Top ranked Light Heavyweights, #5 Anthony Smith, and #8 Alexsandar Rakić, showdown in a fight which could decide the next challenger to the winner of Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes Vacant Title Fight.
It is with great pain and sorrow that the article must be opened by first mentioning a fallen boi. Beyblade master, and grappling Houdini, Ryan Hall has pulled out of his scheduled showdown against Ricardo Lamas due to undisclosed reasons. Age is creeping up on Hall, and at thirty-five years old, doubt is starting to creep up as to whether the BJJ master has enough time left to force his way up the stacked Featherweight rankings. Perhaps Hall would never have been able to compete at the top echelons of such a bruising division, but it always a loss to both fighter and fans when a fighter’s career does not fully play out.
Moving on to more positive news, this fight card is incredibly stacked in comparison to the one-fight pony from last weekend. Anthony Smith completes an insanely fast turnaround since having his teeth knocked out by Dentist Teixeira just three months ago. Former journeyman turned title challenger Anthony Smith, has failed to keep out of the MMA and wider press headlines since his return to the UFC in 2016. Embarking on a loveless mission to send organisational veterans packing to their retirement homes (Rashad Evans, Maurício Rua, Alexander Gustafsson), Smith has also swallowed a points loss to Jon Jones in lieu of a deserved DQ win, and protected his family from a drugged-up home invader. Unfortunately for Lionheart, he is tasked with facing an Austrian power striker in Aleksandar Rakić. Despite dropping a dubious split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in December 2019, Rakić has otherwise looked phenomenal during his UFC tenure. Removing the souls of Jimi Manuwa with a first-round head kick and Devin Clark with a spinning backfist, Rakić adds a level of entertainment that is deeply required within the squalor of Light Heavyweight.
It is possible to print out a list of Saturday’s main card, place the fights on a wall, throw a dart and you will find yourself pinpointing a barnburner. Robbie Lawler and Neil Magny is a fabulous cross roads fight amongst the murkier top-fifteen of welterweight, Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba prepare to squash their beef after a referee failure during their last bout, and Ricardo Lamas versus Ryan… well Lamas is now destined to fight the number two featherweight in the US North East.
Light Heavyweight (205)
Anthony Smith (33-15) vs Aleksandar Rakić (12-2)
Anthony Smith enters the bout off of one of the most grueling beatings of his career. Having rode an unforeseen career high off the back of underdog wins against Volkan Oezdemir and Alexander Gustafsson, fans had just started to take Smith seriously. Ignoring his tame title bid against Jon Jones where neither man really inflicted much punishment, Smith looked favourite to best the 40-year-old veteran, Glover Teixeria. The Brazilian, however, turned back the clock once again and withstood two rounds of punishment to then deliver his own firepower. Having his teeth knocked out and receiving sustained ground and pound, which resulted in more damage than a flash knockout would have, Smith braved his way into the fifth until Jazon Herzog showed mercy. In all fairness, Smith had looked fantastic in the first two rounds. Utilising his gangly frame, Smith used his jab smartly as a distance gauge and found Teixeria with knees and elbows when engaged in the clinch. No-one can doubt the willpower of the aptly named, ‘Lionheart’, but just how well can a fighter shrug off such a beating, after a 48 fight professional MMA career?
Alexsandar Rakić is still an unproven fighter in the UFC. First-round knockouts of Devin Clark and Jimi Manuwa are nice for the highlight reel, but Rakić’s stoppage victories tell us very little except identify his athleticism and power. The real litmus test was Volkan Oezdemir, who squeezed by Rakić in a razor thin split decision. Oezdemir is one of the more calculated strikers in the barren division of Light Heavyweight, and Rakić was largely beaten by his inability to adjust in the octagon. A strength of Rakić is his willingness to actively pursue his opponent’s leg, regularly throwing the more damaging calf kick. Throughout his time in the UFC, Rakić has broken down opponents by feinting with punches, drawing an opponent’s attention upwards, and then chopping hard into their vulnerable lead leg. Effectively putting water in the basement, Rakić is able to limit the mobility of opposition, allowing more frequent use of his power shots. Unfortunately for Rakić, he was on the receiving end of leg kicks during his scrap with Oezdemir. If Rakić wants to win the fight on the feet, he is going to have to assert his dominance over the lower half of the body immediately.
Anthony Smith’s best shot at victory is to take the fight to the mat. An underrated BJJ black belt, Smith took everyone by surprise when he submitted Alexander Gustafsson in the fourth round by rear-naked-choke. Admittedly, this was an exhausted Gustafsson that Smith had largely just out-lasted by way of conditioning. Moreover, this main event is a three-round fight, and Rakic should have decent enough defensive wrestling to keep this fight standing.
