Staff Predictions: Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic - UFC on ESPN 36 1

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz returns to the cage this weekend when he faces Aleksandar Rakic in the main event of UFC on ESPN 36.

The fight card features 11 fights and will take place at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’ll be Blachowicz’s first time back inside the octagon following his submission defeat to Glover Teixeira at UFC 267 last year. For Rakic, it represents his biggest opportunity and a chance to emerge as a title contender in the division.

Read on for our expert staff predictions for this main event bout and the latest Blachowicz vs. Rakic betting odds.

Betting Odds

Aleksandar Rakic is a large betting favorite as we approach UFC on ESPN 36 this Saturday night. He’s currently listed at odds of -200 on BetUS.

  • Blachowicz: +160
  • Rakic: -200

Rakic’s -200 odds mean that a $100 wager would return a total of $150 if successful this weekend. Blachowicz, the underdog, would return $260 for those who bet $100 before UFC on ESPN 36.

Staff Predictions

Braeden Arbour

This is a very fun fight between two men who have devastating striking and high-level grappling. I expect that the majority of the fight will be contested on the feet, as it has been a strong point of advantage for both of them, especially as of late in their careers. However, it is notable that Jan Blachowicz is a very good jiu jitsu black belt and actually entered the UFC moreso believed to be a grappling threat. He is on the side of guard passer rather than guard player, he likes to utilize power and pressure and transition into submission attempts off of that pressure. Although quite a few different submissions have materialized throughout his career, most commonly he seems to transition to the back whether already on the floor or in the clinch before dragging his opponent down. The rear-naked choke then comes and is the most common submission on his record. On his back, his guard is defensive, and submissions off of his back has not been a threat his opponents typically have hands to worry about, but he is great at controlling posture, tying up arms, and keeping a tight closed guard so as to very much minimize any kind of offense from above.

Aleksander Rakic, likely won’t be coming in planning to shoot on Blachowicz unless he is hurt and goes to it as a means to recover, however, Rakic possesses some of the heaviest hips in the division and sprawls and maintains a wide base very quickly as soon as grappling exchanges are initiated. This results in him often ending up on top and when controlling an opponent from the bottom he is very happy to stay heavy and grind out the clock with smart ground and pound. He does not entertain a jiu-jitsu match if he can help it and does his best to minimize movement as much as possible while still landing.

Both men can absolutely knock each other out as they both have great striking and very powerful striking. Blachowicz stands like a kickboxer with a very short stance and thus a pretty tall posture. This is because he does not extend on his shots, he does everything from a relatively medium range and doesn’t rotate through shots. While this may look awkward at times and negates using his reach to the fullest extent, it allows his combinations to chain quickly regardless of how the punches actually are. Furthermore, Polish power is evident, and he doesn’t really need to extend fully on everything to get a reaction. In terms of specific weapons, Blachowicz has wicked body kicks and great hook combinations, and his left hook in particular is devastating. He is especially good at landing it in transition off clinch breaks or in wild exchanges.

Rakic on the other hand absolutely extends through his shots. He fights in a much longer stance than Blachowicz and is always pumping his jab out to set timing and range for himself. His striking is probably faster than Blachowicz but his combinations are shorter as he extends his whole body into most of his punches. The most devastating strike in his arsenal however is his right low kick which has consistently impacted his fights. He has to be careful about Blachowicz intercepting his kicks with a step-in hook as he does tend to wind them up but if he can keep going to his jab to set them up they can be deadly. His left switch kick to the head and body is also exceptionally quick and sharp. I think that we will see good moments for both men over five rounds, however I think that when they land Rakic tends to really break his opponents down before he finds the finishing blow, whereas individually Blachowicz tends not to cause so much damage until he finds that one clean on down the line. Although Blachowicz has the greater experience in long fights, I see Rakic breaking down Blachowicz legs which make it even more difficult to match Rakic on the end of his jab and longer kicks.

Prediction: Aleksander Rakic to win by KO

Michael Pounders

Blachowicz has the moniker and reputation of “Polish Power,” yet, only 8 of his 28 wins have come via KO/TKO. 9 of those wins have come by submission. So, while “Polish Power” is a great nickname, it is not the most accurate. A more accurate nickname might be “Polish Professional” because, at 39 years old, Blachowicz has been there, seen that, and done it in the light heavyweight division. The ex-champ is a complete mixed martial artist with a well-rounded game that lends itself well to 5-round fights. Blachowicz has a nasty leg kick which he uses relentlessly at range. He tends to pair his leg kick with a stiff jab that helps him stay away from some of the more heavy-handed opponents atop the division. His power, that seems to have leveled up with age, tends to manifest most when he L-steps for a counter shot as a frustrated opponent recklessly rushes forward. Blachowicz’s footwork, range knowledge, kicking game, timing, and “Polish Power” all make him a dangerous striker, but, his best attribute is arguably his offensive wrestling and grappling. As stated above, Blachowicz implements a damaging leg kick and jab that can frustrate his opponent and force an ill-advised rush; or, more often, Blachowicz will immobilize his opponent by chopping the lead leg, then, look for his own takedown. Blachowicz wrestles well with natural strength and a strong upper body. Once on the mat, Blachowicz lays heavy, can hold position, and has a sneaky submission game. At this stage, the difficulty in handicapping the former champion’s fights is predicting which form will show up. If he is the aggressor, works the legs early, and mixes in his wrestling, Blachowicz is still a contender. But, if he’s a step slow, hesitates on the feet, or fights off his back foot, he will struggle.

