In Gustafsson and Smith, we have two veterans who are both coming off of lopsided losses to Jon Jones. They’ll have plenty to prove, with Gustafsson wanting to show that there are more high-profile fights ahead of him even after two failed bids to become a UFC champion, and Smith having to shrug off any chatter of him being a fluke title challenger. With neither man currently in the contenders’ mix, expect them to fight with the same reckless abandon that got them to the top of the rankings in the first place.
In the co-main event (which was originally set to be Ilir Latifi vs. Volkan Oezdemir before Latifi was forced to withdraw due to a back injury), the slumping Jimi Manuwa has been given the tough task of halting a surging Aleksandar Rakic. Undefeated in three UFC appearances so far, the 27-year-old Rakic is poised to be a force at 205 pounds for years and he can make a major statement with a win over a respected contender like Manuwa.
Also on the main card, the charismatic Makwan Amirkhani meets Chris Fishgold in a featherweight bout, lightweights Damir Hadzovic and Christos Giagos look to continue their winning ways, and featherweight Daniel Teymur seeks his first UFC win against the debuting Sung Bin Jo.
What: UFC Stockholm
Where: Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden
When: Saturday, June 1. The seven-fight preliminary card begins at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and the five-fight main card airs at 1 p.m. ET exclusively on the ESPN+ streaming service.
It’s time for these guys to have some fun.
Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith have been saying all the right things about putting their baggage behind them and delivering an exciting fight, and I’m a believer. Saturday shouldn’t be about jockeying for position in the ranking, it should be about making sure the headliners walk out with an extra 50 Gs in their bank accounts.
If that’s the case, then Smith has a good chance of beating the more technically sound Gustafsson. For anyone not named Jon Jones, getting past Gustafsson’s potent jab is a nightmarish proposition, but Smith is willing to get busted up if it means keeping the pressure on his opponents. Of course, if he gets lazy and starts eating power punches from Gustafsson, then it will be a short night for him.
What Gustafsson has to be wary of is Smith’s dogged determination and the fact that he tend to do his best work later in the fight. Four of Smith’s UFC finishes have come after the first round, three in the third, which means Gustafsson can’t relax for a second.
All that said, Gustafsson has gone the distance with the best, and he’ll treat Smith with the utmost respect. This will look more like Gustafsson’s five-round fistfights with Jones and Daniel Cormier than his more methodical performances. Neither of those memorable contests went Gustafsson’s way and it will be another close call against Smith.
My gut says Smith ekes out a win after an entertaining 25 minutes of action.
Jimi Manuwa presents a unique challenge to Aleksandar Rakic not just because of his veteran status, but the power that he brings to the table. None of Rakic’s three previous UFC opponents had anything close to the finishing ability of “Poster Boy.”
Fortunately for Rakic, he’s shown himself to be a smart fighter, one with patience seemingly beyond his years. Rakic’s length and savvy allow him to walk forward aggressively while also setting up counter combinations as well as takedown opportunities. That’s exactly the kind of skill set that is needed to beat the hard-hitting Manuwa.
When fighting someone like Justin Ledet or Francimar Barroso, there’s room for error. There won’t be any against Manuwa, but if Rakic is his typically sharp self, this should be a decision win for him or perhaps even a knockout victory in the second or third round.
The last time Makwan Amirkhani fought in Stockholm, it was his UFC debut and he ended the proceedings in eight seconds with a flying knee knockout of Andy Ogle. Flashy though he can be, don’t expect him to do the same to Chris Fishgold.
“Mr. Finland” will want to display his striking, something that is easier said than done when you don’t have a pitbull like Fishgold hunting for a single leg. Like a lot of fighters with a strong wrestling base, Fishgold has some natural pop in his hands but he’ll want to turn this into a grappling contest, an area that Amirkhani won’t shy away from.
Unless Amirkhani can land something big on the feet early, this should develop into a chess match on the mat. Even if Fishgold is put on his back, he won’t let Amirkhani just work from inside his guard and he’ll take advantage of any openings to sweep or push Amirkhani off and set up takedowns of his own.
These long layoffs have to be taking their toll on Amirkhani. I can’t see him keeping up the pace with Fishgold for three rounds, so the Englishman will get the decision win here.
What have here is a matchup between a slow starter in Damir Hadzovic and a fast starter in Christos Giagos. Hadzovic makes great use of kicks to control the distance and if he opens up his boxing we could have a nice striking duel to look forward to.
Giagos has no issues with keeping his hands loose. He’ll look to pressure early and mix things up by testing Hadzovic’s takedown defense. Both fighters can wrestle, but Giagos is slightly stronger in that department both in initiating grappling and keeping the fight standing should he decide that’s where he wants the fight to be.
This will be another close one. I see Giagos winning on points.
Sung Bin Jo is an absolute specimen at 145 pounds. He’s blessed with the kind of athleticism that lets him fight a patient fight before exploding for a finish as he has in all nine of his pro bouts so far. Dealing with a tactical fighter like Daniel Teymur could give him headaches though.
Yes, Teymur has yet to see his hand raised in the UFC. But that speaks more to his level of competition than any major deficiencies on Teymur’s part. He’s an excellent striker who’s speed and versatility will give him the edge against Jo. The matchmakers are giving Teymur every opportunity to snap a three-fight skid in front of his home crowd and I think he capitalizes.
Sergey Khandozhko def. Rostem Akman