With UFC Vegas 8 just around the corner, the UFC keeps the ball rolling with another phenomenal card.
Regardless of face value, almost every fight card has exceeded expectations. With up and coming talent wanting to make a name for themselves, seasoned fighters competing to keep themselves relevant, or ranked contenders looking for a path to the title, there’s an abundance of stories to look out for this weekend.
Here are five storylines to pay attention to.
Contender or Pretender?
After running off 6 wins in 7 fights, finishing every one of those fights impressively, #5 Ranked Lightweight Anthony “Lionheart” Smith has now lost 2 of his last 3. That includes coming up short in his Title shot vs Jon Jones and a brutal beatdown which had much controversy over a late stoppage vs #4 Ranked lightweight Glover Teixeira. With Jon Jones relinquishing his title to move up to heavyweight, now is the time to see if Smith can make the climb back to the top of the mountain.
If he wins here in dominating fashion, it might only take 1 more win to get himself another title shot. If he fails to secure a win, with all the fresh blood in the Light Heavyweight division, Smith will likely be put in the role of Gatekeeper, where he’s fighting guys at the bottom of the rank just to keep a number next to his name.
This weekend is make or break for Anthony Smith’s Title hopes, and we will see what’s he made of.
Hop back on the Hype train?
#8 Aleksander “Rocket” Rakic had won 12 straight including 9 knockouts before a tough split decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir. Most thought he won that fight so he could very well be on a 13 fight win streak at this point. Still, entering his prime age of only 28 he has a far way to grow.
After breaking into the rankings with a devastating head kick knockout he is well on his way to title contention. Rakic offers an explosive fighting style with the ability to put his opponent to sleep in a split second. Combine that with good takedown ability and one of the lowest strike absorption rates, Rakic is still very much a threat in this division. He faces his toughest challenge yet in former championship contender Anthony Smith and if he’s able to put him away, hop back on the hype train because this man has all the makings of a future title challenger.
His nickname isn’t rocket for no reason
Pick: Rakic by KO
Is Robbie Lawler still RUTHLESS?
Former Welterweight Champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler has been one of the UFC’s staples for 18 (!!) years. Since his debut in 2002, he has put on epic fights every time he steps in the ring. Now past his prime, the question becomes is Robbie still a top contender in this division?
Since his Title defense in 2016, he has now lost 4 of his last 5 including his title to Tyron Woodley. No longer are the days of Robbie getting into these wars with his opponents. Now we see him continually get taken down and held there and he doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness as before. That narrative can be put to bed with an opponent like Neil “The Haitian Sensation” Magny. While Magny does have the ability to mix it up and take it to the ground, he’s more likely to stand and bang with Robbie rather than guys like Colby Covington or Ben Askren.
Will Robbie be able to give a performance of old, or will Neil Magny break him down and potentially knock him out of the rankings? We will find out on Saturday.
Pick: Lawler via decision
Bad Blood Rematch
At the beginning of their last fight, Ankalaev and Cutelaba had to get pulled apart before the match even started. Unfortunately for everyone who wanted to see this fight go to the bitter end, the ref stopped the fight way too early after Cutelaba seemingly was out on his feet after some solid punches from Ankalaev. Immediately after the stoppage, Cutelaba protested repeatedly claiming he was fine. Now, half a year later, we finally get to see these two go at it. There’s no doubt these guys resent each other, and both will be looking to end each other.
Pick: Magomed Ankalaev via decision
Can Grasso reestablish herself as a contender?
After starting her career 9-0, #14 Ranked Strawweight Alexa Grasso was seemingly on her way as one of the best prospects in the division. After alternating wins and losses in her UFC career, she now is 1 loss away from being on the outside looking in. On the bright side, she still is young and should be able to use what she learned in her losses to help propel her career forward. She’s a good striker, and if she can put away Ji Yeon Kim, look for her to try to build some momentum and work her way up the ranks. If she loses, that number next to her name will belong to Ji Yeon and this might be the last time we hear about the boxer from Mexico.
Pick: Grasso via Decision
-- written by Three Piece Combo
Headline Photo Credit: MMA Weekly