UFC Vegas 38 produced an action-packed card with seven finishes (including a no contest) from 12 bouts but the main event that was supposed to produce fireworks barely produced sparks.
Thiago Santos fought against Johnny Walker in the highly anticipated main event in the light heavyweight division, with both guys having produced 30 knockout wins between them without mentioning the fact they’ve each been knocked out three times too.
The expectation was that both would step forward and throw explosive attacks that would eventually land clean and put one of them on the mat, but what we saw was 25 minutes of largely timid and tactical strategy from both guys as they looked to simply out-point each other.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a tentative approach when the person across the octagon is trying to take your head off and is very capable of doing so with one punch or kick.
Santos earned the win by landing the heavier shots of the fight throughout, but at no point were either fighter hurt or in any sort of real danger.
The win will keep him in the top five in the rankings but the real winners of this fight are the guys already ahead of him in the rankings.
Jan Blachowicz will defend his title against Glover Teixeira at the end of the month, with Jiri Prochazka the seemingly obvious next contender after his violent knockout wins over Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 251 and Dominick Reyes at UFC Vegas 25 in his two UFC outings.
Below him are two rivals who know each other well in Aleksandar Rakic and Anthony Smith, who fought to a three-round main event decision back in August 2020. Rakic got the win that time and has since beaten Santos too, but the manner of the wins hasn’t been particularly entertaining and has arguably harmed his stock.
Smith is now on a three-fight win streak since his own skid, with wins over Devin Clark, Jimmy Crute at UFC 261 and Ryan Spann at UFC Vegas 37. A rematch between Smith and Rakic now seems the most likely after their interactions on social media seemed to make clear they both were up for it.
So with Santos’ win, he doesn’t really meddle with any of those plans. Had he gone out there and taken Walker’s head off as he has done in the past with so many, including the champion Blachowicz once upon a time, then there would be more people calling for him to be involved in the title picture.
But with a lacklustre display, nobody is purring for him to be put into the mix. A win is a win, but in MMA it’s about how you win and Santos did himself no favours in reality with yet another timid performance, despite the change of result for the first time in four fights.