UFC Vegas 54 Main Card Predictions: Blachowicz vs. Rakic

After a red hot PPV card in Phoenix, which saw Charles Oliveira successfully (though not technically) defend his belt against Justin Gaethje after missing weight on the scales and being stripped of his title. This week, we return to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for a Fight Night card currently billed at eleven bouts.

In the main event, former champion Jan Blachowicz will look to cement himself back at the top of the division at the expense of rocketing prospect Aleskander Rakic. In the co-main, Light Heavyweight finishers Ryan Spann and Ion Cutelaba duke it out in a bout almost certain to not see the scorecards. Elsewhere on the card, Katlyn Chookagian looks to earn another shot at the Flyweight title, while Amanda Ribas looks to derail her moving up a division.

Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksander Rakic (LHW)

Jan Blachowicz calls out Jon Jones after claiming light heavyweight title  with knockout over Dominick Reyes - MMA Fighting

Often overlooked in his 7-1 run preceding his victory over Dominick Reyes, Jan Blachowicz (28-9, 11-6 UFC) finally earned some respect with vicious knockouts of Luke Rockhold, Corey Anderson, and the aforementioned Reyes. Jan defended his title against Middleweight champ Israel Adesanya at UFC 259, claiming a unanimous decision before losing. He lost by second round submission in his next bout to Glover Teixeira, and will make his first appearance since here. Jan does most of his work in striking as an excellent counterpuncher, as well as a quick jab and vicious body and low kicks. On top of that, Blachowicz is a talented grappler with underrated submission skills. He has seventeen finishes, split eight to nine between KOs and submissions. Blachowicz has previously shown gas tank issues, but has shored up those concerns, lasting the distance several times, including his last bout opposite Adesanya. 

Aleksander Rakic (14-2, 6-1 UFC) has surged towards contention since joining the UFC, only losing a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir, though most believe he should have won that bout as well. He is currently on a two fight win streak, winning decisions over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos.  “Rocket” has ten pro finishes with nine by knockout, with highlights that include stunning head kicks and spinning backfists. Rakic is amazing at finding his range and has quick, explosive timing and technique. He has some decent offensive wrestling, but certainly prefers to bang it out on the feet. His striking is set apart through his lanky kickboxing and neat combos, effortlessly tying together kicks and crisp straights. The main criticism on Rakic is his pacing and critique of being “boring”, though he boasts a high fight IQ and striking defense.

This is a matchup of the “old guard” versus the “new guard”, as an aging former champion takes on a rising contender. Blachowicz had shown himself to be a powerful and technical threat on the feet with knockouts of Rockhold and Reyes, and on the mat opposite Adesanya. However, he was completely dismantled by Teixeira, and will need to bring his A-game against the cerebral Rakic. Both fighters like to stand and trade and have solid takedown defense, so I expect a striking affair until the end. Statistically, Rakic strikes at the higher clip, and also holds the superior striking differential. Blachowicz has one-shot power, but I see the range and volume of Rakic carrying him to a decision.

My Pick: Aleksander Rakic via Decision

Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba (LHW)

After choking out PFL Light Heavyweight champion Emiliano Sordi on the Contender Series, Ryan Spann (19-7, 5-2 UFC) blasted into the UFC rankings with four straight victories, only to be knocked out after a strong start against Johnny Walker. He got back on track with a first round KO of Misha Cirkunov, but was submitted by Anthony Smith in his next main event showing. “Superman” has finished all but three of his wins, with eleven submissions on his record. His specialty is certainly his guillotine, which has earned him seven of those submissions and serve as an excellent counter to the wrestling and takedowns. His hulking 6’5″ build is best used when Spann can keep the fight at range and he has proven to have technical boxing, as well as improved power and cardio since his move up to 205 pounds. Spann has been against top competition for a while and his cardio issues have been on the table for a while, plaguing him in his bout against Sam Alvey when he was able to be lulled into pocket exchanges.

