One could be forgiven for feeling like this weekend’s UFC effort has a “leftovers” vibe to it.
After all, Saturday’s UFC Vegas 48 headliner between fringe light heavyweight contenders Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill is literally what was left over after the originally scheduled headliner was swapped out. We were supposed to settle the War of the Rafaels tonight, but issues with Rafael Fiziev’s visa forced his bout against Rafael dos Anjos to be moved to UFC 272 next month.
So this is what we’ve got to work with.
Calling Walker a fringe contender at this point might sound generous given his struggles against ranked competition, including a forgettable decision loss to Thiago Santos in his most recent outing. But it wasn’t long ago that Walker was being talked about as an intriguing challenge for Jon Jones (I swear, this was a real conversation that people were having) and it’s not out of the question that a run of impressive victories could vault him back into contention. Stranger things have happened!
Conversely, he could also be one loss away from a UFC pink slip, an outcome that’s well within the realm of possibility given how promising Hill has looked in five UFC outings (and one Contender Series appearance). Hill is long and rangy and has a nose for the finish, the latter quality especially making him a favorite of the matchmakers. That hype that was once Walker’s could easily become Hill’s with another fast finish on Saturday.
In other main card action, Kyle Daukaus meets late replacement Jamie Pickett in a 195-pound catchweight bout, heavyweights Parker Porter and Alan Baudot face off, lightweight lifer Jim Miller makes UFC appearance No. 39 against octagon newcomer Nikolas Motta, and middleweights Joaquin Buckley and Abdul Razak Alhassan race for a first-round knockout.
What: UFC Vegas 48
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Johnny Walker vs. Jamahal Hill
Johnny Walker needs the win more here, and while being a wounded animal in MMA often just means you’re about to get properly slaughtered, I choose to believe that a renewed sense of urgency will push Walker in the right direction here. Because if it doesn’t, it’s going to be a short night for the lively Brazilian.
We’ve seen Walker at his best. He’s an incredible athlete with natural power and a wild streak that endeared him to fans early in his UFC career. However, once he ran into more seasoned and methodical competition, he hit the wall. Hard. He cannot be the tentative Walker that we saw in the Thiago Santos fight, because as close as that fight was in the end, it never felt like Walker was truly a threat to take over the action. That won’t stand against Hill.
Hill will push the action if he senses that Walker is biding his time too much. He’s giving up some size and length, but I think Hill has the speed and technique to make up for that. He’ll be looking to make a statement with a finish here, not just outpoint Walker.
That’s a scenario that favors Walker in this case as he’ll need an aggressive opponent to get him going on Saturday. Once he’s tuned in, I favor his striking over Hill’s and I like his chances of hurting Hill with a counter at some point. The question is whether he’ll be able to capitalize or if recent changes to his training situation have dulled his finishing edge.
I have faith that there is still some vintage Johnny Walker left in the bottle and he pours it on for a knockout victory.
Kyle Daukaus vs. Jamie Pickett
Jamie Pickett’s goal here should be to play keep-away from Kyle Daukaus as long as possible. He’s been blessed with 80 inches of reach, a huge advantage at 185 pounds, and good cardio. Those attributes can take you a long way in the UFC, but he’s lacking that one skill that sets him apart.
The same can’t be said for Daukaus, a strong wrestler with outstanding jiu-jitsu. He’ll have to be on point with his entries because Pickett has good takedown defense and he’ll be looking to sting Daukaus with counter punches. This should be a chess match for as long as it lasts, with Pickett controlling the range and defending takedowns against the fence, and Daukaus going deep into his gas tank to outlast Pickett.
If Daukaus can’t get a submission, look for this to be one of those close fights where Daukaus generates just enough offense following his takedowns to offset the damage that Pickett can do on the feet.
Daukaus by decision.
Parker Porter vs. Alan Baudot
This isn’t too bad of a matchup for Alan Baudot to get his first UFC win. The Frenchman has shown that he can crack, he just needs to improve his defense and focus. He’ll definitely have to be better than he’s been if he wants to deal with the Parker Porter pressure.
While Porter might look like a Derrick Lewis-style big swinging slugger, he actually relies on volume to drown his opponents. He has a deceptively deep gas tank and can keep a steady pace going even in the third round. And if he takes Baudot down, he’ll probably finish with ground-and-pound.
I expect that to happen, but after a competitive first frame. Baudot will want to get the jump on Porter early and if he can set the tone on the feet, he could put Porter down for the count. However, I’m predicting that Porter weathers an early storm, turns the tide and then finishes late in Round 2 or early in Round 3.
Jim Miller vs. Nikolas Motta
As mentioned above, Jim Miller is about to extend his UFC record for most appearances to 39. Here are the UFC records of the past three opponents Miller has been booked to face:
Joe Solecki: 2-0
Erick Gonzalez: 0-0
Nikolas Motta: 0-0
I say this without sarcasm or cynicism, that is some incredible matchmaking. This is how respected veterans like Miller should be handled. Let him pad his stats in medium-reward, medium-risk fights against unknown properties where it’s mostly inconsequential whether he wins or loses, only that he shows up and continues his inexorable march both towards UFC fight No. 40 and then UFC 300 sometime in 2025.
That’s not to say that Motta doesn’t have a lot to fight for here. The 29-year-old Brazilian has plenty of buzz behind him even after a trio of bout cancellations prevented him from making his debut last year. He’s a compact and crisp striker with the kind of hand speed that should have fans of “A-10” genuinely concerned for Miller’s well-being. We know Miller is happy to trade shots, but it would be depressing to see him on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout at this stage of his career.
So I’m going with Miller to use his grappling to avoid the worst of Motta’s offense and then rely on his experience to carry him the rest of the way. If Motta has a weakness right now it’s his ground game, so you can bank on Miller testing Motta in that department. If the upstart is lacking, then Miller could snag a submission and get his 10th finish, which would break a tie with Joe Lauzon for the most finishes in UFC history at 155 pounds.
Just what the man needs, another record.
Joaquin Buckley vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan
It almost seems foolish to even attempt to make an educated guess about a matchup like this when you’ve got two fighters in Joaquin Buckley and Abdul Razak Alhassan with such explosive knockout potential. You can bet both fighters will be bonus hunting.
Alhassan has the better track record of first-round finishes (it’s how he’s won all of his fights actually), so it’s in Buckley’s best interests to not meet him head on, at least not until he’s had a chance to figure out Alhassan’s rhythm. Buckley is always looking for a highlight, but he’ll know better than to just go charging into Alhassan’s buzz saw limbs.
Once he’s gathered some data, Buckley can start to be more aggressive and string together his strikes, picking away at Alhassan until he can break through the defense and land something big. I’ve got Buckley taking Alhassan out in the second round.