UFC Fighter Focus: Aljamain Sterling, Casey Kenney, and Alexander Rakic

UFC Fighter Focus Sterling Kenney And Rakic

Here are three fighters I could all see challenging for if not winning a world title one day. Aljamain Sterling is already in the position to challenge for the belt this weekend at UFC 259.

Joining him on the card will be 5 undefeated fighters and 6 with just one loss.

I think we have 12 competitors who have between 2 and 4 losses in their pro MMA careers.

The level of athlete and martial artist at this event is something we really haven’t seen before. The main event is two world champs so that makes 4 current title holders competing on this card.

Where do we even begin?

I wanted to talk to you guys about at least five fighters today but that would be simply too much. If you want to teach a man nothing, you teach him everything.

That is where the f-word comes into play. No, not that one. I’m talking about focus, of course.

The ability to zoom out is certainly underrated and underutilized in life but we are rapidly losing our ability to keep our focus for extended periods of time.

Or is that just me?

Today, let’s pull out the microscopes from under the science desks and dial them in on 3 UFC fighters on the verge of stardom. Oh, and of course, we will examine their betting odds to win their respective fights this weekend at UFC 259 and make a prediction on the outcome.

Alexander Rakic

Alexander Rakic is one of the new breed of light heavyweights in the UFC who are all 6’4” or taller with as much speed as they have power. To me, that is the scariest division in the UFC without a doubt.

Rakic is a force. Prochazka is as wild as he is good. Dominick Reyes almost beat Jon Jones. I suppose Johnny Walker was on this list at one point in time but ever since he destroyed his shoulder doing the flying worm while celebrating a win, Johnny has had a very rough go inside the Octagon.

Alexander Rakic was born and raised in vibrant Vienna, Austria by his family who was of Serbian decent. He was always very strong and athletic and got his start in competitive martial arts fairly early.

He was 14 when he first began to study the striking arts of kickboxing and boxing. When he turned 18, it was time to learn wrestling and BJJ. These skills, of course, began to pay off in a defensive sense right away but Rakic was able to take down, control, and beat up Anthony Smith in his last fight for the UFC.

This was back in late August so he will be coming off of a 6 month layoff when he fights Thiago Santos, another former title challenger to Jon Jones.

I like Rakic and his only loss in the UFC is highly debatable. I remember watching from a train in Hanoi as the internet speed kept up through the countryside. We picked Rakic and I thought he clearly won the fight but two of the three judges that day apparently have never been kicked in the leg.

I don’t say that because I want to do it. I mean, I do but my point is that leg kicks can really damage you the two judges that scored the fight for Volkan Oezdemir completely disregarded Alexander racking up leg kicks for 3 rounds.

He lost the first fight of his pro career and the one split decision to Vokan. Other than that, pro MMA has been all wins for the Austrian. His only notable win, though, was the W over Anthony Smith by unanimous decision.

Alexander Rakic And Anthony Smith

He is more physical than Anthony and it showed in that fight. I don’t, however, know if he is going to be able to bully Thiago Santos. If Rakic can pull that off then look out! We may have a future world champion on our hands.

Santos, though, did just turn 37 this year and is 0-1 after his knee was thoroughly shredded in his fight against Jon Jones. ACL, MCL, PCL, LCL, oh and the meniscus too. Good times! Thiago kept fighting not just for seconds or even minutes but for rounds! He did more than a 3 round fight with that bad of an injury.

We know the man has heart but I think his only route to victory here against Alexander Rakic is a knockout. The two giants will be competing inside of the small Octagon which will play into the hands of whichever man is able to stay on the front foot.

I don’t think we will see any grappling exchanges but Rakic might surprise us. This is likely going to play out entirely on the feet. Who takes the first step back is a solid question that I don’t think I can answer.

I certainly favor the movement of Rakic over Santos and his bionic knee but that forward pressure is a game changer, especially for someone who likes to kick as much as the Austrian

Looking at the betting odds provided by BetOnline.AG, we can see that the favorite, Rakic, is just (-155) vs Thiago Santos who comes in at (+135). Most of the other online sportsbooks have Alexander up at (-170) so the (-155) just looks even better.

