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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Stockholm: Gustafsson vs. Smith - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the main card of UFC Stockholm, featuring a lightweight clash between Jimi Manuwa and Aleksander Rakic.

We were supposed to be getting light heavyweight contests for the top three fights of UFC Stockholm. Instead, after Ilir Latifi pulled up lame the day before weigh-ins, the co-main event between him and Volkan Oezdemir has been scuttled. Anyway, we do still have the main event between Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith, as well as Jimi Manuwa testing the mettle of Aleksander Rakic. Regardless, that was one of the few contests this card could ill-afford to lose as there weren’t many marquee matches – if you want to call them that – to begin with. Nonetheless, there are fights to go over.

The main card begins on ESPN+ at 1:00 PM ET/10:00 AM PT on Saturday.

Jimi Manuwa (17-5) vs. Aleksander Rakic (11-1), Light Heavyweight

Like Oezdemir, Manuwa comes into the event on a three-fight losing streak. Unlike Oezdemir, Manuwa doesn’t appear to be improving despite the poor results. At 39, it shouldn’t be a surprise Manuwa is slowing down. That hardly means Rakic emerging victorious is a sure thing. The last thing to disappear from most fighters is their power and Manuwa has always had plenty of that. Sure, he gets tired a little bit quicker. He can’t take a punch the way he used to either. However, Manuwa got near the top of the division off his physical gifts and they are still plentiful enough to allow him to physically dominate most of his opposition.

The question is whether Rakic represents most opposition. An overlooked prospect when he initially signed with the UFC, Rakic’s performance have been a mixed bowl. Sure, he hasn’t lost yet, but he wasn’t looking so hot early against Devin Clark. However, before that, he put on a clinic against Justin Ledet, outlanding the former heavyweight in significant strikes 104 to 12. Rakic also proved he can wrestle a bit in that contest, something no one was sure he could do.

The reason why Rakic didn’t leap out to observers in the first place is because he doesn’t have eye-catching athleticism. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad athlete, but it became readily apparent against Clack. Manuwa is a similar athlete and a craftier striker. If Rakic can survive Manuwa’s early attack, I expect him to outpoint the Brit. Otherwise, I’m expecting Manuwa to get back on track with an early stoppage. Manuwa via TKO of RD1

Makwan Amirkhani (14-3) vs. Chris Fishgold (18-2-1), Featherweight

Y’all remember when Amirkhani was seen as a big part of the next generation of featherweights? Yeah, he was supposed to be a player by now. Instead, thanks to fighting just once a year since 2016, Amirkhani has become an afterthought. It isn’t just inactivity that has held back the aggressive wrestle-grappler. He’s been unable to develop any sort of consistent standup attack and his energy tends to flag after the first round. He has been fighting in amateur boxing contests since October, so perhaps there is some progress in that arena. Still, boxing isn’t the same as MMA.

Fishgold presents an interesting challenge for Amirkhani as the Brit matches up very well on the mat with the Finn. True, he doesn’t have the amateur accolades Amirkhani does, but he blends his BJJ and submissions more fluidly than Amirkhani does. Like Amirkhani, Fishgold has his limitations on the feet, though he isn’t nearly as robotic as Amirkhani. Combine that with his endless gas tank and that should be enough for him to outlast Amirkhani in what should be a close, competitive contest. Fishgold via decision

And the early contests on the main card…

  • It took a while for him to find his footing, but Damir Hadzovic has effectively turned himself into a reliable action fighter at lightweight. If he wants to become more than that, he’ll have to fix his takedown defense. Giagos is sure to do that, focusing on a grounded attack in each of his UFC wins thus far. It would be shocking if he were to stray from that attack here. Expect him to grind out a decision. Giagos via decision
  • Perhaps the best Korean prospect to hit the UFC since Doo Ho Choi, Sung Bin Jo represents somewhat of a mirror opposite of Daniel Teymur: a high volume striker who often allows his contests to devolve into brawls. Teymur – elder brother to lightweight David – has had difficulty overcoming his stout frame thus far in his UFC career. Jo will be about a half-foot taller than his Swedish counterpart. Even if he doesn’t fully utilize that reach, that should be enough of a difference for him to find success. Jo via TKO of RD2