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UFC on ESPN 36 best bets, odds: Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic

Best bets and analysis for Saturday's UFC event, headlined by top light heavyweight contenders in Las Vegas.
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Former light heavyweight champion and No. 1 contender Jan Blachowicz steps into the octagon as the underdog at SI Sportsbook (+155) against an extremely dangerous opponent in Aleksandar Rakic. The third-ranked contender did not earn his ranking or his heavy favorite status (-188) without reason. He is 3-1 in his last four fights, with convincing decisions over division veterans Anthony Smith and Volkan Oezdemir.

Blachowicz, a grizzled veteran and one of the unlikeliest and most underrated champions in UFC history, is hoping that a finish or overwhelming decision against Rackic will secure him the next title shot.

'UFC on ESPN 36: Blachowicz vs. Rackic'

Date: Saturday, May 14 | 7:30 p.m. ET

Location: UFC Apex | Las Vegas, Nev.

PRELIMS: 7:30 p.m. ET

  • Nick Maximov (-450) vs Andre Petroski (+290)
  • Tatsuro Taira (-250) vs Carlos Candelario (+205)
  • Virna Jandiroba (-188) vs Angela Hill (+155)
  • Michael Johnson (-150) vs Alan Patrick (+125)
  • Viviane Araujo (+100) vs Andrea Lee (-118)

MAIN CARD: 10 p.m. ET

  • Jake Hadley (-225) vs Allan Nascimento (+188)
  • Frank Camacho (+105) vs Manuel Torres (-125)
  • Katlyn Chookagian (-175) vs Amanda Ribas (+145)
  • Davey Grant (-300) vs Louis Smolka (+240)
  • Ryan Spann (+188) vs Ion Cutelaba (-225)
  • Jan Blachowicz (+155) vs Aleksandar Rackic (-188)

Here are our writers’ best bets and analysis for the card:

SI MMA's Justin Barrasso:

Jan Blachowicz had an iconic run that culminated in winning the light heavyweight title. Since losing to Glover Teixeira, it appears he's lost all of his momentum. Injuries and mental fatigue have wore him down … but he still possesses otherworldly power.

BET: Blachowicz by KO (+450)

MMA Underground's John Morgan:

While I generally prefer to find underdogs who seem to have a real path to victory, I'm siding with a favorite who gets underappreciated by the public in Katlyn Chookagian. “Blonde Fighter” is the No. 1 contender at 125 pounds and has spent years in the upper echelon of the division.

On Saturday, Amanda Ribas moves up from 115 pounds to take on Chookagian and the Brazilian will have to face an opponent six inches taller and with two added inches of reach. Ribas is a talented grappler but she'll have to deal with Chookagian's constant movement and capable takedown defense. Add in that Chookagian's current three-fight winning streak has been built against capable and larger grapplers in Jennifer Maia, Viviane Araujo and Cynthia Calvillo, and she should be in fine form to deal with what's coming her way. I like Chookagian as a favorite, and I'd take her by decision if you can find that line.

BET: Chookagian (-175); Look via DEC (+110)

SI.com's Robin Lundberg:

I'm going with Aleksandar Rakic in the main event. I feel many will be tempted to take Jan Blachowicz as an underdog, but Rakic is on the rise and Blachowicz is coming off an injury. Given the style of fighters involved, this is one that could end early, but regardless of whether it goes the distance … I'm taking the favorite.

BET: Rakic moneyline (-188)

SI Video's Julian Pinto:

In the main event, I have Jan Blachowicz beating Aleksandar Rakic. Rakic does a good job of landing calf kicks, which should be easier to do against Blachowicz who often fights flat-footed. Despite that I think Blachowicz will have the better exchanges in the striking department, which is where I think this fight will be won. He sits on his strikes and if he can land the kind of body kicks that he landed on Dominick Reyes, I think Jan will stop Rakic.

Why I think that strategy is so important and carries so much weight is due to the fact that Jan was landing a lot of lead leg body kicks on Reyes. Those kicks with the kind of power he was throwing usually take longer to land as those kicks require an extra range of motion, whether it be switching into the kick or stepping into the kick. If you are fighting a southpaw and you fight right-handed like Jan does, the usual line of thinking would be to kick with the rear leg to hit the more exposed part of the body, as those kicks are easier to throw without telegraphing. If you look at the fight with Dom Reyes, the marks on Reyes’ body from the kicks were on his right side, which is the area where, in theory, you avoid kicking, as it is easier to block kicks on your right side as a south paw with your lead hand already up and in a favorable position to block those strikes.

Rakić mostly fights right-handed, though he will switch stances sometimes. If Jan is able to land those kicks the same way he did against Reyes, and is able to attack and land the same kind of shots on a presumably weaker part of the body, I think he will finish Rakic.

BET: Blachowiz via KO (+450)

SI Video's Doug Vazquez:

I'm excited for a main event that features two dangerous fighters in Blachowicz and Rakic. Jan, the former lightweight champ, lost his strap via a devastating submission by Glover Texeira in October of last year. The Polish puncher has been somewhat disrespected throughout his UFC career, and finds himself as a dog here. He is nearing the twilight of his career and he is facing a younger, more athletic fighter and Rakic and I think the oddsmakers got this one right. Im going to take some very good plus-money for Rakic, the moneyline favorite, to finish the former champ. Also looking at under 3.5 rounds for a sprinkle at +110.

BET: Rakic via KO (+180); Look at under 3.5 rounds (+110)

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.