This past weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 33 card was a showcase event for many fighters looking to make pushes up the rankings in their respective divisions. This was best exemplified in the headliner and co-main events, with dominant showings from each of the winners. The rest of the card was littered with slick submissions and unanimous decision wins that demonstrated technical prowess. Here are some final thoughts:
1. Rakic has all the tools
Aleksandar Rakic absolutely dominated Anthony Smith for all three rounds on Saturday night. His whipping leg kicks immediately put Smith on the defensive, even causing a knockdown early in the first round. Rakic, who began his fighting career in kickboxing, then displayed impressive wrestling as he maintained top control for 12:14 out of 15 total minutes. This was no easy feat as Smith boasts a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yet Rakic was able to do just enough with his ground and pound to prevent the referee from standing the fighters up.
Rakic still has some holes to shore up, namely the tendency to keep his chin high when exiting the pocket. However, the fact that a polished striker like Smith seemed to have a difficult time finding his mark (save for a brief moment at the beginning of round two) shows that Rakic has the speed and athleticism to evade most of these shots. But this will definitely be something to consider as he moves on to face the very top of the division, where getting clipped just once could be a fight-ending mistake.
Moving forward, with the top four in the division already paired off to fight one another, there aren’t many other options for Rakic to consider as he will certainly rise in the rankings following this weekend’s performance. He pined for a shot at the title in his post-fight interview but might realistically need at least one more fight for him to be considered. A matchup against the Czech gunslinger Jiri Prochazka looks like a tantalizing fight that could see the winner closing in on a title opportunity.
2. Start respecting Magny as a player in the welterweight division
Neil Magny has quietly put together a three-fight win streak, all by unanimous decision. All of these fights were clean, clinical, and left no doubt in viewers’ minds who won the fight. In this weekend’s tilt against Robbie Lawler, Magny was able to dominate in all aspects of the fight. He particularly impressed on the ground, where he was able to spend a significant amount of time on Lawler’s back and in dominant positions in general.
A win against Lawler, who still has name recognition even with waning skills, will hopefully shine a brighter light on Magny.
Always the nice guy, sometimes frustratingly so, he seems satisfied to fight anyone, stating in his post-fight interview, “Everyone feels entitled to fight certain people, but I honestly do not care. If I have to fight one through ten in order to get a title shot, I’m ready and willing to do that. Just line them up. I’m ready to go.”
This is not hard to believe coming from Magny, as he will gladly fight anyone the UFC puts in front of him. But given the talent in the welterweight division, hopefully he can find a matchup that will keep his name in the headlines while maintaining his forward momentum.
3. Brady showed some dangerous finishing capabilities
Sean Brady pulled off one of the most impressive submissions in a night full of them. He was able to secure a one-armed mounted guillotine that put Christian Aguilera’s lights out. Commentator and teammate of Brady’s, Paul Felder, was effusive in his praise of Brady’s ground game leading up to the fight and anticipated the finish on the broadcast twenty seconds before it actually happened. The confidence Felder had in Brady shows just how dangerous he is. He is now 13-0 and 3-0 in the UFC, and due for a step up in competition as he has looked dominant against all opposition so far. Keep an eye out for this exciting prospect as he looks to keep his undefeated record intact moving forward.
4. Comebacks are still trending
This weekend’s fights featured some wild, come-from-behind affairs, just one week after we saw similar types of victories. First up was Mallory Martin’s armbar submission win over Hannah Cifers. Cifers was dominating the fight prior to the stoppage, knocking Martin down with a straight right in the first round and following it up with nasty shots once Martin got back to her feet. But Martin was able to survive the thrashing and sunk in a rear-naked choke in the second round to secure an improbable victory. This landed her a well-deserved “Performance of the Night” bonus, to go with kudos received from the MMA world.
In the main card, Ricardo Lamas dug deep after eating a knee from Bill Algeo straight to the jaw in the second round. Lamas was then able to take Algeo down in the third and unleash a devastating ground and pound attack which left the referee close to stopping the fight. All credit goes to Algeo, making his UFC debut, for surviving the round and taking the fight to Lamas throughout. However, Lamas showed why he once competed for the featherweight title, winning the last round 10-8 and taking home a unanimous decision victory.
In his post-fight interview, Lamas mentioned considering retirement. If so, this last fight was a perfect way to go out, and it was emblematic of the grit and determination he has shown throughout his career.
5. No, we haven’t given up on Cutelaba vs. Ankalaev
Hardcore fans were devastated to hear that this main card opener was canceled due to Ion Cutelaba’s second positive COVID-19 test. Based on the fireworks before, during, and after their brief and controversial first affair in February, this fight was guaranteed to be absolute chaos. With next weekend’s card seemingly a little thin, hopefully the rematch will be booked right away. Fourth booking should be the charm, right?