Heavy-handed Austrian, Aleksandar Rakic, will throw down with longtime veteran, Anthony Smith, this Saturday (Aug. 29, 2020) at UFC Vegas 8 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There’s a lot to like about this 28-year-old up-and-comer. First and foremost, Rakic has a fantastic build for the 205-pound division. 6’4” with a 78 inch reach, Rakic is very clearly physically strong, and on the whole, his energy levels remain solid despite fighting a pretty tiring style. Even before digging into his skill set, those physical attributes alone are enough to win lots of fights. Fortunately, Rakic also has some depth to his skill set, which is how he’s been able to climb into the top 10.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
From my personal experience at Team Alpha Male, I’ve been fortunate enough to train with a lot of international talent who come to visit. Without trying to generalize too much, there is a very specific brand of European MMA fighters who are widespread across the pond. These athletes who visit from countries like Germany and England have been taking Muay Thai fights since their early teens, and they all move rather similarly. They share a style that emphasizes heavy low kicks, long range power punching, and short combinations punctuated by thudding kicks.
Austria’s Rakic fits the mold to a tee.
A common trait of this style of striking is less of a reliance on jabs, and that certain applies to Rakic. That’s not to say the Austrian will never jab, but those strikes are few and far between, the occasional spear of his left hand rather than a building block.
However, the lack of an active jab does not mean Rakic forgoes range control. Instead, Rakic uses a mixture of feints and low kicks to find distance and trouble his opponents. When one punches as hard as Rakic, a common reaction to his feint is to pull backwards. That reaction really sets up everything for Rakic, and commonly, his go-to follow up is to rip the lead leg.
Regardless of the stance of his opponent, Rakic is commonly aiming to beat up the inside and outside of the leg (GIF).
It’s quite interesting just how much Rakic makes use of his right hand. He leads with the right far more often than not, using his left hook to either 1) follow the right hand or 2) counter.
However, this does not mean Rakic is without variety. Very often, Rakic will feint and then throw his right hand, but he can do that in several different ways. For example, he loves to feint a level change and then explode into an uppercut. That uppercut can be followed by a hook or hook-cross, and against Manuwa, it finished the fight.
It’s another common habit of my aforementioned European-Muay-Thai-guy stereotype is to shift with power punches. Against Manuwa, Rakic exploded into his right uppercut, stepping way deep into the Southpaw stance. He followed with a Southpaw cross/simultaneous high kick, a pair of power-side shots from his new stance that completely decimated “Poster Boy.”
Rakic literally ran into that high kick (GIF). Marching forward with power punches like this can expose an athlete to counters, but it also allows him to really commit his weight behind his kicks. Against an opponent trying to back away, that can be especially deadly.
There are a couple other ways Rakic commonly feints into the right hand lead (GIF). He’ll also feint forward or level change and duck off into an overhand. Against Volkan Oezdemir, Rakic very often did a little pull back into the straight right. If Oezdemir threw, it landed as a counter, but even if Oezdemir did not attack him on the feint, Rakic could fire a long crisp and pivot off to safety.
It’s worth-mentioning that Rakic will occasionally switch to Southpaw. His offense is even more restricted to his power side from this stance, as he’ll mostly just feint and then fire a left overhand or left power kick.
Like many younger talents, Rakic is not a defensive wizard. He’ll sometimes stand directly in front of his opponent feinting, only to be surprised when they punch him back. Similarly, when Rakic is throwing punches, his head can remain very still.
Rakic does not appear to have any formal wrestling background, but as we’ve seen many times in MMA, a fair understanding of distance and bit of physicality can go a long way in the wrestling portion of fights.
Recently, Rakic was particularly active in his pursuit of takedowns opposite Oezdemir, which is not a shock given “No Time’s” own ferocious punching power. In that bout, Rakic demonstrated how takedowns don’t have to be performed perfectly to secure results. Several times, Rakic was either able to catch a low kick or dive onto the leg. Once he picked up a single leg, Rakic immediately worked to elevate and trip, combining wrestling and Muay Thai finishes to force Oezdemir to the mat.
It was a bit ugly, but hey, he landed a decent bit of top control time as a result.
In his bout with Justin Ledet, Rakic again demonstrated how important physicality is in wrestling. At one point, he scored a takedown merely by securing an underhook and wrenching his opponent over. Rakic dominated in the clinch as well, securing a couple of trips. Speaking of, Rakic also breaks with clinch with a right hand, which is a solid habit.
Defensively, Rakic has shucked off a vast majority of his opponent’s attempt with a solid sprawl. In the clinch, he does well to dig for under hooks, control the far wrist, and reverse position. Simple technique, but that’s the advantage of being bigger and stronger than most opponents.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, Rakic has yet to seriously threaten a submission — his standing guillotine opposite Oezdemir was going nowhere — nor has he been put in any trouble inside the Octagon. On the regional scene, he does have one submission win on his record — a rare win via north-south choke! — but unfortunately, I was unable to find footage of the hold online.
Perhaps this upcoming bout with Smith will feature some grappling exchanges.
Rakic is one of Light Heavyweight’s best young fighters, already a top-ranked 205-pounder at the age of 28. There are still improvements to be made if he’s to make a title run, but there’s also reason to be hopeful that Rakic can make those adjustments. If nothing else, Rakic is certainly ready for another former title challenger in Smith.
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.