I like the age gap and I like the gap in mileage even more. Thiago has lost to David Branch and somehow, Eric Spicely. He has been KO’ed a couple of times as well which is definitely worrisome against a powerful puncher like Rakic.

Please Note:
Rakic, conversely, has yet to be put away by strikes albeit against weaker competition. This is a trajectory thing too

One guy is on the way up the hill and the other on his way down from the mountain top.

A method of victory play is pretty risky as both men are capable of ending the contest at any time. The same goes for a round total.

Alexander Rakic isn’t that expensive at (-155) and those odds will likely creep up as the week progresses so jump on the sale right now.

Pick: Rakic Moneyline

Casey Kenney

Casey Kenney has impressed me since the first day I saw him fight. I saw and still see a whole heck of a lot of Frankie Edgar influence in his game. That is really cool now that we are starting to notice these things as the sport gets older.

Casey isn’t the only one, though. I would venture to guess that The Answer is the most mimicked fighting style of any UFC fighter in history. Well, that is among the serious athletes who make a profession out of this thing.

Kenney almost plucked off more than he could punch when he fought Nathaniel Wood to a unanimous decision victory that came down to the final round. Wood is a great striker who puts in time at The Knowles Academy in the UK.

Casey Kenney Vs Nathan Wood

These guys are pumping out world champions in Muay Thai just one after the other. Jonathan Haggerty leads the way for these guys. He fights over in One Championship but no MMA, at least not yet.

Wood and Kenney had one of the best rounds of the entire year in the UFC but inevitably slowed as they moved into the second half of the second round. They went into the third round tied 1-1 and that is when Kenney showed us why he could be a world champion one day.

Exhausted but determined, Casey found a way to get the fight to the mat and his top control kept him there long enough to secure the round and the win. I thought the wrestling for Kenney would be the difference but I surely don’t like sweating that hard for a favorite.

Casey Kenney is one of those fighters who doesn’t really have any holes in his game. We are 3-0 betting on Casey Kenney. Should we make it 4?

Casey Kenney Head Kicking

If we want to do that, we have to bet against the legendary mastermind of MMA, Dominick Cruz.

Does Dominick Cruz have one last run in him or will the outcome of this fight be another case of career trajectory? We know Kenney is on the way up. The guy looks incredible and improves every time we see him fight.

Please Note:
The two men are pretty much the same size and reach. Dom obviously is much more elusive. Casey Kenney, as strong as he has been in most of his fights as well as spending some time in top control, he gets hit too much.

Absorbing more than 4 per minute compared to less than two on Cruz’s end. I believe that without Kenney being able to threaten with the takedown or use it to get himself out of trouble, he is going to be at a striking disadvantage against Cruz.

Kenney may win this but I think without the extended layoffs, Crus should be the betting favorite in this one.

Pick: Cruz by decision for (+200)

Aljamain Sterling

This is another fighter who is perpetually underrated and certainly under-promoted. Aljamain Sterling won a lot of decisions early in his career fighting inside of the Octagon and I think the company has had him on the bad boy list ever since.

Eventually, though, they had to give Aljo his shot at the belt and that’s what we are seeing this Saturday night at UFC 259. Aljamain will fight Petr Yan in the Russian’s first ever title defense and the betting odds are very interesting.

And by that I mean they are dead even at (-110). There is a massive sample size out there for Sterling and Yan has been pretty consistent winning all 7 of his UFC fights to date.

Aljamain Sterling came from humble beginnings with 19 siblings. I imagine there were some good scraps because parents only have so many hands to break them up.

Sterling didn’t quite have the grades for a Division I school to wrestle but everything happens for a reason. He met Jon Jones in junior college who gave him the idea of fighting in MMA. To his credit, Aljo stayed the course and received his college degree after transferring to a 4-year school where he was an All American in Division III wrestling, two times.

