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Johnny Walker: Thiago Santos ‘beat up Jon Jones and couldn’t beat me up, so that shows my level’

Johnny Walker lost a decision to Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC Vegas 39.
Zuffa LLC

Johnny Walker is happy with his first UFC main event, even if he lost a lackluster five-round decision to Thiago Santos at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

“It was very good for me because I’ve gained a lot of experience,” Walker told MMA Fighting while healing from a left leg injury he sustained in the third round against Santos. “I fought five rounds with a guy that already fought Jon Jones. He beat up Jon Jones and couldn’t beat me up, so that shows my level. Right, brother? I stood in there with him. I’ll just go back to the gym and train and get better for [my] next [fight].”

Santos memorably challenged Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2019 and dropped a close split decision despite injuring both knees during the 25-minute clash.

When reflecting back on his fight with Santos, Walker said he had “endless cardio” to go another five rounds and defended himself from critics who called the fight boring.

“You know that at this level, the biggest promotion in the world, [against] one of the best strikers in the world, you have to know how to get in and get out, to hit and defend, the right timing and strategy. There are so many things involved,” Walker said. “People that called it boring are the ones that sit on the couch to drink beer and watch fights as entertainment. That’s the type of people that buy pay-per-views, but they aren’t the ones that understand [anything] about fighting. I don’t pay attention to that.

“I had a game plan for [the way] he fights all his fights. He always attacks and takes risks, but this time he didn’t. He didn’t take risks, and I was planning on countering, to catch him when he came in, but he wasn’t coming forward that much and I wasn’t letting him come in because I was feinting a lot, so it was a very technical, high-level fight. We both studied hard since anyone could go down with a good [punch].”

Walker said he felt that a close decision was coming as soon as the fifth round ended and thought he landed more significant strikes overall — with the official stats showing a pretty close battle in that department — but regardless he was just happy to be there for his first UFC main event.

“I could have done better, but I gave my all, my best,” Walker said. “I was trying to knock him out, but he wasn’t making any mistakes.”

Now back in the losing column and just 1-3 over his past four UFC bouts since a thrilling 3-0 run to start his time with the company, Walker said he’s aiming to recover and fly back to his team in Ireland and fight as early as December or January.

Walker also defended his head coach, SBG Ireland’s John Kavanagh, who was criticized for telling Walker that he was ahead in the scorecards going into the fifth round even though the first 20 minutes of action against Santos were a close, back-and-forth affair.

“He was right,” said Walker. “I forgot to tell him I injured my foot in the third round so I stopped scoring points and moving a little bit. I should’ve said that, I was a bit hurt, but I didn’t want to say anything negative. I thought I could, but I couldn’t kick anymore. If I hadn’t injured my foot I think I would have been able to score more and win [the decision].”

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