1. Jamahal Hill proves to be a problem
On a night that featured 25 total MMA fights from major organizations and a handful of bareknuckle boxing bouts, Jamahal Hill turned in the most spectacular highlight of all when he absolutely melted Johnny Walker in the opening round of the UFC main event.
Hill (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) lived up to his “Sweet Dreams” nickname in the biggest spot of his career thus far, putting Walker on his reel and showing that he deserves some attention in the light heavyweight division.
There’s a debate to be had about what knocking out Walker, who is now 1-4 in his past five fights, really means. That’s fair. However, Hill did in less than three minutes what former UFC title challenger and perennial contender Thiago Santos couldn’t do to Walker over five rounds when they met in October, and that’s finish the fight.
Hill has rebounded strong from his lone MMA defeat. The image of his mangled arm flailing all over the place in his fight with Paul Craig is hard to remove from the memory bank, but it truly does seem Hill learned a lot from that fight and humbled himself to a degree.
There are still questions to be answered about Hill’s ground game. How would he respond to getting put in a compromising spot like Craig had him in? What if he gets planted and held on his back by a strong wrestler? These are answers that will come in time as Hill climbs the rankings, but we know for certain that in a standup fight, he’s got a frightening level of power.
That can take a fighter quite a long ways in the 205-pound division, and Hill is a good win or two away from being talked about seriously as a title contender.
2. Johnny Walker isn’t who we thought he was
It might be harsh to say, but at this point it’s probably time to shut the door on the idea Johnny Walker is a title threat at light heavyweight.
After coming into the UFC on an absolute tear with three consecutive first-round knockouts, Walker (18-7 MMA, 4-4 UFC) has now lost four of his past five fights, including back-to-back main events.
To be clear, Walker’s losses against Hill, Santos, Nikita Krylov and Corey Anderson are nothing to be ashamed of. He’s still young at 29, and can use these results as important lessons. But at some point the evidence starts to mount, and must be used as an indicator of a fighter’s ceiling.
There’s a good chance Walker finds his way back to the winning path in the future and has some more great moments inside the octagon. However, everyone who believed he was the next champion of the division and man to unseat former champ Jon Jones from the top, is rapidly back-peddling at the moment.
Perhaps Walker will prove me wrong and go on another tear. He’s a nice, humble guy who obviously works hard. At the moment, though, things are looking grim for anyone hoping he’ll be more than a middling name.
3. Chad Mendes on the money in BKFC debut
Shortly after the UFC headliner wrapped up, former two-time featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes made the walk for his BKFC debut, and he looked damn good.
It was hard to put a finger on what to expect out of Mendes. He hadn’t competed in combat sports since he retired following a loss to Alexander Volkanovski in December 2018. He seemed more than content as he transitioned into post-fight life, but then a BKFC offer came through and the UFC granted him permission to take the fight despite still being under contract with the organization.
Mendes told me a few weeks prior to the fight that he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into. The payday BKFC presented was too much to turn down, and Mendes liked the idea of letting his hands fly without any concern about grappling or kicks, elbows and knees. He ultimately shined in that environment, knocking down his opponent Joshua Alvarez multiple times en route to the fourth-round TKO.
Now it remains to be seen if this was a one-off. BKFC will surely hope it’s not, because Mendes clearly brought added attention to this event, and that’s invaluable for a budding promotion. Mendes is a smart guy, though, and he might be satisfied having scratched his competitive itch and got paid handsomely for it.
If he wants to keep going down the BKFC road, however, there should be plenty of opportunity for it. His speed and power are a tough combination to deal with in that particular sport, and that was very much on display in his win.
4. Mike Perry was made for BKFC
If you walked away from Mendes’ BKFC debut thinking he was a good fit, then Mike Perry took it to another level when he competed in the sport for the first time.
There was a lot more confidence coming into Perry’s BKFC debut that he was built for this. We saw him thrive in Triller Triad Combat in November, and that sport is more similar to bareknuckle fighting than it is MMA. The 15-fight UFC veteran had a perfect opponent in Julian Lane, too. Lane definitely brought a tough task to the table given his experience competing for BKFC. He knew how to pace the rounds, navigate the ring and work the angles, but it wasn’t enough.
Perry’s aggression, accuracy and overall offensive prowess led him to the unanimous decision win, even if his face looked like it went through a meat grinder when all was said and done. It’s not an easy path to securing a check, but Perry seems born and bred for this type of competition, even if it isn’t great for the long-term health.
Comparing side-by-side with Mendes, the performance for Perry wasn’t as “clean.” However, he was taking on a better opponent, and his style of fighting – while effective – is not advisable to anyone hoping to leave the ring unscathed.
Nevertheless, Perry and BKFC are the perfect marriage. His unpredictable personality and hard-nosed approach to competition will make him a bigger star for this company than he ever was in the UFC. He was just another one of the 100+ welterweights on the UFC roster when he was there, but with BKFC, he’s a centerpiece to the operation and can unlock his full potential.
5. Logan Storley’s big breakthrough
After a marathon of MMA, BKFC and an exhaustingly dull NBA Slam Dunk competition (had to throw that in there), we arrived at the final fight of a busy night when Logan Storley outworked Neiman Gracie to a unanimous decision win.
Prior to this event, I thought Storley (13-1 MMA, 8-1 BMMA) vs. Gracie (11-3 MMA, 9-3 BMMA) was an odd choice for Bellator to make as its first five-round, non-title main event in company history. Turns out, though, that all 25 minutes were needed in this one and the additional rounds elevated the drama and excitement around the fight.
If it was three rounds, Storley would’ve won a rather clear, but ho-hum decision. Extending it allowed Gracie a chance to get back in fight, and he nearly had a table-turning moment in Round 4 that was the most intriguing part of the bout. It didn’t change the result, but it forced Storley to dig deep and battle through adversity.
It seems he appreciated that, too, because in his post-fight interview he said the fight erased any lingering doubts about whether he can not only be an elite MMA fighter, but actually relish that position.
Is that newfound confidence going to be enough to guide Storley to Bellator gold? We’ll have to find out. He was able to give undefeated current champion Yaroslav Amosov his toughest test in their first meeting. It’s compelling to think how his newfound self believe could impact the result in a rematch.