UFC Vegas 54: Blachowicz vs Rakic Predictions

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UFC Vegas 54: Blachowicz vs Rakic Predictions

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Hm. On the one hand, there are few fights that inspire. On the other, this is a short eleven-fighter so it can’t drag as long as some of the awful Fight cards this year. Regardless, UFC Vegas 54 features an intriguing striking war between Davey Grant and Louis Smolka which should hopefully steal the night.

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Always good to see the return of Davey 'Sluggernaut' Grant | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions
Always good to see the return of Davey ‘Sluggernaut’ Grant | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions

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UFC Vegas 54: Main Event

Jan Blachowicz vs Aleksandar Rakic

Light Heavyweight (205)

Jan Blachowicz (28-9)

Many will question how a champion could allow a forty-two-year-old man to take your title. The true chads will nod their head towards Jan’s equally long career and similar old man body at thirty-nine years old. It isn’t like we haven’t seen Blachowicz tied down on the mat before, but it felt as though ‘Champ Jan’ had developed his TDD to handle relentless single leg takedowns.

Most worrying was Jan’s lack of speed against Glover Teixeira. There is no denying the Pole’s power, but I expected his surprising speed to appear visibly stark against Teixeira. Jan’s jab is his key weapon, building his combinations behind the jab, yet Rakic holds the perfect weapon to counter. If Jan sits down onto his jab, his planted lead leg will be chewed up by Rakic’s violent low kicks. There is also the worry that Blachowicz can be coaxed into a wild flurry, with Rakic’s slick lateral movement and counters proving lethal so far in his UFC stint.

Aleksandar Rakic (14-2)

In a division devoid of star names or prospects, it is ludicrous how little attention is centred on Aleksandr Rakic. Perhaps it is his willingness to cruise in comfortable, patient kickboxing fights over his last two fights, but many are forgetting the Serb damn near decapitated Jimi Manuwa. Blachowicz will happily oblige in a low-paced stand-up affair.

What makes this match-up interesting is finding out which fighter will be happy to lead off the front foot. Both men are far more comfortable laying traps and countering. Rakic’s preference to start combinations with kicks may well prove fatal as Jan’s power and timing have aged like a fine wine. While I am not writing off the former champ after one loss, I still cannot shrug off my worries surrounding his pedestrian speed in his title loss.

Predicted Result: Rakic Decision

I wouldn’t be surprised if both men shake hands before entering the octagon and settling on a low-paced kickboxing affair. What makes this match-up interesting is finding out which fighter will be happy to lead off the front foot. Both men are far more comfortable laying traps and countering. Rakic’s preference to start combinations with kicks may well prove fatal as Jan’s power and timing have aged like a fine wine. On the other hand, the jab ties all of Jan’s offence together, leaving his planted lead leg well exposed to Rakic’s lethal low kicks.

While I am not writing off the former champ after one loss, I cannot shrug off my worries surrounding his pedestrian speed in his title loss. It was only a year ago that Jan kept pace with Adesanya after all. Cliche or not, it’s difficult for a thirty-nine-year-old to pick up the pieces and rebuild once again.

It would be too hasty to write off the man who stopped the Adesanya hype train | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions
It would be too hasty to write off the man who stopped the Adesanya hype train | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions

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UFC Vegas 54: Co-Main Event

Ryan Spann vs Ion Cutelaba

Light Heavyweight (205)

Ryan Spann (19-7)

Superman Spann is still yet to find his position on the roster. His split decision win over Sam Alvey remains the major red flag, with the LHW consistently walking onto Alvey’s power left hand. After talking up a big game in the build-up to the Anthony Smith fight, Superman was thoroughly humiliated on the feet and the mat. It’ll be a coinflip whether Spann can get through a fiercely contested first round with Cutelaba. Unfortunately for Spann, the Moldovan is a faster start with more powerful wrestling and a violent top game.

Ion Cutelaba (16-6-1)

Yes, Cutelaba’s weigh-ins are always cringe, but he has managed to coax fans into underrating his skillset. The flaws in Cutelaba’s game are clear, and the Moldovan clearly does not want to make any changes. Kill or be killed. Cutelaba flies out of the blocks and aims to out-muscle opponents to the mat from where he can rain down brutal elbows. Cutelaba will gas out by the mid-point, so Spann late is a hot possibility. Additionally, Cutelaba takes big risks on the feet and could easily walk into Spann’s heavy straight shots in wild attempts to close the distance.

