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Staff Predictions: Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill | UFC on ESPN 40

Staff Predictions: Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill | UFC on ESPN 40

Jamahal Hill

This weekend’s UFC on ESPN 40 main event is a five-round fight featuring two very powerful light heavyweight fighters. Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill will share the Octagon this Saturday night at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a fight that could shake up the 205-pound rankings.

Santos returns after being defeated by Magomed Ankalaev by unanimous decision earlier this year. The former champion now resides at the #6 position in the UFC light heavyweight rankings and will essentially be defending that spot against Jamahal Hill.

Hill has moved up to the #10 spot following first-round stoppage wins against Johnny Walker and Jimmy Crute. Hill looked impressive on both occasions, earning Performance of the Night bonuses and improving his record to 10-1 and now 4-1 in the UFC.

Read on for our expert staff predictions, fight breakdown, and the latest betting odds before Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill at UFC on ESPN 40.

Betting Odds

Thiago Santos will enter the UFC on ESPN 40 main event bout as a betting underdog against Jamahal Hill this weekend.

Saturday, August 6 – Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Thiago Santos: +240 (BetUS)
  • Jamahal Hill: -320 (BetUS)

Staff Picks

Braeden Arbour

Once upon a time, Thiago Santos was famous for his ability to burst into a sprint-like finish. There is a ferocity in him that can truly explode into a knockout in moments, but whether it’s age, his knee injuries, or a drop in confidence since his shot at the title, fans have grown accustomed to a more timid approach from Santos. This is not always a bad thing; against someone like Jan Blachowicz, who is obviously one of the best in the world, Santos demonstrated how he could keep his composure on the back foot and force his opponent to make the mistakes to capitalize with a big counter late. The problem is that when these mistakes are not made, we get a somewhat lackluster fight and to the detriment of Santos, a dangerously close decision that neither man can have confidence in until the Announcer calls their name.

Jamahal Hill is going to be riding loads of confidence into this matchup; he is on a two-fight win streak and has a perfect record outside of a broken arm caused by Paul Craig. He will also be enjoying a reach and height advantage over Santos, who was once a middleweight, and he uses his size in a very tactical way. Hill, who will want to keep this fight standing as much as possible, stands tall in his stance to accentuate his size, but he also utilizes an outstretched guard fairly often. He hand-fights before entering, which not only sets up a safer entry but keeps his opponent at bay until he moves into range on his own terms. Someone like Santos, who may be backing up and exploding forward in counters, isn’t going to be able to burst in as unexpectedly with Hill constantly working his lead hand, and that’s going to allow Hill to get off first and in conjunction with his higher output makes keeping up on points a real issue for Santos standing.

Regardless, Santos does have power in his strikes, so getting respect early by landing something significant will be key for him. The other key in this matchup is testing Hill’s resolve on the fence; Santos does have far more experience and a black belt in BJJ to Hill’s blue. One of the misconceptions about Hill is that he isn’t a particularly volume-high puncher, but this is because on numerous occasions, we have seen him finish fights without needing to land at a high output. Those who have left the first round put him at a pace that easily reaches 100 strikes per fight if they go three rounds. Thiago Santos has to interrupt that kind of momentum by forcing Hill against the cage and to the mat whenever he can, and instead of using his linear bursts just to strike, putting himself inside the issue of balancing space enough to both get in and land, fully committing and crashing Hill with takedowns may be a higher success rate gameplan.

However, it’s still a tall task. Ultimately I believe that Hill is going to have the confidence to move forward and work Santos on the end of his straight shots while anticipating a lot of the counters. He doesn’t typically over-commit with his shots, which I think will be important in terms of not throwing himself into range for Santos to land in exchanges, but it also puts him in good standing to defend level changes out in the open. If Santos is going to take him down, it should be against the cage, so anti-wrestling on the fence will be the biggest challenge to Hill.

Pick: Jamahal Hill to win (-320 odds at BetUS)

Michael Pounders

Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill had a slight setback in 2021 when Paul Craig snapped his arm from guard; however, Hill has run through each challenge since joining the UFC from DWCS in 2019. He is a special kind of boxer who lands with surprising power that can turn the lights out on an opponent even when it appears the strike barely landed. He is not jacked up, nor does he throw with all-out power. Instead, Hill’s power comes from impressive technique, precision, and the ability to land on the end of his shots. He typically stands tall, with his shoulders and hands relaxed, and walks forward with a light base. His southpaw striking style is patient but with good volume. He rarely throws an ill-advised shot but, instead, uses his long jab and feints to set up opportunities for his piston of a left hand to fire down the middle and find the chin of his opponent.

Because his striking is so focused on landing at the end of his punches, which is where the peak of the power is, he can sometimes over-extend and leave himself open for an opponent to drop levels and shoot a takedown. However, Hill is light-footed, athletic, and tall so he is challenging to get to the mat, even when an opponent successfully drops levels. At times, Hill can turn from a patient forward pressure into a firefight. He has a strong and reliable chin, but he does carry it high in the air, which is something to watch as he continues up the division. Ultimately, though, Hill has some of the most technical and most dangerous hands in the division and has the scrambling ability to keep the fight standing.

Thiago “Marreta” Santos is one of the most imposing fighters in the entire UFC. He is tall, bricked up, and has show-stopping power. Many fight fans remember Santos fondly for his impressive fight against Jon Jones in 2019, where he took the former champ to a split decision. Santos is often criticized for his fight style, where he backs up to the cage, stands still, and does not throw for minutes at a time. Then, suddenly, almost randomly, Santos will counter his opponent with a burst combination that could knock a building over.

