The octagon’s return to Stockholm, Sweden saw three light heavyweight bouts with important divisional implications. UFC Fight Night 153 was headlined by former title challengers Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith. In the co-main event, we saw Jimi Manuwa and Aleksandar Rakic lock horns, and further down the card Devin Clark faced off against Darko Stosic. Each fight had ramifications in the 205-pound division.
The Light Heavyweights of UFC Fight Night 153
Clark vs. Stosic
Devin Clark and Darko Stosic were the two first light heavyweights to walk to the octagon in Stockholm. Clark came into the fight 2-2 in his last four outings, having been finished twice. Stosic was riding a nine-fight winning streak prior to this fight and was 1-0 in the UFC.
The fight started quickly, with both men throwing without caution. Clark dropped Stosic with a jab in the first minute of the fight, surprising a lot of people. The Serbian then appeared to knock Clark down. Commentator John Goodden stated it was a slip, however. It then looked as if Clark knocked down Stosic again with a spinning elbow as he was backing away. The first round ended with Stosic handing some good shots on the break from the clinch. Both men were visibly fatigued going into the second.
The second round was more cagey. Stosic called Clark on in the second and clearly wanted a fire-fight. Despite Clark grabbing both the fence and the top of the cage, Stosic was able to land a big takedown. The Mirko Cro Cop protege then controlled Clark on the ground for the remainder of the round.
The heavily-muscled Stosic looked sluggish at the start of the third. The American searched for takedowns relentlessly and landed one early. Although Stosic got back to his feet easily, he appeared tired. The output of Clark was much more than that of Stosic. He came on strong in the final few minutes of the fight, landing multiple combinations. Clark’s output is what arguably gave him the edge on the judge’s scorecards.
New Top Contender
The UFC Fight Night 153 co-main event saw England’s Jimi Manuwa look to break a three-fight losing streak. Standing across from him was Austria’s Aleksandar Rakic, who was riding an 11 fight win streak coming into the bout. Many expected a firefight, with both of these fighters tending to ‘stand and bang’. What we saw was quite different. Both men started by exchanging low kicks, with Manuwa attempting to time Rakic and land his famous powerful left hook. Rakic then ran in with a flurry and followed it up with a vicious left high kick. Connecting with Manuwa’s chin, he was out before his head hit with the floor.
It’s safe to say we have a new contender at 205. Manuwa was ranked #11 coming into this fight, whereas Rakic was unranked. We can expect to see Rakic to be ranked within the top 10 following this fight. If the UFC wants to put a prospect up against a prospect, Rakic’s next fight could be against Johnny Walker. Following UFC 235, we stated that the new era is exciting and we included Walker in this conversation. This would be a fun clash of styles with both Walker’s and Rakic’s insane knockout power. Both men are coming off impressive knockout victories and have injected some life into the stagnant light heavyweight division.
The Mauler Hangs Them Up
The UFC Fight Night 153 main event saw the return of Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson. Headlining in Stockholm for the fourth time, Gustafsson was looking to get over his title loss to Jon Jones at UFC 232. The man joining him inside the octagon was also looking to get back to winning ways having lost to Jones. Anthony Smith went 25 minutes with the champion in March and was looking for a quick turn-around.
After a cagey opening minute, the two men exchanged leg kicks. It was clear from the opening bell that Smith was looking to land an overhand shot. Gustafsson checked a Smith leg kick, leading to a nasty cut being opened up on the Swede’s shin. Smith was certainly the busier of the two men in the first round. The second played out similarly to the first, with both men exchanging shots and each looking for varying power shots. Gustafsson appeared to control the octagon much more in the second and was the aggressor at the end of the round. Between the second and third round, Smith seemed extremely relaxed, almost joking with referee Marc Goddard in a small exchange that they had.
As the third round started, both men were winging shots in wild exchanges, pleasing the fans in the arena. Gustafsson continued to try and keep Smith at bay with a number of leg kicks, front kicks and teeps. The Swede landed a strong takedown in the final 30 seconds of the round. Smith was able to avoid any damage in this exchange. The finish came in the fourth round and unfortunately for the Swedish fans, it was Smith who got it. Denying a takedown, Smith landed on Gustafsson’s back in the scramble. Managing to stay on the back despite The Mauler’s best efforts, Smith flattened Gustafsson out. Following some heavy ground and pound, Smith slid his arm under the Swede’s neck and secured the rear-naked choke victory.
Following the UFC Fight Night 153 main event, Alexander Gustafsson announced his retirement. After a lustrous career, Sweden’s own goes out as one of the best light heavyweights to ever do it. Losing two razor close decisions for the belt and rallying to get another title shot, Gustafsson showed great heart throughout his career. As for Smith? We could potentially see him matched up against the winner of Luke Rockhold and Jan Blachowicz, who clash at UFC 239.
Should Manuwa also hang them up? No one should force a fighter to stop doing what they love. However, with three heavy knockout losses in his last four fights, Manuwa needs to consider his health. A top contender for most of his career, the 39-year-old Brit may consider retirement following his most recent loss.
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