Predicted Result: Cutelaba TKO Round 1

It’ll be a coinflip whether Spann can get through a fiercely contested first round with Cutelaba. Unfortunately for Spann, the Moldovan is a faster start with more powerful wrestling and a violent top game. Spann has never comfortably dictated a fight, which is key against the wild bursts of Cutelaba. Granted, Cutelaba will gas out by the mid-point, so Spann late is a hot possibility. Additionally, Cutelaba takes big risks on the feet and could easily walk into Spann’s heavy straight shots in wild attempts to close the distance.

Put some respect on this cornballs name | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions
Put some respect on this cornballs name | UFC Vegas 54 Predictions

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UFC Vegas 54: Main Card

Louis Smolka vs Davey Grant

Bantamweight (135)

For one of the slowest fighters on the roster, Smolka has a few very attractive strings to his bow. Most important of all, Smolka is a vicious body worker. The liver hook off the jab in particular is a beautiful, regular combination that almost always lands cleanly. Focusing the body, with Smolka’s zombie-like hand speed, does come with the drawback of a naked chin. With a heavy heart, Smolka needs to return to his clinch work. His new style of pocket striking is not appropriate for his skillset or durability.

Davey Grant (11-6)

Two decision losses in a row but Davey Grant has never looked out of his depth. It is easy to forget that Grant holds a W over Marlon Vera too, as the Ecuadorian climbs the rankings. There isn’t much technical tuning to the Brit, but his wild unorthodox flow on feet alongside fabulous chin, gas tank and awkward grappling all provide underrated entertainment. Grant can be caught in traps over long transitions on the mat, but Smolka hasn’t shown much of an appetite for grappling over the past couple of years.

Predicted Result: Grant TKO Round 2

There isn’t much technical tuning to the Brit, but his wild unorthodox flow on feet alongside fabulous chin, gas tank and awkward grappling all provide underrated entertainment. Grant can be caught in traps over long transitions on the mat, but Smolka hasn’t shown much of an appetite for grappling over the past couple of years. Smolka is a vicious body worker and is cute in the pocket, but he lacks the chin to make the most of his new style on the inside.

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Katlyn Chookagian vs Amanda Ribas

Women’s Flyweight (125)

Katlyn Chookagian (17-4)

This has stinker written all over it. It fills me with sadness to consistently write out the same analysis for Chookagian. A patient, technical stick’n’move boxer who never looks to hurt her opponent. On the mat is where Chookagian shines, with a thoroughly sweltering top control owing to the lack of risks that the Pennsylvanian takes. There is a possibility that Chookagian gets overwhelmed physically by Ribas, her lesser athleticism has been exploited before by Jessica Andrade and Jessica Eye.

Amanda Ribas (11-2)

Amanda Ribas was the UFC’s sweetheart for the best part of a year. Wins over Randa Markos and Paige VanZant were certainly worthy of the marketing packages. Ribas is a frenetic striker who will struggle to maintain pressure against Chookagian. Ribas’ tendency to punch straight down the line will be swiftly countered by Chookagian’s fleet footwork and ultra-conservative defence. Chookagian can be sat down by spirited wrestlers, but it will require Ribas to set to work immediately on the clinch.

Predicted Result: Chookagian Decision

Chookagian’s ultra-conservative, stick’n’move boxing is destined to put viewers to sleep. Ribas is a frenetic striker who will struggle to maintain pressure against Chookagian. The Brazilian’s tendency to punch straight down the line will be swiftly countered by Chookagian’s fleet footwork. There is a possibility that Chookagian gets overwhelmed physically by Ribas, her lesser athleticism has been exploited before by Jessica Andrade and Jessica Eye. More likely is that Ribas mentally unravels as Chookagian refuses to engage.

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Frank Camacho vs Manuel Torres

Lightweight (155)

Frank Camacho (22-9)

Man, I never realised that Frank the Crank has been on the sidelines since the Justin Jaynes starching. Back in the COVID pandemic days, Camacho was one of the unfortunate UFC roster men to be destroyed by a newcomer during a period where the UFC called up any live body willing to travel. 1-4 in his past five, it is still too difficult to write off Camacho. The veteran can be finished early by most, but if given the time, he can make the necessary reads to adapt and punish opponents.

Manuel Torres (12-2)

A DWCS prospect, Torres seems to finally be making use of his length. A lanky 5’10” frame, Torres carries a surprising speed to his punches. This match-up feels like an excuse for the UFC to earn the Mexican a highlight reel while shipping out a lingering veteran. Torres is a fast starter, and while there isn’t much weight behind his shots, Camacho will be sat in the pocket waiting to exchange from the opening bell.