Rakic is young, big, fast, strong, athletic, and has legs the size of redwoods. He moves impossibly well for someone of his size and is able to effortlessly combine strikes. His kickboxing is quick, powerful, and impressive both from an athletic and technical standpoint. When he’s on, Rakic can combine his power, technique, and athleticism to create violent finishes. Yet, often, while the separate skills are apparent, his struggle to combine them results in less emphatic decisions. Rakic primarily fights at range or in the clinch. Because of his massive frame and wide array of kicks, he prefers to avoid being in the pocket where the playing field is more level for smaller fighters or better boxers. If his kicking distance is crashed, Rakic will look to engage in the clinch where he can again use his height to hold position and land heavy knees. From the clinch, Rakic can land his own takedown. Once on the mat, the #3 ranked light heavyweight has shown improved ability to control the position while on top. His control is position over submission but it is an effective way to win key minutes of a round. The fighters who have forced Rakic to struggle, only 2 of which have beat him, cut of the cage so he cannot use his mobility as well, avoided kickboxing range at all costs, and forced a more traditional boxing match.

If Blachowicz stands at kickboxing range for too long, I could see Rakic landing a heavy blow, finding the finish, and put the division on notice. He’s that athletic, powerful, and talented. However, Blachowicz is an intelligent fighter with the boxing pressure and wrestling to give Rakic real problems in this fight. I see Blachowicz forcing the fight in the pocket and mixing in wrestling at the end of rounds to win a close but decisive decision.

Prediction: Blachowicz by Decision

Joe Pounders

Alexander Rakic has an elite combination of size – he stands 6’4’’ – and athleticism for the light heavyweight champion. This combination accompanied by an impressive fight arsenal of attacks justifies the notion that many people in the MMA community believe he can become the light heavyweight champion in the near future.

The best attack in Rakic’s fight toolbox is his laser-quick leg kick. This attack is effective given he understands how range and movement create opportunities to land clean kicks to both the calf and body of his opponent. If Rakic sees success early with landing effective kicking attacks, he begins to enter a flow state of striking with his hands off of his kicks. Moreover, when he feels confident in the octagon, Rakic has shown effective grappling and an underrated offensive submission attack, thus making him a fighter who can finish the bout wherever the fight ensues.

The biggest issue Rakic has faced in the octagon is finding success if his typical strike-and-move game plan does not immediately work. More specifically, Rakic has looked puzzled and timid in the octagon if he does not find success early. I believe these moments surface when he focuses too much on footwork and defense, thus making him a fighter that seems gun-shy. While this is indeed a problem, particularly with putting forth a performance worthy of contending for a belt, Rakic has had success with winning these passive fights, which elevates some of the short-term worries with forecasting him to win.

Somewhat similar to Rakic, Jan Blachowicz has had moments of inconsistency throughout his long-tenured UFC career. The best of Jan is being a former UFC light heavyweight champion who is the only man to beat the UFC middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, in an MMA fight. The worst of Jan is looking completely lost and unlike himself in the octagon, as noted by his most recent fight against the now champion, Glover Teixeira.

Although Jan does have moments of inconsistency, the vast majority of his bouts are him performing to the level he did to win the UFC title. In these high-level performances, Jan showcases intelligence, elite power, and a strong variety of strikes for however long the fight ensues – often him finishing the fight prior to the scheduled duration. All three listed attributes are seamlessly blended together, as he intelligently throws kicks – to all levels – and punch combinations with fight-ending power.

The fight intelligence is further extended to him, being an elite kickboxer, electing to forego a striking affair when fighting Adesanya, and instead, wrestle his way to victory. The wrestling Jan displayed in this fight seemed to be far more strength-driven contrary to technique, but, knowing Adesanya has elite takedown defense against elite wrestling middleweights, rationalizes the belief that Jan has sound offensive grappling. But, as seen in his last fight, Jan can look completely lost, particularly from a defensive ground position, so, he will need to either showcase improvement against submissions and/or showcase the ability to scramble his way to keeping the fight standing if he desires to win this fight and earn an opportunity to re-win the belt.

Both men are predominate kickboxers which should signify the fight stay standing. But, knowing Rakic likes to create a game plan that enables him to find success early in the fight, I expect him to attempt to get Jan on his back and submit him the same way Glover did just last year. And, knowing Jan elected to wrestle his way to victory against the elite kickboxer of Adesanya just two fights ago, he may choose to employ a similar game plan against the fast and dangerous Rakic.

So, this fight is far more difficult to predict than it seems on paper. When ambiguity is at play, I begin to analyze consistency and bet value. Luckily, the more consistent fighter just so happens to be the fighter I believe to have the greater value of price – Jan Blachowicz. My rationale for this is that Rakic has had disappointing performances in 2 of his last 3 fights; meanwhile, Jan has won 5 of his last 6 fights, and if this fight would have taken place prior to both men’s last bout, I would expect the price to be Jan between a -200/-220 . So, the consistency and value align with Jan which supports my backing of him in this somewhat uncertain affair.

Bet: Jan Blachowicz to win

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