Ion Cutelaba (16-6-1, 5-5-1 UFC) has long been one of my favorite fighters in a fun division, as he is always down for a brawl. Before coming to the UFC, he had only seen one fight go to the second round and he has replicated that success in the world’s greatest proving ground, earning three of his five UFC wins by violent first round knockout. He has one shot KO power at Light Heavyweight and great foundational wrestling, especially in scrambles. He also holds a Greco-Roman and Combat Sambo background and is immensely powerful on the feet and the mat. However, his chief issue has consistently been his gas tank and wearing himself out too early with his surging pressure. If you can withstand a furious first round, you have a good shot to win against Cutelaba. However, he showed a more sustained pace in his last bout opposite Devin Clark, winning a decision for the first time since 2016.

This is a bout unlikely to last the distance, as neither have a penchant for going to the judges’ scorecards, even in defeat. Both fighters are dangerous power punchers, and while Spann is longer and has better pacing, Cutelaba holds a clear advanatge when striking defense is factored in, as Spann has constantly been seen overextending on strikes. While Spann is more dangerous on the mat in terms of submissions, the Sambo advantage and stout takedown defense of Cutelaba far outweigh Spann’s wrestling. The pressure and explosivity of Cutelaba looks tailor made to breach the guard of Spann, and I expect a quick knockout from the Moldovan.

My Pick: Ion Cutelaba via Knockout

Louis Smolka vs. Davey Grant (BW)

Louis Smolka (17-8, 8-8 UFC) rejoined the ranks of the UFC in 2018, and has since traded wins and losses like clockwork, with not one of those bouts seeing the judges scorecards. He was last seen in December, suffering his first career knockout to Vince Morales. “Da Last Samurai” is an expert finisher, with fifteen of his victories inside the distance, and eight of those via knockout. He is a slick grappler, competent from top position or off his back and holds a variety of submissions, though his wrestling has not always been the most reliable. He is a wild fighter on the feet, mixing a variety of techniques in and keeping a respectable clip of 4.5 sig. striker per minute in the Octagon.

Two big knockout wins carried Davey Grant (11-6, 4-5 UFC) to a fight with Marlon Vera, who edged the split decision. He suffered another split decision loss on the cards in his next outing to rising prospect Davey Grant. Grant came off the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter, and embodies the nickname “Dangerous”. He keeps a constant aggression on the feet, throwing wild hooks with genuine one shot power. His striking defense can leave him open, but he can bang with the best of them, and also holds a dangerous submission game.

This is perfect stylistic matchmaking, as these two fighters always fight for the finish and seem to have little regard for their own physical well-being. Both are well-rounded, but I expect this to primarily remain on the feet. Both keep a good pace, but I think the volume and power advantages lie in Grant’s hands. Smolka is quicker at finding submissions, but I see Grant having the wrestling to control the bout, with the scrambling to get back to his feet, if needed. I expect an entertaining back and forth for a Grant decision.

My Pick: Davey Grant via Decision

Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas (FLW)

Katlyn Chookagian (17-4, 7-4 UFC) has been firmly rooted at the top of the Flyweight division since its inception. Her first title opportunity against Valentina Shevchenko went poorly, as she was pounded out by the champion in the third round. She has gone 3-1 since, with a knockout loss to Jessica Andrade giving way to two straight wins over Viviane Araujo and Jennifer Maia. “Blonde Fighter” likes to get her wins in with a high volume striking style and, although she doesn’t pack the most power, she has the overwhelming volume and technique to make every fight a contest on the feet. Her cardio and quick movement combined with rangy kicks and constant pace make her a problem for anyone to deal with.

Amanda Ribas (11-2, 5-1 UFC) proved herself a talent with four straight wins in the UFC, but had her hype cut in a second round knockout loss to Marina Rodriguez. She rebounded in her last outing, with a decision win over Virna Jandiroba, and makes her Flyweight debut in this bout. Ribas has a well-rounded skillset, with quick striking and a high volume on the feet, as well as a ludicrous 73% striking defense rate. Her real skills lie on the mat, however, as the Judo black belt has skilled takedowns and top control, as well as a litany of submissions in her arsenal. She has finished seven of her pro wins, including four by submission. Her diverse skillset is a serious challenge for Rodriguez, who although a credentialed Muay Thai striker, is incredibly limited once secured on her back. Ribas has the skills on the feet to keep up with Marina before securing the fight to the mat and closing the show.