Predicted Result: Torres TKO Round 1

This match-up initially felt like an excuse for the UFC to earn the Mexican a highlight reel while shipping out a lingering veteran. Torres is a fast starter, and while there isn’t much weight behind his shots, Camacho will be sat in the pocket waiting to exchange from the opening bell. Despite everything, Camacho is too wily to be written off. The veteran can be finished early by most, but if given the time, he can make the necessary reads to adapt and punish opponents. A fantastic bout to be fair.

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Jake Hadley vs Allan Nascimento

Flyweight (125)

Jake Hadley (8-0)

Cage Warriors Flyweight champion and DWCS prospect, Jake Hadley, finds himself in a hotly contested UFC Flyweight division at the spritely age of 25. If Nascimento once again happily accepts being in guard, similar to the Ulanbekov fight, he will simply drop rounds in a dull affair. Hadley is a functioning striker, in the sense that the Flyweight can exchange beyond the initial layer. While it isn’t sparkling boxing yet, Hadley’s pace seems set to thrive in the current UFC Flyweight meta.

Allan Nascimento (18-6)

Nascimento at times can be a fearsome grappler, yet as seen last time out, is happy to concede position to remain grappling. Against a shrewd decision-maker in Hadley, that seems like a recipe for disaster. Without anything on the feet to write home about, Hadley could also attempt to shut out Nascimento on the feet with slightly cleaner activity.

Predicted Result: Hadley Decision

Cage Warriors Flyweight champion and DWCS prospect, Jake Hadley, finds himself in a hotly contested UFC Flyweight division at the spritely age of 25. If Nascimento once again happily accepts being in guard, similar to the Ulanbekov fight, he will simply drop rounds in a dull affair. There is no denying the Brazilian’s prowess on the mat, but he too regularly concedes position to remain grappling. Without anything on the feet to write home about, Hadley could also attempt to shut out Nascimento on the feet with slightly cleaner activity.

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UFC Vegas 54: Preliminary Card

Viviane Araujo vs Andrea Lee

Women’s Flyweight (125)

Viviane Araujo (10-3)

There are few Women’s Flyweight fights on the featured Prelim spot, but Araujo/Lee is a rarity. The Brazilian hit another career speed bump when she dropped a decision to Katlyn Chookagian. It was to be expected for a fighter who will happily pluck away with 50/50 trades against a notorious risk-avoider. Araujo’s athleticism has carried her far in her career so far, and at 35, it doesn’t feel as though there is the time left for drastic technical changes that are required to break towards the top-5.

Andrea Lee (13-5)

Who is this new Andrea Lee from 2021? After a three-fight slide, Lee looked a totally different beast on the feet last year. More educated shot selection, slicker head movement and somehow, someway, a touch quicker hand speed. Importantly, Lee once again showed her class in the clinch against Calvillo, weighing down on her smaller statured foe and firing slick uppercuts up the middle. As long as Lee can avoid a brawl on the feet, her scrambles are solid enough to keep this fight away from the mat.

Predicted Result: Lee Decision

Araujo’s athleticism has carried her far in her career so far, and at 35, it doesn’t feel as though there is the time left for drastic technical changes that are required to break towards the top-5. Since her three-fight slide, Lee has looked like a totally different beast. As long as Lee can avoid a brawl on the feet, her scrambles are solid enough to keep this fight away from the mat and make use of her reach advantage.

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Michael Johnson vs Alan Patrick

Lightweight (155)

Michael Johnson (19-17)

For one of my favourite fighters, Michael Johnson sure does have a cruel habit of continually breaking my heart. A four-fight slide which really should have included two wins. Johnson switched off in the final minute against Josh Emmett and was put to sleep, while the veteran beat Thiago Moises black and blue in the first round before falling to a rapid submission just twenty-five second into the next round. Fifteen months out of action may have been the breath of fresh air that was needed, more likely, however, Johnson has lost another step of speed that is vital to surviving in the current Lightweight division.

Alan Patrick (15-3)

Another fighter on a similarly poor slide, Patrick’s chances of building a late-stage career run up the rankings are rather slim. Patrick still contains the occasional explosive burst, but once the Brazilian starts to gas his desire starts to evaporate too. Patrick could break Johnson early if he manages to bundle into a clinch, but Patrick could mentally snap just as swiftly too if Johnson lands his patented flurries from the opening. An intriguing fight, but a fast-food low-quality one at that.

