The UFC Stockholm main card is packed with light heavyweights, which will bring change to a division in need of it.
This weekend, the UFC returns to Sweden for UFC Stockholm and of the six fights on the main card, three are in the light heavyweight division. Of the six fighters, three are former title challengers and the rest are divisional elites. This makes one thing clear: this weekend the division will get a turnover. New contenders may rise, older competition may fall. This movement will create a much-required shakeup of the division.
So let’s take a close look at these fighters:
Entering the fight with a record of 11-1, Aleksandar Rakic is the fighter to look out for. He started his career back at the age of 19 and with time has matured into a fighter who currently is 3-0 in the UFC. A decorated knockout artist, the Austrian hasn’t seen defeat since his professional debut back in 2011. This weekend, if he manages to rack up a win over Jimi Manuwa, he evolves from prospect to contender.
Not long ago, Jimi Manuwa was the fighter to look out for at light heavyweight. His highlight knockout over Ovince Saint Preux had pushed him into the title picture. However, consecutive losses to Volkan Oezdemir, Jan Błachowicz, and Thiago Santos have reduced the Englishman to a stepping stone for younger prospects. If he wants to work his way back to the top, beating a top prospect like Rakic is a good place to start.
Back in December 2018, Ilir Latifi was on a great run of four wins in five fights. This run included wins over the likes of OSP and young prospect Tyson Pedro. He was positioning himself for something big before running into a roadblock in the form of Corey Anderson. To build himself back up he needs to take on former title challenger, Volkan Oezdemir. A win against him will again set him up for a major match.
Since losing to pound-for-pound great and current heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier, Oezdemit has had a tough run. This skid includes two consecutive losses to Anthony Smith and Dominick Reyes. Having not won a fight since 2017, this might very well be “No Time’s” last chance to stay in the top 15 of the division. A loss against Latifi sends him way down the line and makes the climb back up the ladder incredibly difficult. This makes his match very intriguing.
Anthony Smith has had an interesting run at light heavyweight. He went 2-0 before receiving a shot at the division’s best, Jon Jones. In the fight, he showed a lot of heart as he decided to continue the fight despite being on the receiving end of an illegal shot. This resulted in him earning a lot of love and fan support despite losing the fight in a very one-sided fashion. This weekend, when he faces long-time top contender Alexander Gustafsson, he has a chance to earn himself another shot against the title.
The tag of “second-best who’s never won a title” is something Alexander Gustafsson has earned multiple times. A decorated fighter, Gustafsson couldn’t make the second time the charm against Jon Jones last year as he lost his chance to capture the light heavyweight title. This weekend, he begins his long path to another title shot. Standing in his way is Anthony Smith. It doesn’t need to be said, but if Gustafsson loses (especially with his unsuccessful history with Jones), he ends up so far down the list that it might be difficult to ever come back.
All these fighters are very closely ranked so it looks as if losing to each other won’t create much movement. However, most of them are on career tipping points. A loss or win can change their position in the ladder very drastically. Hence, the division will create a lot of room for other people. Light heavyweight especially needed this because the champion, Jon Jones requires many contenders. His domination needs fighters to feed on so the UFC needs these many light heavyweights. And the fact that he draws simply adds more reason for the UFC to be on a hunt for new contenders.
UFC Stockholm will be live on ESPN+ in the USA, TSN 5 in Canada, and Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD in India on June 1.