The UFC 259 main card is set to sort out the promotion’s light heavyweight title picture. The company’s #4 ranked 205-pounder, Aleksandar Rakic, will be throwing down with former title challenger, Thiago Santos — and then the main event has the UFC’s middleweight champ, Israel Adesanya moving up in weight to challenge Jan Blachowicz for his belt.
Before the fights this weekend, Bloody Elbow sat down with Rakic to discuss his approach for his match with Santos, the new wave of calf kicks in MMA, and whether or not Adesanya winning the 205-pound title might hold up the division.
- This is your second match during the COVID era. Have you gotten used to training during the pandemic at all?
“I’m getting used to it a little bit, but everything what you want to do it’s a little bit harder right now, you know? I’m doing the camp in Croatia. Three of my coaches are living in Austria. So, we need to cross the border to Croatia; it’s just a four-hour drive. You need the tests. you need to plan everything. We flew in a coach from Sweden, then he needs a test. Then, here it’s a lockdown, not it was a lockdown, but pro fighters are available to train. Everything is a little bit harder. To fly to the U.S. you need extra security thing, but we are doing the best.”
- You have a knack for building off of the rear uppercut. You knocked out Jimi Manuwa by putting a lead head kick behind it of all things. Leading with that particular strike can be dangerous (see Aiemann Zahabi’s brutal KO of Drako Rodriguez). What is it about the ‘6’ that allows you to be so effective with it?
“I’ve been training standup and kickboxing more than 16-years. I started as a kid at 13-years-old. The first thing I started with was kickboxing light contact. In light contact kickboxing, some moves are different than in full contact, or in boxing. You’re throwing things like a front foot head kick with no switching stance. This follows me through my whole career, and sometimes I put those things from the last years in because those guys are not getting used to this.”
- ‘Smashing’ Anthony Smith on the ground last year at UFC Vegas 8:
“I try really to be the most well-rounded fighter in the light heavyweight division. You say now I dominate Smith on the ground, yes. He is a legit black belt and in the interviews before the fight he called me like a one-dimensional fighter. This I took a little bit personally. So, that’s the reason I smash him on the ground. I wanted to prove, not to him, only to the guys that I am an all around fighter.”
- Falling in love with grappling and wrestling:
“I’ve been working on my wrestling and my grappling, a lot. I’m training with high level wrestlers, and a high level wrestling coach, and a lot of BJJ black belts. For me, it’s important to put on a good performance and be good everywhere, not only in the striking. Yes, striking is my base and I’m coming from striking, but man I’ve fell in love with grappling and wrestling. I’ve been doing this more than ten-years now and I feel comfortable everywhere the fight goes.”
- You dropped Anthony Smith with calf kicks, which is a technique that seems to be revolutionizing there sport. What is it about kicking that part of the leg that’s so devastating?
“The calf kick is something new in the UFC or MMA game. Kicking below the knee, and kicking the calf sometimes you hit the nerve because there’s a lot of nerves. Sometimes you kick the nerve and you don’t feel your foot. You hit the nerve and you don’t feel the steps. Some guys in some fights want to walk, but couldn’t. It stopped them. For me, the calf kicks is only to open up the game, to make the guy slower, to pick him apart. I’m training calf kicks, but I’m not 100% focusing on this. It’s just an opening and I believe Santos watched my fights and he’s also getting ready to check my calf kicks and low kicks.”
- Your UFC 259 opponent Thiago Santos is much more known for his striking than he is for his grappling. Do you think it’s worth the risk to keep it on the feet for any extended period of time?
“This I’m king to decide in the fight. We have a gameplan, but it depends on the momentum. I’m also a striker and I’m dangerous in the standup. We know Santos is switching stances. I brought over today came a southpaw former Muay Thai world champion. I’m going to spar with him tomorrow southpaw. I have good kickboxing guys orthodox. I’m getting ready for both stances. I know what to do if he switches stances or not. In the grappling and the wrestling part, I see my chances. But I’m not going to force the wrestling and the grappling to just went to the fight and shoot a single or a double leg. We’re going to see what happens. I feel very comfortable on my feet. I know he’s a dangerous striker with wild hooks and kicks.”
- The UFC 259 main event has middleweight champion Israel Adesanya moving up to challenge Jan Blachowicz for his light heavyweight strap. If Adesanya pulls out the victory, do you think that could potentially hold up the division and delay your chance at a title shot?
“Yeah, I mean if Adesanya wins, let’s see what he decides. Maybe he don't want to defend the light heavyweight title, he wants to go back to middleweight. But I’m believing that he wants to defend the title, and if he needs to face me then that’s perfect for myself. Adesanya is undefeated, he’s middleweight champion, if he beats Jan he’s a double champ. So if he’s fighting me and I beat him I take all his glory and all his legacy. Taking someone’s zero from his record means a lot and I’d love to be the first-guy to beat him.”
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