UFC Vegas 54: Blachowicz Seeks Return to Form While Rakic Seeks Epic Upset

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Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic, UFC Vegas 54
Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic, UFC Vegas 54 weigh-in Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

Jan Blachowicz is looking to show that the changing of the guard has not arrived yet as he faces surging up-and-comer Aleksandar Rakic at UFC Vegas 54.

It all seemed so unusual that Saturday afternoon last October.  Then light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, having carved a path of dominance for several years, suddenly looking less than the wrecking ball that fans and pundits had become so accustomed to seeing.  Glover Teixeira had no problem, quickly taking momentum from his fellow veteran and carrying it into the second round where he got the finish after shockingly avoiding any serious damage in the bout.

While Teixeira will be going on to his first title defense next month, the loss feels like a possible turning point for the Polish powerhouse.  At 39 years-old, he was already impressive as one of the elder statesmen of the division as he added names like current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, Corey Anderson, Dominick Reyes, Luke Rockhold, and Ronald “Jacare” Souza to his resume.  A return to form would likely propel him back towards a title eliminator and an opportunity to regain his belt.  A loss would be framed as a changing of the guard as he would be the biggest feather in the cap of his younger opponent.

Though he has been on the sidelines for over a year now, Aleksandar Rakic remains on the cusp of a seminal breakthrough.  With an impressive record of  14-2, the 30 year-old Serbian upstart has slowly put together one of the more impressive credentials in division after besting veterans such as Thiago Santos, Anthony Smith, and Jimi Manuwa.  His losses have also aged well in context: with one coming in his professional debut and the other being a 2019 split-decision to Volkan Oezdemir that he has since bounced back from with his most impressive victories.

That said, Rakic does not enter with nothing to lose as he looks to take out a former champion.  “The Rocket” had an opportunity to put the pressure on the reigning champion last year when he faced wrecking machine Thiago Santos in a featured bout on a pay-per-view.  Rather than have a statement performance that would throw down the gauntlet at the feet of the title holder, the bout ended as one of the more disappointing bouts between ranked opponents for the lack of action seen during the bout.  With another surging contender like Magomed Ankalaev also scheduled for a high profile bout, an impressive performance will be crucial for Rakic to break into the conversation.

The younger Rakic will need to find openings to use his explosiveness against the well-rounded former champion if he is to secure the upset.  Blachowicz does his best work when he is leading the exchanges on the feet, so Rakic will need to set up his entries both on the feet and in his attempts to set up takedowns in order to avoid the dangerous weapons of Blachowicz.  If the former champion is looking to land with his “Legendary Polish Power” then he will need to use a multi-faceted attack that sees him chop away at the legs  and body of Rakic before looking to finish combinations with shots to the head.  So long as he is efficient with this game plan, he is expected to have the gas tank to implement it across all five rounds.

The light-heavyweight title is on the line in roughly a month as Glover Teixeira meets Jiri Prochazka.  A Rakic victory, regardless of the title holder, would likely see him await the outcome of the upcoming bout between Magomed Ankalaev and Anthony Smith as to see who will have had the more impressive performance.  Should Prochazka win the title, then a Blachowicz victory should hypothetically set up an anticipated battle between the two.

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