Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight sluggers Thiago Santos and Aleksandar Rakic will duel this weekend (Sat., March 6, 2021) at UFC 259 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This is a majorly risky fight for Santos. Though it’s hard to hold a knee-less split-decision loss to Jon Jones against him, Santos’ return bout against Glover Teixeira saw the Brazilian’s aggression cost him dearly. As a result of that defeat, it’s been little more than two years since Santos’ most recent win, and he’s got a difficult fight ahead of him. Barring a split-decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir, Rakic has been perfect inside the Octagon, winning five of six bouts to climb into the Top 10. The 29-year-old is clearly improving with every fight, and it seems an eventuality that Rakic will find his way to the title mix.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Jan Blachowicz (UFC Fight Night 145), Jimi Manuwa (UFC 231), Anthony Smith (UFC Fight Night 125), Jack Hermansson (UFC Fight Night 119), Eryk Anders (UFC Fight Night 137)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 239), Glover Teixeira (UFC Vegas 13), Gegard Mousasi (UFC 200), David Branch (UFC Fight Night 128), Uriah Hall (UFC 175)
Keys to Victory: Santos’ move up to Light Heavyweight definitely changed his fighting style. He can no longer simply destroy opposition with a single kick, but Santos still throws everything with major power, and he tends to work in a higher volume.
Santos tends to strategically rotate fight-to-fight between absolutely wild aggression and more patient counter striking. Against a talented wrestler in Rakic, the calmer approach seems wise. If Santos is too high-flying with his offense, he may end up on bottom, stuck beneath “Rocket” much like Anthony Smith.
Instead, Santos has to move his feet and break Rakic down. When faced with a striker sharper than himself in Oezdemir, Rakic really doubled down on his wrestling. He’s likely to do the same here, so staying off the fence is really important.
Otherwise, digging calf and body kicks will go a long way in slowing his athletic foe down. If Santos can stop takedowns and slow his foe down with kicks, opportunities to land even harder shots will emerge.
Key Wins: Anthony Smith (UFC Vegas 8), Jimi Manuwa (UFC Fight Night 153), Devin Clark (UFC 231), Justin Ledet (UFC Fight Night 134)
Key Losses: Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 165)
Keys to Victory: Rakic is a physical force. Tall and strong for 205 pounds, the Austrian athlete has a very classic Muay Thai game that mixes well with his powerful takedowns.
As explained above, Santos is always flirting with the idea of getting incredibly reckless — that’s the reason he’s such a fun fighter. It’s also a major liability, one Rakic should be looking to capitalize upon.
To draw the madness from “Marreta,” Rakic needs to swing. Santos’ primary way to answer aggression is to match it, so if Rakic is pushing forward and firing hard (while still wary of that check hook!), Santos is likely going to return the favor.
That’s Rakic’s opportunity to wrestle. Santos is difficult to take down when he sees the shot coming, but if he’s lunging in for a punch, Rakic has a much better shot at catching him off-guard.
There are definite divisional implications here.
Sure, Santos has lost two straight, but that hardly matters if he wins here. Between destroying his knee and coming back from that pesky destroyed knee, Santos has good excuses for those defeats, which came to elite opposition anyway. Plus, he is the last man to defeat the current champion Jan Blachowicz ... that counts for something. Returning to the win column opposite a very talented contender puts Santos back in the mix, ready to jump in with a Top 5-ranked opponent.
The opportunity is similar for Rakic, as victory very possible sets himself up for a title eliminator next. Young and athletic, Rakic has all the makings of a future title contender — this a chance to prove he’s ready right now.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 259, Thiago Santos and Aleksandar Rakic will open the main card. Which athlete earns the win?