27-year-old Austrian Aleksandar Rakic (11-1) is now 3-0 in the UFC’s 205-pound division. In a weight class often hurting for talent, this should be cause for celebration.
From a marketing perspective, he’s well put together, stands at 6’5 (allegedly), and employs an action-first striking approach. After wins over Francimar Barroso, Justin Ledet, and a comeback knockout over Devin Clark, the UFC clearly feels Rakic is ready to go from prospect to contender.
He faces a dangerous striker, the #11 ranked Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night 153 in Stockholm. Before the biggest fight of his career, let’s highlight and evaluate the skills and performances of Aleksandar Rakic.
Aleksandar Rakic Prospect Evaluation
According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Rakic has been training as a striker for well over a decade, taking dozens of boxing and kickboxing bouts in that time. With that being said, Rakic has looked fairly green at times in the UFC on the feet. Overall, he has some effective tools, and some troubling habits that could lead to disaster against Jimi Manuwa.
As a low kick connoisseur, it pleases me greatly to see Aleksandar Rakic repeatedly punting the legs in each of his UFC bouts.
As far as setups go, you will almost never see Rakic punching before firing off low kicks, let alone ending combinations with them. However, Rakic is a fighter who is constantly feinting. He used feints effectively against Francimar Barroso to back him up, then timed the kick as Barroso put his weight back on his lead leg.
Against Justin Ledet, the stance matchup opened up the power low kick to the inside of the lead leg. Ledet was only comfortable checking the outside low kick, which didn’t come until after Rakic switched stances, having already hobbled Ledet.
Devin Clark was especially heavy on his lead leg, and had zero intention of checking a single kick. It has been a great benefit to Rakic that his opponents thus far are very willing to be kicked in the leg repeatedly.
In awe at the legs on this lad.
As previously mentioned, Rakic makes frequent use of feints. One of the biggest tools missing from striking in MMA today is effective feinting. Essentially, feints can be used to draw reactions out of your opponent, you can learn those reactions, and use them to set up an unexpected lead strike or to bait an easy counter opportunity.
Rakic feints with a hard stutter step, typically showing a punch or two on the step. From what I’ve gathered, Rakic is almost always looking to draw up the guard in a particular way so he can punch around it, or to move his opponent back to the cage where he’s more comfortable letting go with combinations.
Rakic makes use of his length and ability to feint by leading with straight right hands. The lead right hand is sharp, powerful tool that can quickly pierce the guard, especially in MMA where smaller gloves leave openings in a high guard. Rakic encouraged Justin Ledet to take a square stance after battering his legs, further opening up opportunities for the lead straight.
Unfortunately, my favorite tool from Rakic has only been seen consistently against Barroso. My colleague Ryan Wagner refers to Barroso as, “unathletic Brazilian Woodley.” His tendency to back himself up to the cage is slightly less pronounced than the former welterweight champion, but Barroso does typically look to back up and counter.
Against the cage, Rakic feinted his jabs and straights as usual, but instead shot his right hand down to the body. Fans often ask, “What is the most underutilized weapon in MMA?” Targeting the body. So few fighters do it consistently, and it looks like Rakic has really only been comfortable doing so when his man is backed up.
Maybe this is a tangible strength and maybe it isn’t, but Rakic is dog tough and isn’t afraid to make interesting decisions in the cage. In our next section, you will see Rakic eating counters without blinking and going on to land in combination. Here you see Devin Clark accurately timing Rakic’s low kick to swarm and counter, only to get rocked with an awkward backfist.
Time will tell if Rakic has a Johnny Walker level ability to pull weird finishes out of the air with frequency.
Areas for Growth
Please understand that in the context of people generally, Aleksandar Rakic is an incredibly skilled fighter. In the context of the 205-pound division, he may still be good. I am holding Rakic’s skills to the standards of elite fighters within the top ranks of the UFC and combat sports as a whole, these are subjective criticisms.
I mentioned Rakic’s toughness. We only know about the chin and toughness of Aleksandar Rakic because his defense is such a liability. To be fair, there are times when he looks fairly slick, feinting, throwing, moving just out of the way and throwing back.
But there are other times where he throws from the hip with his face out and leaves himself completely vulnerable while flurrying.
Volume and sheer firepower kept Barroso uncomfortable and completely out of position to throw back, but Rakic was entirely open to get cracked.
But defensive responsibility mid-combination isn’t the only time that being “hittable” is an issue for Rakic. While he is an athletic man, Rakic doesn’t have especially quick reactions, and takes far too many clean shots on the lead from his opponents.
