UFC 244: Johnny Walker is aiming for both UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight gold

By Emma Bramford

The 14th December 2013 is a date that will be forever ingrained in Johnny Walker’s brain. It was that day that he had his first ever professional mixed martial arts contest at the age of 22, in the heavyweight division. Having had no previous amateur fights, the fight only lasted 49 seconds with Walker winning via TKO, a trend which would continue throughout his career to now.

Walker fought another ten times at heavyweight in Brazil with a combined record of 8-3 before moving down to light heavyweight in March 2017, where he had another two fights before relocating to Aberdeen, Scotland, in December 2017 for a year.

Walker had grown up in Brazil all his life, but Aberdeen presented an exciting opportunity to help further his MMA career on a global scale.

It was, in fact, Walker’s coach Leo Gosling who received a job offer from a businessman in Aberdeen, to go and teach classes in mixed martial arts. Gosling stated he would only accept the invite if it included bringing Walker over too. When they both arrived in Scotland, they soon realised the proposal was all a lie and that the gym owner was broke, which resulted in Gosling and Walker receiving no payment.

These were tough times. Having travelled from Brazil to Scotland, and now, having no money to live on, their only option was to sleep on gym floors. However, both men stayed positive and focused on the bigger picture, and Gosling managed to get Walker three fights in a month, which not only started to make a name for Walker on the UK MMA scene (he went on to win the UCMMA light heavyweight title) but also gave them the much-needed money to survive and progress in the sport.

It wasn’t long after Walker had won his next three fights that he decided to try out for season 2 of ‘Dana White’s Contender Series: Brazil’ which was held on August 11th, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This was the Brazilian’s chance to prove to UFC President Dana White that after all the hard work he had put in since 2013, he belonged on the UFC stage.

On fight night, Walker was scheduled to meet Henrique da Silva and was looking forward to showcasing his skills. However, during his warm-up, Walker was physically sick and had a fever. He also got tired within three minutes of warming up, so he chose to stop and conserve his energy for the bout against da Silva.

Walker went all three rounds with Henrique, winning all of them on each of the judges’ scorecards. This was the only fight thus far that the 27-year-old had left it in the hands of the judges. “It was a great experience even though I was sick, and I couldn’t make it my best performance,” he said afterwards. “It was the first time that any of my fights have gone to the judges’ scorecards”.

That performance impressed White so much that he rewarded Walker with a UFC contract.

After that victory, Walker moved to Southampton, England to train with his coach Gosling, where he met female UK fighter and mum-of-two Bryony Tyrell. At the time, Tyrell was a part-owner of Exile MMA Central in Southampton, and later went on to train with Walker and Gosling in Thailand while preparing for her Bellator debut on 22nd June 2019. They formed a great bond with each other that still exists today.

But Southampton was vastly different to Walker’s original surroundings when growing up in Brazil. Born Walker Johnny Barra Silva de Souza on March 30th, 1992 in Tingua, Rio de Janeiro, Walker, his brother Valter and his parents, relocated to Rio das Ostras when he was a teenager, where he lived until he was 25 years old.

Rio das Ostras was a cool place to grow up. The city used to be very safe back then. Walker would frequently go play out in the street or visit the beach a lot.  Unfortunately, as with many children today, some of the kids at school were mean, and for a while, Walker got bullied for being so tall and skinny.

Aged 15, Walker took up dancing, one of his first loves, before gradually moving onto lifting weights. He then moved onto Muay Thai, which he fell in love with after his first lesson.

After leaving school, he started studying Chemistry Engineering but decided that he wanted to follow his dream of becoming a world champion mixed martial arts athlete. After being introduced to the aforementioned Gosling, Walker was offered a scholarship to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, before moving onto MMA as well.

With the mentorship of Gosling fully formed, and an incredible bond, even when Leo went to London for a year, Walker trained at Team Evolucao in the South of Brazil. They then reunited to carry on with their close coach/manager bond that they established.

Starting his MMA career off in the heavyweight division, Walker knew that weight class was not for him. So, he dropped down to light heavyweight, where the 6ft 5 Brazilian has found great success.

Since being signed to the UFC in 2018, Walker has had three fights with all of them ending with a first-round win. In fact, his quick finishes means he has only spent a total combined time of 2 minutes 48 seconds in the UFC Octagon, gaining three “Fight of the Night” bonuses while in the process.

“Starting my career in the heavyweight division and now in the light heavyweight division, I’m going to win the light heavyweight belt,” Walker said in our interview. “Then, I will move up and win the heavyweight belt.”

If you’re familiar with Walker, then you would have seen his worm celebration performed after a win. However, the last time he went for his signature celebratory move, he dislocated his shoulder just before having his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. He then had to have surgery, and this kept him out of competitive action for four months while his shoulder was healing.

But the Brazilian says he is back to full fitness. “My shoulder is 100% recovered now. I had surgery and have been rehabbing it, and I’m good to go. I will have to look for a new celebration to do when I win as my mum won’t let me do the worm anymore,” Walker said, laughing.

Now fully fit and raring to go, up next for Walker is Corey Anderson on Saturday, November 2nd at UFC 244 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

Anderson is on a three-fight winning streak, all coming by way of decision. In fact, all his fights bar four have come by leaving it in the hands of the judges. On the other hand, Walker is on a nine-fight winning streak, with only one of those wins coming by way of decision back in 2016. The rest of his wins have come by way of T/KO and two submissions, with all of those T/KO’s happening in the first round and one coming in the second round.

With a win over Corey Anderson on Saturday, November 2nd, it could put Walker firmly in the UFC light heavyweight title picture. Would he be in contention to fight the current champion Jon Jones? Or will it be someone else in the top 5? Walker, typically laid back as ever, isn’t overly fussed.

“I’m not bothered by who my next opponent is, I want to fight as soon as possible, within three weeks would be ideal, in Washington, DC, on 7th December. If not then, then UFC 245 in Vegas on 14th December.”

UFC 244 takes place on Saturday, November 2nd, live from Madison Square Garden, New York, NY.

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