Chookagian is on the verge of securing another title shot, but will need to stop the ascension of a dangerous ground fighter in RIbas. Chookagian is much more proven at the weight class, and undoubtedly holds the superior striking acumen. However, Ribas is no slouch on the feet, and can hold her own against the point fighting style of Chookagian. I see her aggressive BJJ exploiting the lackluster takedown defense of Chookagian for a submission finish and clear statement to the Flyweight division.

My Pick: Amanda Ribas via Submission

Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres (LW)

Frank Camacho (22-9, 2-5 UFC) has not been seen in the Octagon in nearly two years, where he suffered a knockout loss to late replacement Justin Jaynes. This sets him on a two-fight losing streak, though he claimed a knockout over Nick Hein prior to that. “The Crank” has an aggressive striking style, constantly moving forward looking for the knockout, and he holds sixteen career KOs on his resume. While he is a solid defensive wrestler, his striking defense has shown glaring holes.

A first round knockout on the Contender Series earned Manuel Torres (12-2) his spot in the big show, and he will look to make good on his debut in this outing. “El Loco” began his career on the Mexican regional circuit, but has showed off his penchant for exciting fights, with eleven finishes and six by submission. He is a high paced boxer on the feet, with a ferocious volume and slick defense, particularly with his head movement. While he is susceptible to wrestling, he has excellent jiu-jitsu skills and can work to the foot or a finish from the mat.

The UFC is giving Camacho one last chance to save his contract, but aren’t cutting him any breaks with this matchmaking. Torres is a dangerous finisher on all accounts, and has the intense striking offensive to give Camacho fits. Camacho undoubtedly has the experience advantage, but has shown serious lapses in both his defense and his chin. That alone is enough for me to give this to Torres, who is also bolstered by the fact that he is the younger fighter riding a wave of momentum, and a furious grapplign assault, should he choose to utilize it.

My Pick: Manuel Torres via Knockout

Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento (FLW)

Jake Hadley (8-0) made headlines with his Contender Series signing, as he was the first fighter to be signed by Dana White after missing weight, which drew the ire of the UFC matchmakers and many fans. Nevertheless, he impressed enough with his second round submission to get his ticket cashed by Dana White. The former Cage Warriors champion is an aggressive fight in every area, constantly moving forward with a dogged pressure, along with a constant submission offense and apt body control on the mat. “White Kong” holds six career finishes, with four coming via rear naked choke.

Though he lost to Raulian Paiva in 2018 on the Contender Series, Allan Nascimento (18-6, 0-1 UFC) got his shot in the UFC by stepping up on short notice to face Tagir Ulanbekov. Despite entering as a massive underdog, Nascimento outlanded the Russian prospect and battling his way, (though ultimately losing), a split decision. “Puro Osso” is incredibly well-rounded with a high output and technical Muay Thai on the feet, along with a deadly precision. Though his wrestling could use some work, he has nasty grappling skills and holds fourteen career wins by submission. He has never been finished in his pro career.

This is a fun clash, and Hadley has a tough test in his debut, as Nascimento’s record clearly indicates he has more experience, though Hadley has foguht tougher opposition en route to the UFC. I am excited to see how Hadley’s hard-charging aggression goes for him here, as Nascimento is slick with counters and can quickly snatch up a submission from top or bottom position. I think Hadley’s wrestling advantage is the key determinant here, as he will decide where the fight takes place, and he has the tools to find success either way it goes. I expect Hadley to win a clear decision with combination striking and stints of top control.

My Pick: Jake Hadley via Decision

The main card for this event airs on ESPN 2 at 7:30 PM EST. I have no idea how the bout order was designed for this one, as there are names like Michael Johnson and Angela Hill on the prelims, along with a number of fireworks matchups, so do not miss those. I would not be surprised if the bout order changes in the coming days, either, but we have a card bred for finishes, regardless.

Tune in to our home page during the event for play-by-play coverage and results!

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