Taking place at the UFC Apex complex in Enterprise, Nevada (which is a part of the greater Las Vegas metro), UFC on ESPN 36 (aka UFC Vegas 54 in sportsbooks) features two titanic light heavyweight battles. In the second main event of the evening, Ryan Spann and Ion Cuțelaba square off in a battle that was supposed to take place back at the end of February but is now all dialed in for Saturday night. For the main event of the evening, Jan Błachowicz takes on Aleksandar Rakić in a showdown that could have major ramifications for who will fight for the UFC Light Heavyweight title next. It would be safe to assume the winner of this bout will go on to face the champion, Glover Teixeira, sometime soon.
For this preview, SBS will go over these two battles, what to look for from each fighter and who will ultimately be victorious in each battle.
|UFC on ESPN 36 Light Heavyweight Fights||The Pick|
|Błachowicz vs. Rakić||Rakić||-190||-190||-190|
|Spann vs. Cuțelaba||Spann||+200||+200||+200|
What to look for from: Jan Błachowicz
Currently the No. 1 ranked fighter in the UFC Light Heavyweight Rankings, the Polish Muay Thai combatant is a devastating machine inside the ring. This will be Błachowicz’s first competition since UFC 267 where he lost to Teixeira via rear-naked choke and, in the process, dropped his UFC Light Heavyweight title as well. Prior to that battle though, he was riding a five-fight win streak which included wins over Israel Adesanya (a title defense) and Domincick Reyes (who he won the UFC Light Heavyweight title from) at UFC 259 and 253, respectively. A balanced competitor, the Polish fighter has 28 career MMA wins with an overall record of 10-6 in the UFC. Though he is perhaps a bit older at 39 years of age, he will be hungry to reclaim his title and blast past Rakić.
What to look for from: Aleksandar Rakić
Błachowicz’s competition for this evening will be Rakić, who is nine years his junior. Currently recognized as the No. 3 fighter in the UFC Light Heavyweight Rankings, the Austrian striker is gearing up for his first fight in over a year on Saturday night. Rakić last fought in the UFC last March when he bested Thiago Santos by unanimous decision at UFC 259. With a record of 14-2, it would appear whenever Rakić fights that you do get the best version of him. A former professional kickboxer with a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the fighter has a stellar nine knockouts to his professional resume. This is easily his most prolific fight stat, given he has only competed in 16 MMA bouts and maintains a record of 6-1 in UFC competitions.
Prediction: An epic clash. Take Rakić to win here over the veteran Błachowicz in what should be a close but unanimous battle.
What to look for from: Ryan Spann
One of the up-and-coming fighters in the Light Heavyweight division, Spann, is looking to make some headlines on Saturday night in his clash with Cuțelaba. Though he is only 30 years old, Spann has been competing in professional MMA competitions since 2013 and currently boasts a record of 19-7. While he did fall to Anthony Smith last September via submission (rear-naked choke), he still maintains a professional record of 5-2 in the UFC. Prior to that bout, he had an impressive showing against Misha Cirkunov at the March 2021 UFC Fight Night where he won via TKO and garnered a Performance of the Night honor. Also, he has never lost back-to-back bouts in the UFC.
What to look for from: Ion Cuțelaba
On the opposite side of the ring for this bout will be Cuțelaba, who has earned the nickname “The Hulk” for his impressive physique. Hailing from Moldova, the 28-year-old is a powerhouse with a 16-6 professional MMA record. Following a unanimous decision victory over Devin Clark at the September 2021 UFC fight Night event, the Moldovan combatant is looking to string together his first back-to-back UFC wins since 2018. Though he is certainly an intimidating presence, Cuțelaba has struggled at times since joining the UFC back in 2016. Coming into the promotion, he had posted a professional record of 11-2, but since then, he has gone 5-5-1. He will be looking to change that tune on Saturday night.
Prediction: A powerful battle, this could go down to the wire or end in a first-round knockout given the strength displayed by each combatant. That said, Spann should be able to pull away given his slightly more impressive body of work.
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