If progress in the Ultimate Fighting Championship can be measured in giant leaps and small steps, Aleksandar Rakic’s latest effort falls in the latter category.
The Austrian muay Thai stylist registered his 13th win in 14 outings and pressed deeper into the light heavyweight Top 10 with a unanimous decision over Anthony Smith in the UFC Fight Night 175 main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Scores were 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 for Rakic, who outlanded “Lionheart” by wide margins in total strikes (141-40) and significant strikes (44-9).
Rakic battered the former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder’s lower lead leg with a series of brutal kicks, then turned his attention elsewhere. Though the Gym 23 export was not credited with a single takedown, he did much of his work in the clinch and on the canvas. Rakic assumed dominant positions on multiple occasions, short-circuited his opponent’s efforts with stifling top control and methodically imposed his will across 15 mostly one-sided minutes.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Smith vs. Rakic,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Aleksandar Rakic vs. Jiri Prochazka: While Rakic’s latest rout was undeniably impressive and efficient, it lacked the sense of urgency UFC brass prefers from its contenders. It seems likely that he could have forced a stoppage via leg kicks—he connected with 21 of them—had he spent more time engaging Smith on the feet instead of pursuing a more conservative path on the ground. Nevertheless, the decisive victory put some distance between Rakic and his contentious Dec. 21 decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir, all while positioning him for a move toward the top of the 205-pound weight class. At 28, he has emerged as one of the division’s most promising young stars. Prochazka moved to 27-3-1 and extended his winning streak to 11 fights with his knockout of Oezdemir at UFC 251 in July.
Neil Magny vs. Vicente Luque: Magny lifted his stock under less-than-ideal circumstances, as he outstruck and outgrappled former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler—a short-notice replacement for Geoff Neal—to a unanimous decision in the three-round co-headliner. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 semifinalist drew 30-27 marks from all three judges, improved to 17-6 inside the Octagon and moved one step closer to Georges St. Pierre’s all-time UFC record for wins (19) at 170 pounds. Magny executed takedowns in all three rounds, frustrated Lawler in the clinch and nearly tripled him in the total strikes landed department. The Elevation Fight Team representative has rattled off three straight victories since being knocked out by Santiago Ponzinibbio in November 2018 and appears poised to make noise in the division well into his 30s. Luque, 28, last appeared at UFC Fight Night 173, where he cut down Randy Brown with a second-round knee strike and follow-up punches.
Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo-Montana De La Rosa winner: Once viewed as a can’t-miss prospect, Grasso still has the time and wherewithal to meet those great expectations. The 27-year-old Lobo Gym representative was stellar in her flyweight debut, as she used superior speed and skill to outbox Ji Yeon Kim to a unanimous decision in their three-round showcase at 125 pounds. All three judges struck 30-27 scorecards for Grasso. The Mexican star has now alternated wins and losses in each of her first seven appearances, and she will need to show more consistency moving forward if she intends to climb the flyweight ladder. This was a positive first step. Araujo will face De La Rosa at UFC Fight Night 176 on Sept. 5 in a confrontation between two Top 12-ranked contenders.
Sean Brady vs. Donald Cerrone-Niko Price winner: Brady does not figure to fly under the radar much longer. The undefeated former CFFC champion pushed his perfect professional record to 13-0, as he choked Christian Aguilera unconscious with a mounted guillotine in the second round of their welterweight pairing on the undercard. Aguilera lost his hold on reality 1:47 into Round 2. Brady has shown no glaring weaknesses in his three assignments since joining the UFC roster a little less than a year ago, as his submission of Aguilera was preceded by convincing decision victories over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 winner Court McGee and highly regarded Austrian prospect Ismail Naurdiev. An increase in degree of difficulty seems more than warranted for the 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Cerrone will lock horns with Price under the UFC Fight Night 178 banner in what promises to be a barnburner on Sept. 19.