just winning momentum on Walker’s side. However, with how unpredictable these two men are, this fight could easily be 50/50 odds. I believe this leaves Craig as one of the more valuable underdogs on the card. Walker, although ever-evolving, still makes many a mistake, and it just takes one moment of lapse of judgment for Paul Craig to secure the neck or find a lock.
Pick: Paul Craig to win (+170)