Predicted Result: Patrick Decision

An intriguing fight, but a fast-food low-quality one at that. Patrick could break Johnson early if he manages to bundle into a clinch, but Patrick could mentally snap just as swiftly too if Johnson lands his patented flurries from the opening. Fifteen months out of action may have been the breath of fresh air that Johnson needed, more likely, however, Johnson has lost another step of speed that is vital to surviving in the current Lightweight division.

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Virna Jandiroba vs Angela Hill

Women’s Strawweight (115)

Virna Jandiroba (17-3)

Perhaps Jandiroba would be a more functional striker if she was blessed with a crumb of athleticism. A throwback fighter, Jandiroba’s vicious submission game often patches over the flaws in her kit. The brute violence behind Jandiroba’s arsenal on the ground is enough to keep opponents as far away from the mat as possible. Hill has shown many times in the past that she will engage in the clinch, an area that she excels at, but also create opportunities for Jandiroba to look for a takedown.

Angela Hill (13-11)

No one has ever doubted Hill’s credentials on the feet. Yes, Hill can be a flashy unorthodox striker at times, but there are consistent fundamentals behind much of her striking on the outside. Long has the problem been Hill’s inability to stop opponents from out-grappling her. This issue is compounded by her slowing gas tank in the later rounds and a lack of power to prevent opponents from continuously waltzing forward for takedowns. Unfortunately, these flaws will only degrade further as Hill ages near to her forties.

Predicted Result: Jandiroba Submission Round 2

A throwback fighter, Jandiroba’s vicious submission game often patches over the flaws in her kit. Hill has shown many times in the past that she will engage in the clinch. Although it is an area that Hill excels at in regards to striking, closing the distance will also make Jandiroba’s life easier as takedown opportunities are served on a silver platter. There is the potential that Hill consistently out-strikes Jandiroba on the outside, Overkill owns some of the most polished stand-up fundamentals in the division. A razor-close fight.

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Carlos Candelario vs Tatsuro Taira

Flyweight (125)

Carlos Candelario (8-1)

DWCS loss or not, Carlos Candelario was still offered a contract off the back of his performance. A gritty scrapper, Candelario delivers mistakes and success in equal measures. The Brazilian certainly has the potential to catch Taira unaware through virtue of balls-to-the-walls explosivity. More likely is that Taira grinds Candelario on the mat off the back of one of the Brazilian’s numerous mistakes.

Tatsuro Taira (10-0)

Undefeated prospect, Tatsuro Taira, will have Dana’s greedy eyes firmly set on cracking the Japanese market. At just twenty-two years old, Taira has already shown a maturity in his game belying his age. Granted, the Japanese MMA scene has produced prospects of wildly varying quality. The main issue that might plague Taira during his time with the UFC is his lack of pace, there isn’t evidence that Taira can handle the UFC Flyweight’s hard pace.

Predicted Result: Taira Decision

A gritty scrapper, Candelario delivers mistakes and success in equal measures. The Brazilian certainly has the potential to catch Taira unaware through virtue of balls-to-the-walls explosivity. Most likely is that Taira grinds Candelario on the mat off the back of one of the Brazilian’s numerous mistakes.

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Nick Maximov vs Andre Petroski

Middleweight (185)

Nick Maximov (8-0)

While I’m still not fully sold on Nick Maximov, I will give due credit for a 2-0 prospect who is making the absolute most of his currently limited skillset. Petroski represents the most dangerous wrestler Maximov has faced so far in the UFC, but there are concerns about whether the TUF competitor can keep up with Maximov’s endless gas tank.

Andre Petroski (7-1)

Shocked on TUF by Bryan Battle, Petroski’s shortcomings were put on show for all to see. Limited shot selection on the feet, an inability to maintain a consistent pace and uncomfortable reactions to incoming strikes. Petroski is still a powerful wrestler who could control Maximov from the top. With the pitfalls in both men’s games, however, I imagine this fight will feature explosive scrambles in the first round that drain Petroski down to a husk for the remainder.

Predicted Result: Maximov Decision

Petroski represents the most dangerous wrestler Maximov has faced so far in the UFC, but there are concerns about whether the TUF competitor can keep up with Maximov’s endless gas tank. There is the potential that Petroski controls Maximov from the top, but I imagine this fight will feature explosive scrambles in the first round that drain Petroski down to a husk for the remainder.

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