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UFC 231: Clark v Rakic Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 54’s Aleksandar Rakic

Knockout artist, Aleksandar Rakic, will look to earn a title shot by taking out former Light Heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz, this Saturday (May 14, 2022) at UFC Vegas 54 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rakic’s last two fights — a top control clinic versus Anthony Smith and staring match opposite Thiago Santos — were dreadfully boring. Those fights were so bad that they may have cost Rakic a title shot, seeing as the world unanimously agreed it would rather see Jiri Prochazka get his shot first. Though ugly wins may be slowing his roll, Rakic is here nevertheless. Already in the Top 5, Rakic is clearly one of the best 205-pounders alive, and he’s only had seven UFC fights! Don’t let a couple snoozers distract: Rakic still has the makings of a future champ.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Striking

Austria’s Rakic is a big Light Heavyweight at 6’4” and quite muscular. He uses his physicality well, employing a very European style of Muay Thai/kickboxing that punishes opponents at distance with low kicks and bursts of combinations.

A common trait of this Euro kickboxing style is less of a reliance on jabs, which applies to Rakic. That’s not to say “Rocket” 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).

UFC 259: Santos v Rakic Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Opposite Smith, Rakic quite literally kicked the s—t out of his opponent. At distance, he hammered Smith with a pair of kicks: the right calf kick (GIF) and switch kick to the lead leg/mid-section (GIF). As Smith stalked forward, Rakic would back up and punt him in the belly or calf, and “Lionheart” was soon compromised.

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.

UFC Fight Night: Oezdemir v Rakic Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

Wrestling

Rakic does not appear to have any formal wrestling background, but as we’ve seen many times in mixed martial arts (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.

UFC Fight Night: Oezdemir v Rakic Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

I was a bit shocked when I looked at the UFC Stats for Rakic vs. Smith. I remembered a lay-and-pray heavy performance, but the stats said Rakic never scored a single takedown? How is that possible?

Rewatching the fight, Rakic gained top position three times and held it for most of the round. In the first, he kicked Smith until he fell over then got on top. In the next two rounds, however, Rakic denied Smith’s trip attempts and basically threw him to the canvas afterward. I’d count ‘em as takedowns, but all the same, it’s proof that Rakic is not an easy man to drag to the canvas.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown 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.

UFC Fight Night: Smith v Rakic Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Rakic didn’t really threaten Smith in his extensive time from top control, so it doesn’t seem like submissions are a major focus.

Conclusion

Rakic is physical, dangerous, and building momentum toward the top. A couple slow decision wins don’t hurt his ceiling, as the 30-year-old Austrian can still make big waves at the elite level.


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.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 54 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN2/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 54: “Blachowicz vs. Rakic” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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