This also brings up the problem of Rakic’s feinting. When he isn’t preparing for a longer exchange, Rakic doesn’t seem to be expecting anything coming back during his initial feints. He was repeatedly caught walking into punches while feinting against Barroso. If Rakic didn’t lead and feint with his hands by his chest, this would be less of an issue.
Against Barroso, Rakic was tagged several times after being backed straight up. To his credit, Rakic looked to be improving his defensive footwork significantly. As Justin Ledet crashed in, Rakic did a much better job of pivoting and circling off, sometimes. Unfortunately, he still spends far too much time standing tall in front of his opponents with his hands down.
The term defensive responsibility implies weighing risk when attacking, and it’s something Rakic very often neglects to do.
Against an athletic power puncher in Devin Clark, the first layer of Rakic’s defense was exploited badly. Kicking while standing straight up with his hands down lead to disaster, as did backing straight up then circling off with his hands down.
I’ve seen quips about the chin of Aleksandar Rakic. To be frank, his chin is great. His recovery is phenomenal as well. I have nothing but praise for Rakic’s ability to immediately get back into the fight like nothing happened after being bombed on. It’s incredibly impressive.
However, his defense, both first and subsequent layers, is extremely porous. That is not an okay issue to have against Jimi Manuwa.
Aleksandar’s greatest strength, the factor that I believe may take him the furthest of all his qualities, is literally his strength. He is clearly very strong. His hips, his legs, his upper body, the man is both lanky and solid. In the words of Dáire Nugent, “He has the big.”
Justin Ledet was absolutely shocked when he shot in on Aleksandar Rakic, only to be completely knocked over by an underhook.
The shot that Rakic himself took was not all that great technically, but I admire how he broke the resulting clinch to land a clean right hand that floored Ledet.
In fact, Aleksandar Rakic is extremely effective in the clinch, and has shown this against both Ledet and Clark.
With his back to the cage, Rakic was easily able to dig and underhook while controlling the wrist with his other arm. Rakic seems to have an absurdly easy time reversing position on the cage with an underhook and a wrist. Devin Clark won a national wrestling title in junior college and couldn’t budge Rakic.
With that same tie-up, Rakic could simply lift up the arm and make space for heavy knees to the gut. I would really like to see Rakic work intentionally from the clinch more often, not just reactively after being rocked or taken down.
This may also be a function of size and hip strength, but Rakic’s first layer takedown defense isn’t bad at all. We’ll see the attempts Barroso was successful with soon, but for the most part, Rakic saw those terrible shot attempts coming and easily threw Barroso off his hips.
Perhaps it was because Ledet had very little to offer off his back, but Rakic completely controlled him on the ground. Rakic’s best moments in grappling with Ledet came when he postured and drove his hips in, forcing Ledet to open his guard and become vulnerable. As expected, Rakic is capable of throwing some pretty gnarly ground and pound.
It was also encouraging to see Rakic stick with the wrist ride when Ledet exposed his back, rather than putting hooks in and working for a choke. I could really see Rakic becoming a fighter that strikes his way into the clinch, works his takedowns from there and makes his money as a ground and pound artist. At 205, that’s entirely feasible.
Areas for Growth
This only came up in the Barroso fight, but Rakic seemed to have fairly shallow takedown defense when the entry was decently clean. The aforementioned “terrible shots” from Barroso came from space and he never touched a leg. Here you can see Barroso actually changing levels as Rakic comes in and getting him down relatively easily.
Both the takedowns featured in this clip should be cause for concern, but Rakic has since trained extensively with American Top Team in Florida and has clearly progressed in the clinch, at the very least.
There is also a strength embedded in that clip, Rakic actually hits a switch and gets back to his feet. Was it a technically sound switch? Not particularly, the follow through was a bit sluggish, but it worked, and Rakic may just be physical enough for that to be a sustainable strategy.
Being big and strong can often fill in technical gaps when it comes to getting off the ground, just ask Derrick Lewis.
Rakic vs. Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night 153
I won’t make any confident predictions, as I haven’t taken the time to fully dive in to Jimi Manuwa’s own strengths and shortcomings. What we do know is that Manuwa is a punishing puncher, one who is known for his left hook. There were plenty of times in watching these fights where Rakic was wide open for that very shot. However, fighters improve, and one can hope that Rakic is shoring up those defensive flaws.
Manuwa is not especially effective or defensively sound in the clinch, and that is an area I would really want to see Rakic work from, considering how successful he’s been there lately.
With a win, Rakic will officially be in a position to take a shot at the top ten. Do I see him as a future contender? Not quite. But every prospect develops or regresses differently, and time will tell what will become of Aleksandar Rakic.
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