Johnny Walker feels that a big win over former UFC title challenger Anthony Smith this Saturday could set up a rematch with 205-pound champion Jamahal Hill next.
Walker lost to Hill in a UFC main event in February 2022, but has since scored back-to-back first-round knockouts over Ion Cutelaba and Paul Craig to put himself in the mix for a shot at the title. With Magomed Ankalaev and Jiri Prochazka still waiting in the wings for a shot at Hill, Walker hopes to surpass both of them with an emphatic finish at UFC Charlotte.
“He’s an excellent fighter, a high-level opponent, so a win over someone at that level will show how ready I am to get closer to the belt,” Walker said of Smith on this week’s episode of Trocação Franca podcast. “My goal is to become champion, so a win over Anthony will show at what level I am.
“I’m working really hard, man,” he continued. “I’m being very professional with my career. Super focused. With this win, depending on my performance, I want my rematch with Jamahal. Jamahal was ranked No. 5 when he got the opportunity to fight for the belt, so it doesn’t need to be any different for me. I think everybody would like to watch this rematch because it would be a brawl.”
It’d be a strategic brawl, though, according to Walker.
He said losing to Hill 15 months ago taught him an important lesson about an aspect of the game he hadn’t paid much attention to beforehand.
“I learned a lot about defense, that fighting isn’t only about attack. It’s about learning the right time to attack, to block the strikes,” Walker said. “When your opponent is hitting you and you’re blocking everything, that doesn’t mean he’s winning the fight, it means you’re waiting for the right time to counter. I’ve worked on my defense a lot, my counters, keeping my chin low and hands high. I was all-attack, go in and brawl. Fighting isn’t brawling. I’ve evolved a lot in this aspect of defense and strategy.”
Walker vs. Smith was originally set to headline UFC Charlotte, but got demoted to the co-main slot after the company moved Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Jailton Almeida to the main event. In the end, Walker said, switching to a 15-minute bout will make no difference.
“I doesn’t change anything,” Walker said. “I’m always training for five rounds. If you want to do five rounds, I’ll do it. I didn’t think of asking the UFC [to keep it five rounds] because, God willing, I’ll only need one round. But if I need three rounds, it’s all good.
“When you get to a certain level like this, in the top 5 of the division, you don’t need much more than that. Only if the guy is really good. I have a lot of knockout power so I’ll finish him quickly. When my hand lands, I’ll knock him out, or I’ll catch him with my jiu-jitsu and submit him quickly, first or second rounds.”