Opening up the UFC 259 PPV card was a fight that would not have looked out of place in the main event of a Fight Night show. The light heavyweight throwdown in question had Thiago Santos paired up against Aleksandar Rakic, in a key fight for the 205lb division. While all eyes were on Israel Adesanya’s attempt to claim a second belt, against Jan Blachowicz, later in the night, a win for Rakic would put him in prime position to challenge for a title himself — though Glover Teixeira might have a thing or two to say about that.
Santos, meanwhile, was looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses to Jon Jones and Teixeira, with major knee surgery in between.
Rakic started at center, with Santos on the outside. A Rakic leg kick missed, but he’d go back to that well again. And they would land hard when they did land. Given Santos’ history of leg injuries, those kicks to the lead leg were concerning if you were Thiago Santos. The Brazilian had his power on display early, throwing a big haymaker after catching a kick. Rakic, however, had the powerful Santos on the backfoot through a large part of the round. The Austrian “Rocket” dictated the range, pace, and was more consistent through the first five minutes.
Round two started out at a reserved pace. Santos stayed outside, and the pair circled, feeling each other out and trading single strikes. Rakic then initiated a clinch, tying Santos up by the fence. Rakic landed body shots, Santos landed little of anything. After a break the pair moved back to center with Rakic getting the better of his opponent, ending the round in control after a flying knee attempt.
The third round opened with Santos in need of… something. He opted for a low kick, then later a kick to the body. “Marreta” had a definite issue both closing the distance, and throwing with volume. Single strikes from the outside, which Rakic was easily slipping, were not working. Rakic was giving plenty of respect to Santos’ power, and didn’t even shoot for a takedown until the final two minutes. That allowed Santos to land a few short punches, and elbows as well. He fired a couple of knees, while Rakic leaned in on him.
In what ultimately turned out the be a bout low on action, Rakic had his hand raised. He was also awarded his brown belt following the win, despite the lack of grappling on display Saturday night. The lack of action in the fight may have, in fact, cemented Glover Teixeira’s spot as the number one contender at light heavyweight.
Official Result: Aleksandar Rakic def. Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)