His power is a true difference maker, and the sudden counter style keeps his opponents at bay, most of which will fight more tentatively than normal because they’re aware of the firepower in Santos’ hands. Unfortunately for Santos, since his knee injury, his combinations have become less athletic, and the burst in his striking has slowed a bit. The power still seems to be there, but his shots are more rigid and telegraphed, allowing technical strikers to evade the big power. At 38, Santos’ health is not improving, and his burst seems to be decreasing with each fight. He still has the dynamite in his fists to win a fight in an instant, but without a reliable base from which to throw, Santos doesn’t seem to have an answer for the high-level strikers ranked atop the 205 division anymore.

With all due respect to Santos, and much is due, Hill should be able to walk through him on Saturday night. Hill is faster, longer, more varied, and has the range striking to land his own shots while avoiding the big, but low volume, power shots in return. The real question is whether or not Hill can fight his urge to hunt the quick finish. Santos hasn’t been knocked out since 2018, and if Hill rushes in carelessly looking for another early finish, Santos could drop the younger contender. I trust Hill to be smart and fight behind his jab. I prefer him in parlays since a finish is difficult to predict, given Hill’s power and Santos’ chin, but, as a straight pick, I’m riding with Hill to find Santos’ chin at some point.

Pick: Jamahal Hill to win by knockout (-320 odds at BetUS)

Joe Pounders

Since suffering an injury to his leg early in the championship bout against Jon Jones in 2019 – a close split decision loss – Santos has gradually improved fight over fight. While this improvement does not look to be getting him close to the athletic mover, he was before the injury, how Santos has adjusted his fight game to fit his current self has looked better each time he has entered the octagon.

Lacking the twitchy athleticism has translated to him lacking his best weapon – his left hand – but while he has not finished a fight since the start of 2019, his opponents still fight Santos with the same fearful respect as they did before the injury. Notably, Magomed Ankalaev, who may have just earned himself a shot at the light heavyweight title last week, looked extremely timid when fighting Santos. This is an advantage for Santos, as a timid opponent will often stand still for too long, thus allowing Santos to fire a left hand or, perhaps more damaging of recent note, fire his left leg against his opponent’s leg and/or body.

Keeping his opponent at bay through elevating his reputation of power is quite effective for Santos. When adding the fact that Santos did look the most powerful since his injury in his last bout, the result is Santos having the potential to string together some wins and contend. While this is indeed a possibility, he will need to show better focus on output over power, as he will often fall behind on the judges’ scorecards due to mere output issues. Suppose he can increase his output and continue to improve his power post-injury. In that case, Santos has the striking and underrated wrestling needed to beat just about any light heavyweight currently on the roster.

Successfully battling back from injury is seen by Jamahal Hill as well after getting his arm broken by Paul Craig back in June of 2021. The difference for Hill, with respect to coming back from a gruesome injury, is that he still has youth on his side; his recovery has been far quicker than that of Santos. Hill is 2-0 since his arm broke, with both wins coming in the first round. Winning quickly is becoming synonymous with Hill, as he has impressive size, jaw-dropping power, and a strong understanding of how to aggressively attack the smaller opponent while keeping himself protected. The attacking aspect of Hill’s game is what makes him who he is, as he routinely implements straight punches thrown quickly and in a flurry to land against his opponent, and once landed, the natural power he has in both hands puts his opponents to sleep.

Often, when a fighter has the size advantage accompanied by an aggressive mindset, gaps are created in their striking that the opponent can capitalize on if able to weather an early storm. But, for Hill, I have not seen serious gaps in his striking, as, from an outsider’s perspective, he seems to always be cognitively aware of overextending on punches. This awareness allows him to remain in an athletic position and, thus, in a position able to defend against counter-attacks. Moreover, remaining athletic allows Hill, whose grappling is still developing, to have a strong 60% takedown defense.

The final point I want to touch on for Hill has nothing to do with his demonstrated performances in the octagon; instead, what I have seen being produced by his social channel. This may seem odd, but I feel it is worth mentioning that Hill has looked quite heavy when I have seen him on social media. If Hill is deciding to put on weight to make it even more difficult to take his 6’4″ frame down to the mat, then the weight gain may be positive; but, if the weight gain is unintended, or more specific, not done for a precise reason, then the athletic performances he has put forth in his previous bouts may not be the same for this. And, if he lacks athleticism against Santos, then he is a far more hittable target which is a problem when fighting an opponent who punches and kicks as hard as Santos does.

While Santos lacks output on the feet, which I am not a fan of, I have been looking forward to backing him in future bouts post-Ankalaev. With that said, I have also been looking forward to backing Hill, given he has next-level power on the feet and throws with technical one-two combinations. So, when picking which fighter I want to back in this particular fight, I ultimately am electing to choose Hill.

There are two critical reasons why I am backing Hill in this matchup. First, he has the youth and speed advantage with his hands; second, he has a more aggressive mindset and demonstrated mental clarity to fight his fight, contrary to fighting timidly. The latter of the two reasons is by far and away the largest point as to why I am backing Hill, as I believe he will continue to fight freely and with clarity, contrary to Santos, who fights passively and perhaps fights with stress – given he is on a skid and back half of his career. As such, I believe Hill will get the victory, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues his TKO/KO streak, particularly because the opposing stances affords him an even easier time to land his lightning-quick straight right hand.

Pick: Jamahal Hill to win (-320 odds at BetUS)

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