TGIFighting: Bantamweight Barnburners, Jon Jones, Johnny Walker and More

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterOctober 1, 2021

Jon Jones
Jon JonesMichael Wyke/Associated Press

Welcome back to TGIFighting, where we talk to top fighters, preview the weekend's combat sports action and make crotchety observations about the combat sports news of the day. Ready? Let's proceed. 


Two New Bantamweight Bangers Scheduled

The last time it happened was 2011. But it will happen again on October 30, when the UFC airs one of its tentpole "numbered" cards—in this case, UFC 267—as a non-pay-per-view event.

The card officially got interesting Tuesday when the company announced Cory Sandhagen (14-3) and Petr Yan (15-2) will square off for the interim bantamweight title, as champ Aljamain Sterling (19-4) continues his recovery from neck surgery.

This is an easy fight to like and immediately makes UFC 267 a must-see event. Sandhagen is known for a flashy, Condit-esque striking game that has netted him six knockout wins (Yan clocks in with seven). If Yan hadn't lost to Sterling via a controversial disqualification in his last bout—the one that saw Sterling take the championship from Yan—he'd be on an 11-fight winning streak right now.

Petr Yan (left)
Petr Yan (left)Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

The Russian Yan is an early -265 favorite, per DraftKings, to handle Sandhagen. Yan is an incredible and well-rounded talent, but Sandhagen is a dynamic striking machine who can win scrambles on the ground and brings a proven toughness that belies his rangy frame.

Either man adds pop to any card, but together it's guaranteed pyrotechnics. Get your popcorn ready well in advance of the opening horn.

Sterling, who has fought and beaten both men, predicts Sandhagen will "smoke" Yan come October 30. What do you think?  

That wasn't the only 135-pound action fight to spring up this week. Want more fireworks? Try Rob Font (19-4) and Jose Aldo (30-7) on for size. Word came Tuesday that this contest will take place in December as a main event.

Rob Font (left) hits Cody Garbrandt
Rob Font (left) hits Cody GarbrandtHandout/Getty Images

Font took the hard way to this point but has left the UFC no choice but to grant him a spot on the big marquee. A four-fight winning streak over heavy hitters like Cody Garbrandt (12-4) and Marlon Moraes (23-9-1), whom he absolutely blitzed for a first-round knockout, will do that for you.

Aldo is more defense-oriented but plenty capable of a big stoppage. A three-fight losing streak had observers shoveling dirt on his career, but he's since recovered with back-to-back victories. He's a tough nut to crack. It will be guaranteed fun to watch Font try to crack it.


More Turmoil for Jon Jones

Thanks to solid reporting from ESPN, MMAJunkie and TMZ, we know a lot about the alleged actions of Jon Jones (26-1 [1 NC]) in the wee hours of September 24. Las Vegas police arrested and charged Jones with felony injuring or tampering with a vehicle and misdemeanor battery domestic violence. According to a subsequent ESPN report, police described Jones as being on an "emotional roller coaster" during the arrest, which came just hours after his classic 2013 fight with Alexander Gustafsson (18-7) was enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame. 

We'll see what happens in a court of law, but these are just the latest in a well-documented litany of legal troubles for the former light heavyweight champ and MMA GOAT short-lister.

After the news became public, UFC president Dana White told reporters, "This is what Jon does when he comes to Vegas. … He was here less than 12 hours and, you know, he was in jail." He also said Jones should have stopped drinking "10 years ago." Those aren't the words of a happy boss.

Chamatkar Sandhu @SandhuMMA

Jon Jones just posted this video on his Instagram account. https://t.co/L89i0pP0Rw

Apparently and understandably eager to put the arrest behind him, Jones took to Instagram to explain his mindset (the post has since been deleted, but journalist Chamatkar Sandhu captured the video). Among other things, Jones said he has "too much trauma to consume alcohol," that he "will leave alcohol in my past forever" and that he will "turn this nightmare into the best thing to ever happen in my life." 

We'll see, said the Zen master. 


Johnny Walker: Divisional Threat or Flash in the Pan?

Johnny Walker (18-5) certainly doesn't lack for confidence.

In his first UFC main event Saturday at UFC Fight Night 193 in Las Vegas, Walker takes on headhunter Thiago Santos (21-9) in a bout with contender implications for the light heavyweight division.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 02:  Johnny Walker of Brazil celebrates his victory over Misha Cirkunov of Latvia in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 235 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuf
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Walker wowed audiences with his outsized personality and three bonus-winning knockouts to start his career in the UFC proper. But then he derailed his overcrowded hype train with two straight losses. He stopped the bleeding with a knockout of Ryan Spann (19-7), but that was more than a year ago, and there has been speculation in MMA circles that the attention may have been too much too soon for Walker, who is still only 29 years old.

Walker (right) and Misha Cirkunov
Walker (right) and Misha CirkunovJeff Bottari/Getty Images

He could be new blood at the top of the division, or he could be the equivalent of a young pitcher whose stuff looks a lot less potent after opponents have had a chance to figure out his flying, jumping, spinning—and if you're not careful, gimmicky—approach.

Speaking to broadcaster Ariel Helwani on Wednesday on The MMA Hour (h/t Shaun Al-Shatti of MMA Fighting), Walker said, "I come here to smash all of these guys and show that I'm here to be a champion," before adding that current champ Jan Blachowicz (28-8) is "not really skillful." Huh. Walker also told John Morgan and Ken Hathaway of MMAJunkie, "This is my division now." 

Brash statements from a brash guy. His move to SBG Ireland, the gym that produced Conor McGregor (22-6), among others, also could have a way of further boosting his confidence. If Walker can get back to his highlight-reel ways, he'll look prescient and well-positioned for a top-10 opponent. If not, well, he won't.


Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week

Record to date: 19-4 

If you listened to me and bet the house on Robbie Lawler (29-15 [1 NC]) last week, you picked up a nice little score (especially if you took the TKO, which I also recommended). 

For this week's conservative betting favorite, let us scroll down the UFC Fight Night 193 undercard. Keep scrolling. I mean all the way down. That's where Johnny Eduardo (28-12), a well-rounded journeyman, is a +190 underdog to upset Alejandro Perez (28-1-1). Eduardo is 43 years old and hasn't competed in more than three years. Perez is the younger fighter by 11 years but hasn't competed himself in more than two years, and against much lesser competition than Eduardo.

So it's an "intriguing" matchup, if that's the right word. Eduardo is a BJJ guy but has also shown flashes of terrific boxing at times in his career. So give me the old man for the win, sound the upset alarms, and lock this one in.


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