Following the mayhem of UFC 289 in Newark, New Jersey, the UFC Octagon hits the road once more and heads south to North Carolina for UFC Charlotte: Rozenstruik vs Almeida.
Setting the stage for the Heavyweights in the co-main event are two popular Light Heavyweights aiming to break back into the battle for the belt: #5 ranked Anthony Smith and #7 ranked Johnny Walker.
It’s a fascinating matchup on paper between two veterans of the octagon with 28 fights between them in the UFC. So, without further ado, let’s dive into things, breaking down the fight before offering our official Smith vs Walker prediction for UFC Charlotte.
Anthony Smith Preview: Still Life In One Of The Legends Of The Division
A popular name amongst fans of MMA, Smith is a proper veteran of not only the UFC, but the sport of MMA. A record of 35-17 has seen him fight the best of the best in a career in which there have been some very lofty but plenty of adversity along the way.
Actions speak louder than words 😤
[ Prelims 12pmET | Main Card 3pmET ] pic.twitter.com/RlhTLKCtRh
— UFC (@ufc) May 13, 2023
Jon Jones, Glover Teixeria, Alexander Gustafsson, Thiago Santos, Magomed Ankalaev and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. These are just a handful of names of men ‘Lionheart’ has shared the cage with. When facing these quality opponents, the results have been mixed but Smith has always come out of each fight a better fighter.
The biggest compliment one could give Anthony Smith is that he’s managed to improve all of his weaknesses by at least some degree, while continuing to strengthen his elite ability to finish fights early. His best asset in this fight will be his durability. Despite 14 losses via stoppage, those who have finished Smith early have gone through hell to do so. Smith’s chin remains one of the best in the division.
Smith can also finish anyone in the division. ‘Lionheart’ has 19 wins via KO and 14 submission victories. He can take opponents into the deep waters, picking them apart on the feet and provided serious danger on the ground too – whether through ground and pound or his ability to finish through submissions. This fight will be a true test for Walker against the experience and grit of Smith.
Johnny Walker Preview: Coming Into Form But Question Marks Remain
You never know what you’re going to get from Johnny Walker. When the Brazilian broke onto the stage, he looked destined for a swift rise up the ranks to fight for the title, but a questionable chin has been found by former opponents Corey Anderson and current champion Jamahal Hill.
It doesn't get more WILD than @JohnnyWalker 🕺
Watch him in action tomorrow at #UFCCharlotte LIVE on ABC!
[ Prelims 12pmET | Main Card 3pmET ] pic.twitter.com/OOFxJOtwWD
— UFC (@ufc) May 12, 2023
Walker will have the speed and striking advantage in this matchup and has hitting power as good as anyone in the division with an 80% knockout rate. Walker has momentum coming into this fight too, having recent wins against Ion Cutelaba via submission and Paul Craig via knockout.
The questions remain, however. Injury layoffs have meant Walker’s career has been stop-start since entering the UFC. When coming back from a layoff after a KO victory over Ryan Spann in September 2020, the Brazilian looked a shadow of himself in the losses to Santos and Hill. He struggled to make the most of his size advantage and couldn’t capitalise.
Walker comes into this fight with a 6 inch reach advantage and is game for a brawl on the feet, so don’t be surprised to see Smith try and take this fight to the mat. Smith must be wary though, as Walker’s last two wins have come against opponents who have tried that very tactic. Both failed.
Anthony Smith vs Johnny Walker Prediction: Who’s Gonna Win At UFC Charlotte?
The odds makers and Vegas are unsure about this one, with no clear favourite along the betting lines. It’s currently a pick’em fight:
The odds tell the story – this is a difficult fight to predict. It’s hard not to overlook the size advantage Walker possesses. Not many men stand across from Johnny Walker in the octagon as the bigger fighter. He also feels like a fighter coming into his own now thanks to his move to Ireland to train with SBG Ireland. The Brazilian has told reporters that everything he has been learning from the likes of John Kavanagh and other great SBG coaches has been starting to click.
Walker is the most complete fighter he has been in his career, as shown by his last two victories. Smith is a serious test for the 31-year-old, and it will be fascinating to see if Walker can earn what would arguably his biggest scalp in the UFC so far.
Unofficially, for ‘Lionheart’ Smith, this fight could be make-or-break if he wants to fulfil his goal of gold around his waist. Unbelievably, Smith is still only 34 and is in the prime of his athleticism. He has more experience that Walker and significantly better chin, but realistically only has one or two more years to really challenge of the belt. Not that Smith needs any more motivation, could this motivate him further to overcome the challenge of Walker?
Veteran Smith Experience To End Walker’s Winning Streak
In a coin-flip fight like this, I have to go with Smith for two reasons. Firstly, he’s the better all-round fighter. He’s better on the ground despite Walker’s black belt in Jiu Jitsu, with his ground and pound up there with some of the best in the division.
Secondly, I still have reservations about Walker’s chin. Smith still has serious power in those hands even if Walker does hold the power advantage on the feet, but you don’t get the nickname ‘Lionheart’ for nothing. Smith’s chin is made of granite, while Walker’s has shown it isn’t. In a fight with such fine margins, one good shot from Smith has greater chance of swinging this fight because of this.
As mentioned, this is a tough fight to call, but our official Anthony Smith vs Johnny Walker prediction is the American ‘Lionheart’. Whatever the result, it should be a cracking co-main event at UFC Charlotte!