With short time on his UFC Vegas 8 headliner, Aleksandar Rakic felt he’d earned a celebration.
A unanimous decision over one-time light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith was seven seconds away, but Rakic said wanted to show the audience he had done what he’d set out to do – dominate the fight.
“I love to do a little bit of a show, but only if I deserve it, and I think I deserved to put on a show like this,” Rakic told reporters after his win on Saturday night at UFC APEX. “I saw the clock, and I saw, OK, seven seconds left and so I go, OK, I’m going to stand up and celebrate a little bit.
“Because he was already done. He was already done. He didn’t even want to stand up, and then he stood up. It’s the fight business, but we also want to give something for the audience.”
Of course, there was no live crowd for the three-round fight beyond the officials working the UFC APEX. But Rakic was playing to loyal supporters in his native Austria and all over Europe. A split decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir left a bad taste he sought to wash out with a win over Smith, a top-tier light heavyweight seeking to get back in the win column after a brutal loss to one-time title challenger Glover Teixeira.
With champ Jon Jones no longer in the picture, Rakic also was making his case to UFC brass for the next title shot. Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes will fight later this year to determine the next champ after the long-reigning “Bones” vacated his title, and Rakic would like to meet the winner.
“I made a great performance tonight, and I think I’m the next for the title,” he said. “But if the UFC wants to see me in a five-round fight, they can do it. I was preparing for a three-round fight, but put on this great performance tonight, and I could go another two rounds with no problems. I was ready for five. Can you imagine me getting ready for a five-round fight with this pace? It’s amazing. We’re going to see what the UFC plans for me next. I’m going to be ready.”
Rakic said the foundation for his win was set with leg kicks, which he said Smith didn’t historically defend. Then, he sought to use his wrestling to neutralize the veteran’s striking.
“I worked hard on my wrestling and putting pressure on him. I made him really tired. I heard in the second and third how he was breathing heavy. The plan was, don’t rush and don’t go for the submissions. If he gave me something really, really, then I’d go for it. The goal was to dominate, put pressure, and to win.”
Over three rounds, Smith gradually wilted as Rakic carried out his game plan. Unanimous scorecards followed with one judge awarding a 10-8 to the up-and-comer in the third.
Reaction online to Rakic’s win was respectful, if measured. The tactical victory didn’t inspire an intense reaction from longtime MMA observers, but nothing could take away the 28-year-old fighter’s buoyancy. He was already targeting the top four fighters, though he said one stands out.
“I think the hardest challenge for me would be Reyes,” Rakic said. “He fought a very good fight against Jones. He’s fighting for the title with Jan. Both guys deserve a title shot. But Thiago, Glover and Jan are very strong athletes, and they are here in the top for a reason.”