The late IndyCar legend Bobby Unser once said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” If that’s true, this Saturday’s main event is the perfect storm for Jamahal Hill.
“I don’t believe in luck, I believe in preparation,” confirms Hill. “I’m ready for it. These moments are what I’m here for. I’m here to brand myself. These moments are where brands are made. I’m glad I got the opportunity to go ahead and make that mark.”
Previously slated as the co-main event, Hill’s bout with Johnny Walker got elevated to the headlining slot on February 19’s UFC Fight Night when the original main event between Rafael Dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev had to be postponed for visa delays (it will now serve as the co-main of March’s UFC 272: Covington vs Masvidal). “Sweet Dreams” was in routine physical therapy when he got the news.
Johnny Walker & Jamahal Hill | Best Finishes
Johnny Walker & Jamahal Hill | Best Finishes
“It was exciting. I was happy. A little extra money in the pocket never hurt nobody. Bigger stage. Bigger scope.”
The brighter lights will offer Hill a breakthrough moment, a chance to cement his name in the minds of viewers and swap the up-and-coming designation for a place in the light heavyweight top 10. It’s also a chance to show everyone that the main event of any given fight night is where he belongs.
“I believe with my style and how I produce and finish fights…I believe I can definitely become a regular main event spot-holder.”
His ride to date suggests he may be right. Securing a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series just six fights into a pro career, Hill got right down to business, beating Darko Stosic, and KOing Klidson Abreu (later overturned to a no contest) and Ovince Saint Preux. The lone loss of his career - to Paul Craig at UFC 263 - was still high in the thrills department: a near-submission, a gruesomely dislocated arm, an unusual TKO and an unlikely friendship between the men afterwards. He got back on track with a stunning 48-second KO of Jimmy Crute last December.
“It showed I’m up there with that level of opponents and what I can do to that level of opponents. It’s just another win, another building block and Saturday is the next one.”
It wasn’t so long ago that the next one, Johnny Walker, was in the shoes of Hill: a rising light heavyweight prospect who seemingly arrived out of nowhere to become must-see tv. The Brazilian’s run of late hasn’t been the stuff that caught the world’s imagination (1-3 in his last four), but you won’t catch Hill underestimating the challenge.
“He hasn’t fought me. I didn’t fight him. None of that stuff matters. What matters is the problem he presents and the problem that’s in front of me.”
Hill has a pretty good idea of what that problem entails.
“He’s long. He’s explosive. He’s strong. He’s unorthodox; in some places where some people wouldn’t try things, he’ll try some crazy things. So those are the things you’ve got to be mindful of and be more conscious, more tight, more efficient.
“The keys to victory with a guy like that is just discipline. Good patience. Good precision.”
The stoic 30-year-old is singularly focused on the nuts and bolts of the competition. If some of his previous contests were colored by pre-fight tensions or beefs, that’s not the case this week.
“I have no ill will towards Johnny Walker. I respect Johnny Walker. He’s been in here putting in his work, putting in his time,” Hill says, gesturing to the Octagon just behind him. “Regardless of whatever happened, it’s the job. He’s living his dream. It’s a great job. He’s just a competitor. We just got a tough question to answer: ‘Can you f*** with me?’”
That question will get answered Saturday here at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. Hill is 3-0 here, and while he reiterates he doesn’t believe in luck, he concedes “it’s feeling homey, it’s feeling very homey.”
And on the eve of his potential breakthrough moment, Hill is careful to look around and soak it all in.
“I’m going to make sure I enjoy this entire experience. That’s what it’s about every single time I come out to one of these things. You only have so many trips out to fight, so many times that you’re able to fight a year, so many times you’re able to fight in a career. I don’t take these moments for granted because I remember when I didn’t have them. So now I enjoy them all.
“Even the little things; just sitting, chilling, hanging out, talking to my coaches. Hanging with my son, my son [visiting] somewhere different. I take it all in. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m enjoying every single moment of it.”