A fun UFC Vegas card this past weekend was headlined by a light heavyweight contender showdown as prospect Aleksandar Rakic dominated former challenger Anthony Smith to a unanimous decision win.
A fight that was expected to be fireworks ended up in a strategic battle as Rakic chopped down his opponent with leg kicks before controlling from the top position on the ground, with neither fighter taking serious damage to anything above the waistline.
As Smith revealed after the fight, it looked like the two men were in different weight classes. Rakic had more power everywhere, meaning Smith was powerless to prevent Rakic from laying on top of him and landing some ground and pound to give the judges an easy decision to make. With Rakic taking the win and surely now entering the Top 5 in the division, talk obviously heads towards that of a title shot for the Austrian.
But is he deserving? Not just yet for me.
Rakic has an impressive record in the UFC, winning five of his six fights, and his only defeat coming to former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in a split-decision. At just 28 years of age, Rakic isn’t even close to his fighting prime yet which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the division. But Saturday night was his first ever main-event and it wasn’t even five rounds.
After a short-notice bump up to main event status, the parties couldn’t agree on a pay-increase for the new spot and thus it was decided to keep it as a three-rounder. That means despite the dominance Rakic showed, he’s still never had to go the full 25 minutes in a fight. He’s never been dragged into deep waters.
It was also Rakic’s first ever opponent inside the Top 5. While the win was obviously very impressive, I don’t think it’s enough to warrant a title shot. Dominick Reyes had to beat Jared Cannonier, Volkan Oezdemir and then Chris Weidman before he received his title shot. Jan Blachowicz will fight Reyes for the vacant title at UFC 253, having beaten Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza and Corey Anderson in his last three bouts.
In a bout scheduled just after that one, Thiago Santos will fight Glover Teixieira. Santos hasn’t fought since his narrow defeat to Jon Jones over a year ago, where he blew out both knees after landing several leg kicks. Prior to that he was on a violent run where he beat Kevin Holland, Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz in a six month period. Glover just dismantled Anthony Smith to put himself back into contention after accumulating a three fight win streak prior to that knockout win.
The best option for Rakic in my eyes, is either the loser of the title fight between Reyes and Blachowicz or the loser of the fight between Santos and Teixeira. It may seem weird to set him up against losers of fights, but they would all be the best competition he has ever fought and would act as an indicator of whether or not he’s able to hang at that level consistently.
The winner of the Santos and Teixeira will likely be next in line for a title shot, meaning the loser of both fights will have to work their way back up. With Rakic, it would provide a perfect opportunity for all to show they belong there.
For Smith, talks of a potential move back down to middleweight seem premature. He has done exceptionally well at light heavyweight and one loss against a top prospect shouldn’t detract from the good work he has done. Losses to Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira are also nothing to be ashamed of. He may need to reset and build again but at just 32 years old he has plenty of time to do so. He shouldn’t feel the need to rush or cut weight back to 185lbs where the division is stacked. He’d be putting himself at a disadvantage which he clearly doesn’t need considering his most recent performances.
205lbs is lacking star power with Jones’ relinquishing of the title. Rakic could be the next coming of superstardom among the UFC’s big men.