A lot of people don’t know about The Bomb Squad but that was Jon Jones’ first gym in upstate New York. Aljo put in a lot of time there before moving to his current home, Serra Longo MMA on Strong Island as he likes to call it.

I was lucky enough to meet Aljamain Sterling when he was in town for some fights. He came to open sparring that day and I asked for a round. He told me, uhh, you’re a little big for me. I thought, hey George Roop fought at Bantamweight.

It was a stretch, no pun intended, but Roop made it work for him. I’m the exact same size as that guy so I thought I would ask. He obliged and thankfully, we were just kickboxing and he didn’t take me up then down.

After the rounds, he was super respectful and gave me a follow back on IG. I have been a huge fan ever since.

Stories aside, the guy has emerged as one of if not the best fighter in the world at 135 pounds and we have to show him his respect.

At the same time, though, we cannot sit here and ignore the skills and attributes of Petr No Mercy Yan. Yan really hasn’t fought anyone like Aljo. No one that long who is still strong and can wrestle. Not only that but Sterling has the submission prowess, much like the aforementioned Jon Jones, to go along with his style of lengthy levering, explosiveness, and fight IQ. Each guy seems to know the right time to explode and sometimes more importantly when to conserve energy.

My basketball coach used to tell me “Get tired” when I was in the game. I didn’t think I was being lazy but there was some energy conservation going on. In MMA, though, there are no time outs or substitutions so you must keep your heart rate and lactic acid under control.

Please Note:
I think Sterling does as good of a job at that as anyone else. Sure, if you don’t have any explosion to begin with like the Diaz brothers and you spend half of your exercise time running marathons, then yea, your recovery, and energy management aren’t as impressive.

Coming out and saying we are confident in either side whether it be Aljo or Yan, I think both sentiments are equally silly. Many experts have worked hours and hours and they got nothing.

Are you that much smarter than everyone else? Maybe you do see something. I have stuck with my gut after hearing 20 other experts in agreement and won but it isn’t a wise undertaking every week.

These two are pretty evenly matched even if their styles differ. The gaps in between those styles are where the fight will be won or lost. I think Sterling has much better attributes physically like his length that make me pick him.

I think it’s a 60/40 fight and Sterling is the better athlete with the better frame.

Pick: Sterling

In Conclusion

There are your three fighters to focus on for UFC 259. Aljamain Sterling has been a very consistent fighter for the UFC and bettors alike. Petr Yan, same thing.

The difference in the two men lies in their physical traits. I’m not sure about Petr Yan’s submission defense but Cody Stamman’s was good before he tapped to Sterling and so was Cory Sandhagen’s.

Alexander Rakic is one of our three to see on Saturday night at UFC 259. I love this guy’s game of strong straight punches and thunderous low kicks. Seeing him use his wrestling against Anthony Smith was such a boost for his career.

Not only did it help him secure that win fairly easily but he also put the rest of the division on notice. Smith is known to be a very good grappler and Rakic was simply smashing him. I like Rakic this week against the fading Thiago Santos but don’t hammer the bet too hard as Thiago and Thor’s Hammer could beat you to it.

Finally, we went the opposite way with Casey Kenney. I think he is very hittable and there isn’t anything about his game that is super tricky or threatening. He is very good at what he does but he doesn’t have the power or boxing savvy that a not-rocked Cody Garbrandt does. His wrestling isn’t a big enough threat at the highest level for him to mix it into his striking successfully, or at least he hasn’t proven it yet.

Dominick Cruz, conversely, has nothing left to prove. I’m sure he might want to get 5 minutes alone with referee Keith Peterson but after a long reign as champ and wins over first ballot hall of farmers not to mention the leg injuries, you would think he would be done.

Then you listen to him speak and he is one of the most intense and competitive guys in the sport. He isn’t going out like he did against Cejudo. I think he has a strong performance against Casey Kenney at UFC 259 this Saturday night.

Get your bets in now or forever hold your horses, team! The value is there, especially with Rakic so jump on that one!


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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.