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UFC Vegas 8 preview, ‘Smith vs Rakic’ predictions

UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson v Smith Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back in action this weekend with the UFC Vegas 8 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, scheduled for Sat., Aug. 29, 2020 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, and headlined by the middleweight showdown between Anthony Smith and Aleksandar Rakic. Elsewhere on the main card, which airs exclusively on ESPN+, former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler collides with longtime 170-pound veteran Neil Magny.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the complete UFC Vegas 8 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here and here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Smith vs. Rakic” odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get to work ...

185 lbs.: Anthony Smith vs. Aleksandar Rakic

Anthony “Lionheart” Smith

Record: 33-15 | Age: 32 | Betting line: +235
Wins: 18 KO/TKO, 12 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 9 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.19 | Striking accuracy: 46%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.57 | Striking Defense: 43%
Takedown Average: 0.45 (27% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 51%
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: TKO loss to Glover Teixeira

Aleksandar “Rocket” Rakic

Record: 12-2 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -275
Wins: 9 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 78” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 5.17 | Striking accuracy: 52%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.41 | Striking Defense: 53%
Takedown Average: 1.20 (28% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 88%
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: Decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir

Anthony Smith is ranked in the Top 5 at 205 pounds and has been so for the better part of two years, which is alarming when you consider that “Lionheart” has 15 career losses, 13 of them by way of knockout or submission. With double digit defeats and a ranking as high as Smith’s, you would expect to see a murderers’ row of opponents that he’s not only faced, but conquered, and the numbers just aren’t there to support it. I know that sounds nitpicky when you consider that Smith has beaten two former UFC light heavyweight champions and one two-time title contender, but Rashad Evans went into that bout having lost four straight and six of his last eight. Similarly, Mauricio Rua is not even ranked in the Top 10 and Volkan Oezdemir has now lost four of his last six. Heck, even Alexander Gustafsson was in trouble when he ran into “Lionheart” and has now lost five of his last seven.

I think you understand the point I’m trying to make.

Smith has been able to capitalize on some very timely opportunities against struggling opponents. We certainly can’t punish him for rising to the challenge; but at the same time, we have to temper our expectations in the wake of reality-check losses to Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira. “Lionheart” was positively befuddled by “Bones” and never got out of first gear, then got absolutely decimated by the longtime Brazilian contender, who appears to have found his second wind at 205 pounds. How much of that can be attributed to Smith’s recent health issues is unknown, but whatever momentum he had appears to have slowed and the previously off guard division may have caught up to him. This fight is likely to give us the answer in either direction, assuming Aleksandar Rakic is the real deal and not just a light heavyweight can crusher.

The Austrian knockout artist is ranked No. 8 in the division, which feels a bit generous when you consider his biggest win to date is Jimi Manuwa, now 40, a talented boxer whose chin is made of peanut brittle. Rakic is also coming off a split-decision loss to the aforementioned Oezdemir, but I don’t want to go crazy over that performance because I scored it for “Rocket,” who turned 28 back in February. I will, however, remind you that wins on the international circuit should not carry much weight. Rakic was able to pad his 12-2 record with bum fights against the likes of Peter Rozmaring, winless at 0-6, as well as the 2-24 Laszlo Czene. That’s not a typo. They’ll let anyone in the cage in a lot of these territories simply because MMA is still young as a sport and there just isn’t enough talent to populate the global arena, which is why dreamers and sparring partners often get tasked with main card duties.

Simply put, there are still too many unanswered questions about Rakic.

The cynic in me wants to put Smith out to pasture. He got smashed by Teixeira and underwent the kind of hand surgery that nearly sent him into an early retirement. Then I think about his experience on the big stage and the level of competition he’s been facing and I just have a hard time writing him off. I expect Rakic to be the more dangerous fighter in the stand up and Smith has been known to silver platter his share of takedowns, but “Lionheart” earned that nickname time and time again, putting together some pretty impressive comebacks. I do believe the decision to keep this a three-round affair favors “Rocket” after seeing some of the slow starts from Smith, but I also believe Rakic will get overconfident once he starts finding success on the feet. That’s usually when fighters make the most mistakes and it only takes one to end the fight.

Prediction: Smith def. Rakic by submission

170 lbs.: Robbie Lawler vs. Neil Magny

“Ruthless” Robbie Lawler

Record: 28-14, 1 NC | Age: 38 | Betting line: +210
Wins: 20 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 74” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.57 | Striking accuracy: 45%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.16 | Striking Defense: 60%
Takedown Average: 0.71 (66% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 65%
Current Ranking: No. 13 | Last fight: Decision loss to Colby Covington

Neil “Haitian Sensation” Magny

Record: 23-7 | Age: 33 | Betting line: -250
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 13 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.95 | Striking accuracy: 47%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.17 | Striking Defense: 57%
Takedown Average: 2.55 (44% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 58%
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: Decision win over Anthony Rocco Martin

Robbie Lawler remains the most frustrating fighter on the entire roster. When he’s “on” you won’t find a more violent welterweight and some of his wars, including the Rory MacDonald classic from 2015, will be talked about for years to come. Not that I expect a bloodbath in every performance, but can someone please explain why “Ruthless” has been outstruck in seven of his last nine fights? Or why he just randomly checks out in the middle rounds? And while we’re talking about his last nine fights, Lawler has attempted just three takedowns during that entire span. Just like in football, running out the clock can be a great strategy ... but only if you’re winning! And winning is not something we’ve see a whole lot of from the former champ, and that makes this longtime MMA fan sad because we’re clearly near the end.

Sitting right behind Lawler in the division rankings is the No. 14-ranked Neil Magny, an unlikely contender who made a career out of playing spoiler. Notching wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Johnny Hendricks and Hector Lombard were impressive upsets, but like I mentioned with Anthony Smith in the main event, it’s important to recognize what version of “name” Magny was facing. Condit, Hendricks, and Lombard are a combined 1-16 over the last four years and clearly well past their respective primes. I actually thought the USADA suspension would serve as the beginning of the end for Magny but his back-to-back wins in 2020 have proved me wrong. He looks refocused, hungry, and comfortable inside the Octagon. That could be bad news for the hot-and-cold offense of Lawler, who may not have the luxury of striking at leisure.

I’m also concerned about Magny’s reach, a staggering 80” to complement his four-inch height advantage. A patient, measured attack means the “Haitian Sensation” won’t have to get inside to cause damage — or rack up points — and with Lawler abandoning his wrestling game, this could be a veritable shooting gallery. I don’t want to ignore the elephant in the room here. A dialed-in Lawler eats Magny for lunch. He’s the better boxer, the harder puncher, and the more “Ruthless” of the pair. I just don’t know if the mild-mannered Magny is the kind of opponent who can take him to that dark place. Instead, he’ll probably spend most of the fight bobbing and weaving while Magny strings together a safe (but effective) attack from range.

Prediction: Magny def. Lawler by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 8 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 8 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the main card portion that also streams on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 8: “Smith vs. Rakic” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.