Lost to those who only follow the sport casually is the emergence of several light heavyweight prospects on the verge of being major players after years of nothing significant emerging from the ranks. Dominick Reyes is the first of those breaking into prominence with his title shot against Jon Jones coming up in February. At UFC Busan, we could get a good indication if Aleksander Rakic is the next one ready to emerge, as he gets a major test in former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir waiting for him in the co-main event.
Any fight fan will admit there isn’t much depth in the overseas cards, but there’s usually a couple of fights worth paying attention to. UFC Busan is no exception and the co-main may be the contest worthy of the most scrutiny.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 5:00 AM ET/2:00 AM PT on Saturday.
Volkan Oezdemir (16-4) vs. Alekander Rakic (12-1), Light Heavyweight
Rakic may be the one that everyone has their eye on for this contest, but that doesn’t make this fight any less important for Oezdemir. He snapped his three-fight losing streak with workmanlike performance over Ilir Latifi, wearing down the broad Swede with a barrage of punches before finishing him off. Even with young reinforcements coming, light heavyweight is still quite shallow and Oezdemir isn’t too far away from getting another opportunity at gold… provided he can put together a few more wins.
Oezdemir’s rise into contendership and his fall out of it were brought on by the same thing: His quick KO’s of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa. While the immediate result of those wins were the title shot, he continued to fire out of the gate with reckless abandon, expecting to achieve similar early stoppages. He was unable to secure the early finish and he gassed out, leading to his eventual demise. Oezdemir has made the necessary adjustments since then, taking some heat off his punches while continuing to touch up the opposition, allowing the finish to come to him as opposed to forcing it. He’s worked hard on his takedown defense too, traditionally an Achilles heel of his.
Rakic comes at the fight game from the opposite end of the spectrum, allowing his opponent to come at him. The approach works for him as his 6’5” frame and 78” reach helps to keep opponents from touching him up very much, a pumping jab and front kicks being a key part of his arsenal. His power shots tend to come on the counter, though he isn’t afraid to throw something flashy to get the job done as his spinning back fist against Devin Clark proved. His head kick finish of Jimi Manuwa is further proof of his flare. Rakic isn’t known for his wrestling, but has shown he’s capable of hitting a double leg and controlling an opponent on the mat. Given Oezdemir’s past struggles on the mat, it would be foolish for Rakic to not consider making that a vital part of his attack.
Oezdemir is right back where he’s most comfortable: as the disregarded underdog. Few gave him a shot against Cirkunov. When he ran through him, they thought it was a fluke until he did it again to Manuwa. Now, Rakic is the hot new thing on the scene and Oezdemir is merely a gatekeeper. Well… that’s how most see it. Rakic is undeniably talented, but Oezdemir’s combination of technique, power, and durability make him the most dangerous opponent the young Russian has faced by far. I’ve waffled back and forth on my pick, but I’ll go with Rakic to use his length in a similar manner to the way Reyes did in his razor thin victory over Oezdemir. Rakic via decision
- Since coming aboard the UFC roster, Doo Ho Choi has never been a very active fighter. Now, coming off a two-year break between fights, he’s become a forgotten commodity, his last win coming in the summer of 2016. The exciting Korean isn’t the brawler many mistake him for, his epic contest with Cub Swanson largely to blame for that misconception. Nonetheless, Choi’s a dangerous counter puncher with incredible power. He’ll get the striking battle he wants out of Charles Jourdain, a Canadian with a flair for the flashy. While the youngster hasn’t shown the best of abilities to stuff takedowns, that’s unlikely to be a concern against Choi. Jourdain has proven to be durable, but he hasn’t faced anyone like Choi either. Expect this contest to be a favorite for FOTN. Choi via KO of RD2
- It’s almost impossible for me to look at Mike Rodriguez and not have images of Jon Jones pop into my head. Sporting a similar frame to that of the light heavyweight champion, Rodriguez doesn’t have anywhere near the mastery of attacking from a distance possessed by Jones. Nonetheless, he’s progressing along and willing to throw out a high-risk maneuver such as a flying knee or a spinning back fist. He is welcomed to Korea by Da Un Jung. The one thing Jung proved in his UFC debut against Khadis Ibragimov is that he can take a beating, enduring a hellacious onslaught before coming back to overwhelm the brutish Russian. He has shown some solid boxing technique too, but very little power. That’ll be problematic in the light heavyweight division. Problematic against Rodriguez too. Rodriguez via decision
- Despite coming up short in his first two UFC appearances, Marc-Andre Barriault has established himself as a dangerous action fighter. Sure, his ceiling is limited, but he’s durable and has enough dynamite in his fists to steal a victory or two he probably shouldn’t have any business winning… and there are plenty of wins out there for him to be had. He travels the Pacific to prove the third time is the charm against Jun Yong Park, an aggressive puncher who should bring out exactly what it is that makes Barriault fun. Despite never having been KO’d, Park’s aggression has gotten him in trouble before and Barriault has improved his patience to the point that he doesn’t have the stamina issues that plagued him in the past. Barriault’s experience against a higher level of competition is the final straw for me. Barriault via TKO of RD2
- Like many other Chinese prospects, Liu Pingyuan has caught many by surprise with his success since joining the UFC. He didn’t have a standout skill – and he still doesn’t – but he’s proven to be well-rounded and aggressive enough to win fights. He draws the toughest assignment of his career to date in Kyung Ho Kang. A smothering grappler who stepped up his aggression on the mat to secure a pair of submissions upon his return from his mandatory military service. Massive for the bantamweight division, Kang tends to slow significantly by the time the third round rolls by, but he’s been able to skate by with his toughness and early work in several contests. Pingyuan has been able to avoid anyone with a ground based attack thus far. Now that he finally has an opponent looking to ground him, he’s going to pay a heavy price. Kang via submission of RD1