Predicted Result: Rakić Decision
Anthony Smith pre-Teixeira fight would have been a somewhat clear favourite. Smith post-Teixeira beating, especially after just three months of recovery, should be a heavy underdog. Rakić doesn’t have a special aura to his striking like, Jiří Procházka, nor is he an astute game-planner, ala Volkan Oezdemir, but he is a fabulous athlete, with a strong kicking game and solid enough TDD.
Result: Rakić def. Smith // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Robbie Lawler (28-14) vs Neil Magny (23-7)
Lets just all admit it, Lawler is over the hill at this point. Straight losses to RDA, Ben Askren and Colby Covington, and without a finish in five years, Lawler’s age may have started to catch up with him. Yet, the thirty-eight year old’s chin has held up remarkably well in that time, considering the punishment he has received over his long career. Lawler has fallen back onto a horrible habit of allowing his opponent to pressure him onto the fence. Once there, Lawler focuses solely on head movement and forgets the main benefit of countering – the punching. During the Covington fight, Lawler seemed content to remain rooted to the floor, slipping four or five of Covington’s punches, yet the two or three that landed will always outnumber the zero sum returned. Pace is also an issue with Lawler, who starts with a flash early, coasts, then ramps it up later on. Against a fighter in Magny who has a strong chin, Lawler is going to struggle to put away Magny early. If Lawler falls into his typically overextended lunges, Magny is more than adept at entering a clinch and using his large frame to grapple for recovery time.
Neil Magny has the correct tool set for the job of dismantling Robbie Lawler. A powerful, rangey jab and a constant leg kick will be enough to back Lawler back onto the fence where much of his feared power will be removed. Fighting at a rather consistent, if pedestrian pace, Magny will still be able to out-work Lawler for large portions of the fight. If the fight does go to the scorecards, out-striking based on volume almost always trumps out-striking based on significant strikes (see Edgar vs Munoz last week). Moreover, the sections of the fight broken by clinch work will ultimately play into Magny’s hands, who is far more active in the grappling realm.
Predicted Result: Magny Decision
An important fight to really gauge where both men are in their careers, it could very well end up a split decision if Lawler is able to sneak through more damaging blows than expected. Magny should possess the more well-rounded game needed to see him through this test.
Result: Magny def. Lawler // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Women’s Flyweight (125)
Ji Yeon Kim (9-2-2) vs Alexa Grasso (11-3)
This should prove to be a striking affair between the two women, with neither having really opted for takedowns over their UFC careers. Grasso is a volume striker who is very hit or miss on the night. Victories over Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Randa Markos illustrate her right to a place on the UFC roster, but Grasso has fallen short against some of the stronger competition at Strawweight (Carla Esparza, Tatiana Suarez). Moving to Flyweight, Grasso is going to find herself at a further physical disadvantage. Luckily for her, Kim is a very limited but entertaining striker. Banking on landing a strong right hand, as long as Grasso does not linger within range of it for too long, then the volume and variety of Grasso’s work should see her through to a decision. Moreover, Kim is open to the takedown at almost all times thus providing an emergency outlet for the Flyweight debutant.
Predicted Result: Grasso Decision
This should be an entertaining fight, and one in which Grasso should introduce herself to the Flyweight division in style. Unfortunately for both ladies, they will both struggle to break their ceilings into the top-five.
Result: Grasso def. Kim // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Ricardo Lamas (19-8) vs Bill Algeo (13-4)
What a fight we could have witnessed, between Ricardo Lamas and Ryan Hall. Ah well. Lamas is a very dangerous striker with a solid kicking game and effective grappling for a grappling-heavy division. Lamas’ chin has been broken a few times in recent past, worryingly occurring in the first round – stopped by Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett. If the fight remains standing, Lamas is far too powerful and quick to lose the affair. When Algeo likely attempts to panic wrestle the fight to the mat, Lamas should be far too skilled and wily to be out-grappled. There is levels between submitting Charles Oliveira and John De Jesus.
Predicted Result: Lamas Submission Round 2
Could be a stoppage but the fight will likely tumble itself onto the mat at some point. Lamas is better skilled in every department, and his chin should be able to hold up against Algeo.
Result: Lamas def. Algeo // Decision (unanimous – 29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs Ion Cutelaba (15-5)
Technique versus full blooded first round aggression. During their fateful first match-up, Ankalaev had won the exchanges but there was very little to truly go off of except the head kick that landed. Ankalaev is a far more technical striker with a massive gas tank, and if he is able to withstand the first-round onslaught, Ankalaev will be a certain favourite to win in round two or three. Cutelaba brings aggression, volume and power, looking to switch off an opponent’s lights as early as possible. Preferring swang n banging hooks, you would be forgiven for forgetting Cutelaba also holds a dominating top game which helps the Moldovan close out fights. The major factor in the fight will be Ankalaev’s chin and wrestling. Ankalaev will be tagged during this affair, no doubt. Yet can Ankalaev time a takedown to avoid the firepower and take out the steam from Cutelaba? Off of his back, Cutelaba is not skilled enough to break the domination of Ankalaev’s top game – save for a Paul Craig-esque last-minute traingle choke.
