BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Khalil Rountree stopped kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki with a heavy left hand to the face to score the biggest victory of his career this past July, but his next opponent is not impressed.
Fresh off a decision win over UFC veteran Luis Henrique da Silva at Contender Series Brazil, Johnny Walker is set to make his Octagon debut Saturday night at the Parque Roca Arena in Buenos Aires, facing off against bigger name opposition in Rountree on the main card of UFC Argentina. And asked for his thoughts on Rountree’s 96-second finish over the decorated Saki — a veteran with a 83-12-1 kickboxing record who had just returned to MMA with a thrilling first-round win over the same Silva that Walker beat at the Contender Series — Walker downplayed Rountree’s big victory over the kickboxing legend.
“Gokhan Saki is not a MMA fighter, right?” Walker told MMA Fighting. “His kickboxing stance is different than the MMA stance. It’s easy to beat someone that can’t fight MMA, I dare you to beat me. I wasn’t impressed. I will beat him up a little bit. I will beat him up on the feet, on the ground, wherever he wants.”
For Walker, though, confidence is the key.
“He will try to keep it standing because that’s his thing, but I’m sure he will try to take me down after I land some hands on him,” said the Brazilian, who holds a 14-3 record after winning six in a row. “I’m going to fight MMA with him. Not that I’m scared of standing with him, not that his boxing is better than mine. No. But I will fight MMA.
“People have a primitive idea going into fights, focusing on staying on the feet, stopping takedowns. No, I will do it all. Everything. I don’t think his ground game is good, but even if it was, that makes no difference, man. Jiu-jitsu with punches in the face, black belts become white belts.
“I like to win fights by knockout or submission. It’s a non-stop war,” Walker continued. “I don’t care how, I just want the win. Beat him up and come back home. I’m away from my family, going through difficult situations. I’m in the UFC but my life hasn’t changed, brother. It’s tough here. No money, no money for diet, no money for f*cking anything. It’s rough.”
Unlike most of the Brazilians that campaigned for a slot in the special edition of Dana White’s Contender Series show, Walker doesn’t live in his native country. The 26-year-old talent moved to Europe a year ago, and currently lives in a friend’s apartment in England.
The road that took him to the UFC was a rocky one.
“I got an offer from a businessman from Scotland, but when I got there — I thought Brazilians were sons of bitches, but I found out that there are Scottish sons of bitches, too,” Walker said. “I got there and a month later, he didn’t pay me anything, said he was broke, and I was f*cked.
“Away from home, couldn’t speak English, that’s when my war started. I had to find other jobs, teach — I was starving, but surviving. I’m surviving to change my life. Do you think this guy (Rountree) can do anything to me? I have too much involved, man. It’s not just professional, it’s emotional, family, everything. I won’t lose this fight.”
Walker’s future looked brighter after he got the call to compete on the UFC’s Contender Series and a win over Silva guaranteed him an exclusive contract with the promotion, but he suffered another blow in Europe. According to the UFC fighter, the man that started sponsoring him “was arrested because he had a firearm in his home, and I have nobody else to help me here again.”
For his UFC debut, Walker trained however he could. He visited some gyms from time to time to spar. In the meantime, he worked out by pushing cars, lifting weight, swimming, walking up and down in stairs. It’s far from the ideal situation to succeed at the highest level, but Walker is confident that heart will be the key to his victory in Buenos Aires.
“I was born for this,” Walker said. “When I focus on something, I get it done. I wake up at six in the morning and go swim, or I’ll lift weights, run, do something. I have focus, I never thought about giving up. Even when I was hungry and had nothing to eat, I believed in God that someone would help me. Sometimes I had to choose which bill I would pay because I didn’t have money for all of them. That struggle, nothing would get me out of the way. I was born for this shit, man, and I will get to the top.”
A successful UFC debut against someone like Rountree could change the future for Johnny Walker — or Walker Johnny, his real name.
Named after his father Walker, Johnny decided to use the famous whiskey brand as his “war name” because it sounded cool. Some people think he’s actually named after the Johnny Walker whiskey, so if that helps him land a sponsorship deal in the future, perfect.
”And I believe it will happen,” Walker said.