Had one scorecard gone his way at UFC Fight Night 165, Aleksandar Rakic could have been on the precipice of really big things in the light heavyweight division right now.
Instead, Rakic dropped a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in December 2019, his only loss in six UFC appearances thus far. The verdict was contentious, with seven of eight media scorers awarded the decision to Rakic. Despite being outlanded by a 75-to-63 count in significant strikes, Oezdemir made a lasting impression on the judges with his low kicks, which led to some grotesque swelling on the leg of his opponent.
On the brink of a showdown with Thiago Santos at UFC 259, Rakic seems to have moved past the ruling, but he hasn’t changed his mind about who won.
“It doesn’t matter. On this decision, I felt like a winner. Everybody who understands MMA and who saw that fight know that I am a winner,” Rakic said during a virtual media day. “The judges over there, they saw my leg, and my leg was big. That actually didn’t bother [me]…it was not a problem … If you see the whole fight and you see every exchange, I won every exchange.
“I’m not sad about this, because the people around the world know I won that fight and I’m still undefeated in the UFC.”
Regardless of what his record might say, Rakic has a chance to make a significant statement when he faces a former 205-pound title challenger on one of the year’s biggest cards. After battling Jon Jones to a split decision defeat at UFC 239, Santos returned to the Octagon more than a year later with disappointing results, as he was submitted by Glover Teixeira in the third round at UFC on ESPN 17 this past October.
Santos, who had to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation process following surgery on both knees, rattled Teixeira standing but was gradually overwhelmed on the canvas as the bout progressed. Rakic expects to Santos to come out and attempt to set the tone early on the feet in their bout on Saturday.
“In the last fight you could see he didn’t fight for long and the ring rust was there but [he’s] still dangerous,” Rakic said. “He dropped Glover two times. I think in this fight he’s gonna be more aggressive like he’s always [been]. I cannot say if he’s the same fighter or not. Maybe he’s a better fighter. Let’s find out on Saturday.
“All of us know that Thiago is a striker. But of course you need to train wrestling and grappling because this is the sport. I sparred a lot of kickboxers because we know Santos prefers the standup position. I can mix things up. I didn’t focus 100 percent on wrestling or grappling to submit him like Glover did. If it comes, it comes.”
Like the rest of the light heavyweight division, Rakic will be an interested observer when Jan Blachowicz defends his belt against reigning 185-pound king Israel Adesanya in the main event. Unlike many others, however, Rakic thinks Adesanya’s title shot is mostly a good thing.
“I think so, it’s good for the promotion that Adesanya got the chance to fight for the title. He’s the reigning middleweight champion and him moving and fighting for the light heavyweight title is good for the promotion and good for the sport,” Rakic said.
“For me it’s a 50-50 fight. If the fight goes five rounds, I see Izzy winning that fight. If it comes to the wrestling and grappling area, [Blachowicz is] a strong guy. This guy knows how to grapple and wrestle. Especially since this cage is very small and he can cut off the distance very fast. Israel is gonna be the faster man for sure. He’s gonna be lighter and the movement is going to be very on point.”
If Adesanya wins and goes back to middleweight, Rakic hopes the promotion takes the appropriate action regarding the division.
“The UFC needs to decide what they’re gonna do if Israel doesn’t defend the light heavyweight title,” he said. “They should immediately make an interim title. That’s my opinion on this.”
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