With Jon Jones out of the picture, an intriguing light heavyweight bout between Anthony Smith and Aleksandar Rakic just got a whole lot more interesting.
Saturday’s main event already looked like a banger on paper, but now, with Jones stepping away from the 205-pound division and relinquishing his title (again), whoever leaves the UFC Vegas 8 headliner with their hand raised moves one considerable step closer to a championship opportunity.
For Smith, it would be his second kick at the can. The soon-to-be 49-fight veteran has become a reliable name for the matchmakers to call upon as he headlines his sixth consecutive show, a sign that he hasn’t been far from the top of the rankings since making the move up from middleweight. Smith has lobbied for another title shot after a disappointing performance against Jones at UFC 235 and Rakic might be just the opponent he needs to cement his case.
Rakic’s white-hot UFC start cooled after dropping a split nod to Volkan Oezdemir in his most recent outing, but only slightly. Some thought that Rakic actually deserved to win that decision, so a victory over Smith would keep him undefeated in the UFC in the eyes of his supporters.
In the co-main event, former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler steps in on short notice for Geoff Neal to face Neil Magny. While we didn’t get the highly-anticipated “Neil on Neal” matchup due to Neal facing a medical scare, this pairing is arguably a more compelling one as it sees the return of Lawler from a year-long hiatus and Magny getting the kind of top-five opponent that he’s been chasing since beating Carlos Condit in 2017.
Also on the main card, Ji Yeon Kim welcomes Alexa Grasso to the flyweight division, featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas faces short-notice replacement Bill Algeo, and light heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba meet in a rematch after their controversial UFC Norfolk encounter.
What: UFC Vegas 8
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Aug. 29. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, with the five-fight main card starting at 9 p.m. also on ESPN+.
Anthony Smith vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Youth will be served on Saturday.
At 32, Anthony Smith is hardly a geezer, but with almost 50 fights on his record he’s essentially an octogenarian in fight years. That kind of mileage takes its toll on anyone, especially when you go through wars like the one Smith did against Glover Teixeira in May. Even the slightest dulling of your edge can cost you in combat sports; against a prospect like Rakic, Smith could be in for a harsh reality check.
Keeping in mind that this is only a three-round affair, Smith’s penchant for fast finishes could serve him well. He faded against Teixeira, but that won’t be an issue here unless it goes deep into the third. That said, Rakic has shown he can finish quickly too so he won’t shy away from an early engagement. I actually expect both fighters to start swinging quickly, with Rakic letting Smith take the big risks and waiting for openings to counter.
Smith’s jiu-jitsu pedigree might give him the edge on the ground, but not if Rakic controls how the fight gets there. He’s a strong wrestler and if he can consistently work from top position, he shouldn’t fall prey to Smith’s aggressive submissions.
Rakic by KO in the first or second round.
Neil Magny vs. Robbie Lawler
The blueprint is out on how to beat this current version of Robbie Lawler and Neil Magny is the ideal fighter to execute it.
Long and lean, smart, and endlessly active, Magny has outworked plenty of opponents with deep resumes including Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, Hector Lombard, and Kelvin Gastelum. It’s true that he’s faltered against high quality competition as well, which is one reason why this matchup with Lawler is so compelling.
How far removed is Lawler from his prime? And will a short-notice affair hurt or benefit him? Keep in mind that cardio has rarely been an issue for Lawler and there was a long period of time where he said that he didn’t spar in his training camps, so how integral is preparation to his success? A back-to-basics, no-nonsense approach may be exactly what Lawler needs to reclaim a top-10 spot in the rankings.
But as mentioned above, there is a proven strategy to foil him and that’s pressure and volume, two of Magny’s specialties. You can’t underestimate Lawler’s chances in a brawl, as he remains as deadly on the feet as ever (just ask Ben Askren, who narrowly escaped being added to Lawler’s hit list), which is why that’s a scenario Magny will cleverly avoid. He’ll mix techniques like he always does, never giving Lawler a chance to get a bead on him. That’s the key to a Magny decision win.
Alexa Grasso vs. Ji Yeon Kim
They didn’t give Alexa Grasso an easy matchup for her first fight at 125 pounds.
It’s a cliche way to describe a South Korean fighter, but it’s a fact that the country produces some of MMA’s most hard-headed, aggressive competitors and Ji Yeon Kim is no different. She walks people down, picking her spots and remaining unflappable regardless of what her opponent is throwing at her. Just from a mental standpoint, she’s a load for anyone to deal with.
I think Grasso is exactly the kind of fighter that will benefit from competing closer to her actual weight. Outside of a career-best performance against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Grasso never lived up to the considerable hype that she brought to the UFC strawweight division. At flyweight, she gets a fresh start, and one that won’t be hampered by a brutal weight cut that hampered her performances.
This should be a fun standup battle, one that will lead to a close call on the scorecards. Grasso is more technical in her approach and she has some pop in her hands too, so I’ll give her the edge in what is the toughest fight to pick on the main card.
Ricardo Lamas vs. Bill Algeo
Bill Algeo could become the latest Contender Series product to shock a UFC veteran. In February, we saw Tim Means submitted by newcomer Daniel Rodriguez and three months later Miguel Baeza came out of nowhere to defeat Matt Brown. The point is, don’t sleep on these unknown fighters.
That shouldn’t be an issue with Ricardo Lamas, who always brings it on fight night. There’s definitely a big drop in name value from Lamas’ usual opponents, so it will be key for him to assess Algeo’s talents early and work from there. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it might benefit Algeo to come out of the gates hot and get right in Lamas’ face. That’s an easy strategy to suggest when you’re not the one inside the octagon with an animal like Lamas though.
Algeo is going to give Lamas some problems. He has great size for a featherweight and knows how to use it. He has long limbs, which he uses to threaten with submissions on the ground, so Lamas will have to be thoughtful with his ground-and-pound. I expect Lamas will muck this fight up though and I don’t see Algeo as having enough firepower to match Lamas blow-for-blow.
Lamas by knockout.
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba – canceled
After what happened last time between these two, making a prediction as to how their rematch could go seems almost silly, doesn’t it?
The intense pre-fight antics between Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba were overshadowed by—with respect to referee Kevin MacDonald—one of the worst stoppages in recent history. Prior to that, we were getting the best possible outcome between these two light heavyweights, a wild scrap filled with head kicks and haymakers that was only given seconds to play out.
I predicted their first fight would be dictated by Ankalaev’s grappling and I still see that being the case here. There will be entertaining exchanges on the feet, but if Ankalaev can avoid an early stumble, his wrestling will allow him to stay out of trouble should Cutelaba get his hands going. I’m going with my original prediction of Ankalaev by decision, but really, it’s anyone’s guess how this bizarre saga will end.