Predicted Result: Ankalaev TKO Round 3
Ankalaev is a punishing wrestler who should be able to withstand the storm to reap his profits in the second and third round.
Maki Pitolo (13-6) vs Impa Kasanganay (7-0)
Coconut Bombz is back on a quick turnaround after his guillotine choke loss to Darren Stewart. There is little doubt to what Pitolo brings to the octagon. High volume, pressure-first swarming which aims to make opponent’s wilt in the heat rather than go to sleep. Kasanganay is a prospect from the Dana White’s Contender Series who is extremely athletic but has deceptively less power than you’d expect. Kasanganay could be excused as not transferring his weight as efficiently as possible, as he did start his professional MMA career in just 2019.
Predicted Result: Pitolo Decision
Kasanganay is a very green fighter, and Pitolo’s experience may be the deciding factor in this affair. Kasanganay will be able to have success early, but he has never faced a swarmer on the level and expertise of Pitolo. One issue may be Pitolo’s quick turnaround, but his loss against Stewart wasn’t particularly damaging.
Result: Kasanganay def. Pitolo // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Women’s Strawweight (115)
Mallory Martin (6-3) vs Hannah Cifers (10-6)
There may be some fans out there for this fight, possibly. Martin is a grappler, and more technically astute than Cifers. Whether Martin has UFC-calibre grappling credentials is yet to be seen. Cifers has the tough task of being the UFC’s fall-girl, filling in last-minute to fight prospects and save hype trains. Rugged head-down down action dictates Cifers’ style. Despite surrendering an athletic advantage in almost every fight, Cifers’ is still willing to enter the clinch and get to work early with hurtful strikes – very commendable.
Predicted Result: Cifers Decision
Cifers’ is on a three fight slide! Ludicrous! Well, Cifers’ is a fabulous test for the dregs of Strawweight, and there is very little to be excited for in Martin’s game just yet.
Result: Martin def. Cifers // Submission (rear-naked choke) Round 2 1:33
Zak Cummings (23-7) vs Alessio Di Chirico (12-4)
Zak Cummings looks as old as the hills – and fights like it too. Okay-ish grappling and a counter-punching strategy have dominated all of Cummings’ fights in the octagon. A gatekeeper at Welterweight for most of his career, Cummings’ move up to Middleweight removed some of his physical advantages. Luckily for Cummings, Di Chirico is not the finest fighter to grace the Middleweight division. Struggling with a striking style that loops punches rather than snaps, Di Chirico is often beaten to the punch. It will be a toss-up between the sloppy loops than Di Chirico throws, and the sloth-like pop of Cumming’s thirty-six year old bones. Di Chirico is an ok wrestler, yet he is not technically sound enough to control Cummings on the mat.
Predicted Result: Di Chirico Decision
Toss up of a fight, going to go with youth for this one.
Result: Cummings def. Di Chirico // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Women’s Strawweight (115)
Emily Whitmire (4-3) vs Polyana Viana (10-4)
Boy, the UFC sure are desperate to keep Viana on the roster. A three fight slide against some of the worst in Strawweight, Viana has looked lost on the feet and struggled even when the fight has hit the mat. A physical specimen no doubt, but you can only ride your athletic skills to the UFC. Once in the big leagues, you had better develop technically as the athletic playing field has been leveled. Whitmire is a determined grappler who uses sheer willpower to out-grapple opponents. Importantly, Whitmire can box somewhat competently for the Strawweight division, at least more so than Viana.
Predicted Result: Viana Decision
Viana to put some fuel back in her hype train, its 2020, time to believe in something.
Result: Viana def. Whitmire // Submission (armbar) Round 1 1:53
Sean Brady (12-0) vs Christian Aguilera (14-6)
Brady is Colby Covington lite. Brady has a fantastic gas tank, solid chin, and actively searches for a clinch throughout the full fifteen minutes. Decision victories over Ismail Naurdiev and Court McGee highlighted the abilities of Brady to control an opponent and not allow them to breathe. Perhaps Brady may be exposed by someone with decent TDD and refined stand-up, but Aguilera is not that man. Despite defeating Anthony Ivy in the first-round by looping hooks just two months ago, Aguilera is a power striker that lacks the technique to prevent Brady’s pressure.
Predicted Result: Brady Decision
A fabulous prospect who should once again have fifteen minutes to learn the tricks of the trade in front of the cameras.
Result: Brady def. Aguilera // Submission (guillotine choke) Round 2 1:47
UFC Fight Night 175: Smith vs Rakić
2020 MMA Season
Takeaway comments: Cutelaba testing positive again! Is Ankalaev vs Cutelaba the Supermarket brand version of Khabib vs Ferguson?
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