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UFC Stockholm predictions, main card preview for ‘Gustafsson vs Smith’ on ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heads to Stockholm, Sweden this Saturday (June 1, 2019) for its latest ESPN+ fight night card, offering a morning (and afternoon) full of mixed martial arts (MMA) action.

The main event features recent Light Heavyweight title challengers Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith, while top prospect Aleksandar Rakic squares off with knockout artist Jimi Manuwa in the co-feature.

The main card, shortened by Ilir Latifi’s abrupt exit, also features “Mr. Finland,” Makwan Amirkhani, against Cage Warriors champion Chris Fishgold, plus a Lightweight scrap between Damir Hadzovic and Christos Giagos and the UFC debut of Korean bruiser Sung Bin Jo opposite Daniel Teymur.

Our resident predictions analyst has been handcuffed to an MI-6 agent on a hilarious slapstick adventure for the past week, so the main card duty falls to me once again. You can see what I had to say about the “Prelims” here and here, plus the weekly betting guide here.

Shall we?

205 lbs.: Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson (18-5) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (31-14)

It’s difficult not to root for Smith, who seemed forever condemned to journeyman status before embarking on his current hot streak. It helps that 11 of his last 12 wins have come inside the distance, too; he’s constantly chasing the finish and remains a threat from bell to bell.

But man, there’s just not much going for him here. Gustafsson’s boxing is at its most effective against similarly statured opponents, and the 6’4” Smith fits the bill nicely. It’s not like the technique disparity will shrink as the fight progresses, either; Gustafsson can also go five hard rounds.

Even worse for Smith, Gustafsson has developed some truly remarkable wrestling skills, meaning he has an out anytime Smith picks up any momentum on the feet. Smith flat-out needs one of his out-of-nowhere finishes to win this, and unless Gustafsson gets lazy enough in the clinch to eat a knee to the head, that’s not happening. Gustafsson boxes Smith up all night before finding a late finish.

Prediction: Gustafsson by fourth-round TKO

205 lbs.: Jimi “The Poster Boy” Manuwa (17-5) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (11-1)

I still remember when Manuwa was the Next Big Thing out of Britain, tearing up the English circuit and giving Kyle Kingsbury one of the sport’s all-time beatings in his Octagon debut. He never quite got over the hump, but I’m always glad to see him on my screen.

Even if, like in this fight, he’s getting crushed.

Admittedly, I would have been more certain on this pick before Rakic’s rough-and-tumble affair with Devin Clark, as “Brown Bear” managed to put a dent in the Austrian’s chin despite terrible striking technique. That said, you go into every Manuwa fight with the knowledge that he could end things in one shot, and that worry isn’t enough to keep me from banking on Rakic.

Beyond Rakic’s superior striking versatility and Manuwa’s tendency to just throw one big shot at a time, Rakic’s key to victory may be the wrestling and ground-and-pound he showed against Justin Ledet. Manuwa’s takedown defense has improved since his early UFC days, but it’s still a liability that Rakic can exploit, especially if “Poster Boy” gets caught up trying to take his head off.

Rakic is just too skilled and too well-rounded for Manuwa. Barring the latter’s ever-possible one-hitter-quitter, Rakic blends his combinations and takedowns to eventually pound the Englishman out.

Prediction: Rakic by second-round TKO

145 lbs.: Makwan “Mr. Finland” Amirkhani (14-3) vs. Chris Fishgold (18-2-1)

I didn’t realize it until one of my favorite MMA Twitter personalities posted it, but Amirkhani’s only fought once a year since 2016. No wonder the hype fizzled out so quickly. It’s a shame; his wrestling is loads of fun to watch, even if he isn’t always the most active from top position.

Fishgold’s cut from similar cloth, being a high-speed, high-volume takedown artist with sneaky submissions on the mat. The difference is the striking; Fishgold isn’t exactly a technician, preferring to lean on speed and volume, but that’s more than Amirkhani can say. I know “Mr. Finland” has been cutting his teeth in amateur boxing during his most recent hiatus, but that’s not the sort of preparation that could totally reshape his standup in a year.

I see this going similarly to Amirkhani’s fight with Arnold Allen; expect Amirkhani’s technical wrestling to control the early going before Fishgold’s pace, volume striking, and physicality wear him out enough to turn the tide.

Prediction: Fishgold by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Damir “The Bosnian Bomber” Hadzovic (13-4) vs. Christos “The Spartan” Giagos (16-7)

Well, this may have no divisional repercussions whatsoever, but it should be fun. Hadzovic’s on a nice little run and Giagos is plenty entertaining. They’re also pretty well-matched, which adds to the entertainment factor.

Does make my job difficult, though.

Hadzovic is probably the heaver-handed of the two, while Giagos might be more versatile with his strikes. Both also showed a willingness to take it to the ground in their last bouts, Hadzovic against power-puncher Polo Reyes and Giagos against tricky veteran Mizuto Hirota. Nobody has a clear advantage anywhere, so I’m just going to say Hadzovic lands enough telling blows to edge out the decision.

Prediction: Hadzovic by unanimous decision

145 lbs. Daniel Teymur (6-3) vs. Sung Bin “The Korean Falcon” Jo (9-0)

The frustrating thing about Daniel Teymur is that he’s clearly quite skilled; his Muay Thai isn’t quite as sharp as his brother’s, but he’s plenty fast, powerful and aggressive. What makes David such a terror, though, is the stout wrestling he’s developed, and Daniel is nowhere near that level yet. He gave up five takedowns to Chris Fishgold last time out, and if he can’t put faith in his ability to keep it on the feet, he won’t be able to put those striking stills to full use.

Luckily for him, Jo isn’t much for takedowns. Unluckily for him, Jo is perfectly equipped to exploit his other weakness: cardio.

Jo is an iron-chinned brawler who, like previous Teymur foe Danny Henry, can withstand the early striking onslaught and take over in the later rounds. While Teymur still has gas in the tank, he should be able to dominate; he’s faster and crisper by far, and Jo’s reluctance to check low kicks could leave “The Korean Falcon” unable to properly capitalize on Teymur fading late. I just can’t have any faith in Teymur after three poor UFC performances. Jo takes a beating in the first few minutes, but roars back to take over the latter rounds.

Prediction: Jo by unanimous decision

There you have it.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 153 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the ESPN2 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 10 a.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time of 1 p.m. ET.

For much more on UFC Stockholm click here.

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