Rakic routs Smith, says he’s next for title shot

MMA

The UFC’s light heavyweight division is more wide-open than it has been in nearly a decade. With Jon Jones moving up to heavyweight and relinquishing the 205-pound title, light heavyweight is without a champion — and an identity — for the first time since Jones won the belt in 2011.

On Saturday, Aleksandar Rakic etched his name on the short list of future contenders. Rakic beat former title challenger Anthony Smith via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27) in the light heavyweight main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. Coming in, ESPN had Smith ranked No. 8 in the world at light heavyweight. Rakic was unranked.

Rakic said in his post-fight interview that he was glad to show off his ground game, because he is known for his impressive, powerful kickboxing. “I showed the world and I showed the division that I’m not only a dangerous striker,” Rakic said. … “These guys need to take me serious now.”

For Rakic, it was a one-sided performance, if not a spectacular one. Rakic dominated the fight in top position, smothering Smith with his size and wrestling throughout all three rounds. The bout took place in front of no spectators at the UFC Apex, a facility owned by the UFC across from the promotion’s corporate campus.

Rakic damaged Smith’s leg in the first round with hard calf kicks. One caused Smith’s left leg to buckle, which allowed Rakic to take him down and stay in top position for the rest of the round. Smith’s best strike occurred in the second round, a hard right hand up against the cage. Smith then shot in for a takedown, but Rakic reversed and once again got on top, where he remained for a significant amountof time.

In the third, Rakic opened up more with hard kicks — to the legs, to the body and to the head. Smith attempted to wrestle Rakic to the ground, but he slipped off Rakic’s back and once again ended up in a disadvantageous position on the mat. Rakic rode it out from there. Rakic had 12:14 of control time, the most in a light heavyweight title since the beginning of 2019. The previous high during that period was Jones’ 11:47 of control time over Smith at UFC 235 in March 2019.

Rakic (13-2) has won five of six UFC fights — and 13 of 14 overall — with the only loss coming to Volkan Oezdemir in his last fight back in December. The Austria native, who is of Serbian descent, is considered a top prospect in the light heavyweight division.

Rakic, 28, has 10 finishes in 13 career wins. This was his first UFC main event. “I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but I’m happy with my performance against a former title challenger,” Rakic said.

Smith (33-16) was coming off a fifth-round TKO loss to Glover Teixeira in May. Prior to that, the Nebraska resident he had won four of his last five fights. Smith, 32, owns wins over the likes of former champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans, as well as Alexander Gustafsson.

Every judge — Chris Lee, Eric Colon and Sal D’Amato — scored every round for Rakic. Colon gave Rakic a 10-8 in the third round.

Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will fight for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 253 on Sept. 26. Rakic said he wants the next shot at the belt after that.

“You know what’s next,” Rakic said. “The belt is next. Reyes-Blachowicz winner, it’s me — the next one.”

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