Volkan Oezdemir and Aleksandar Rakic headed into South Korea with well-earned reputations as knockout artists, but their clash at UFC on ESPN+ 23 showed they both have chins to match, as they battled all the way to the scorecards in Busan.
The two light heavyweight finishers went toe-to-toe through three full rounds at Sajik Arena in the night’s co-main event, which streamed live on ESPN+. And a hotly-contested 15 minutes, it was Oezdemir (17-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) who got the nod via split decision.
The bout started in explosive fashion, as Rakic (12-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC) came flying out of his corner and connected with two solid punches, then a flying knee, as he backed Oezdemir against the fence. The Austrian then looked to surprise the Swiss fighter with a guillotine choke, but Oezdemir recovered well before the action returned to the center of the octagon.
Rakic continued to boss things from the outside, mixing up punches and low leg kicks as Oezdemir looked to step in and use his powerful short-range punches, and one snapping right hand in particular from “No Time” put Rakic on alert.
And, just as Oezdemir appeared to be finding a foothold in the contest, Rakic mixed things up and took his man to the canvas with a single-leg, then looked to work him over with power punches against the fence after they returned to the feet. The threat of the knockout was ever-present as the pair threw with full power, but Rakic looked the slicker striker from range, as he connected with a clean two-punch combination before sliding away from a right-hand counter from Oezdemir in the final moments of an action-packed opening round.
But if Rakic had the better of things in the opening round, Oezdemir came back into the contest in Round 2, as he turned to his leg kicks and had immediate success. His first serious kick of the second stanza connected powerfully, leaving the Austrian with a large, nasty-looking swelling just below the left knee, which continued to grow in size as the round progressed. Oezdemir returned to that target repeatedly throughout the round as the pace of the bout slowed and the Swiss began to edge the striking exchanges.
Perhaps knowing the fight was in the balance, Rakic came out swinging at the start of Round 3 and connected with a big hook, which Oezedemir took well. The Swiss fighter then returned fire with shots of his own as the pair continued to battle back and forth. Both men landed solid left hooks as they chased a late finish. Oezdemir clipped his man with a head-kick, while Rakic continued to land jabs from range, while mixing in takedown attempts that ultimately proved unsuccessful as the two noted knockout artists battled all the way to the scorecards.
The fight was almost too close to call, and left the three octagonside judges split on the overall winner. When the scores were read, it was Oezdemir whose hand was raised with scores of 28-29, 29-28 and 29-28 going his way after a tight, competitive matchup.
“I’ve been on the wrong side of a decision already, on my last fight with Dominick Reyes,” said Oezdemir after the fight. “Now I’m going to let Reyes do his thing. And when Dominick Reyes comes back, I’ll be ready for him.”
Oezdemir then went on to call for a matchup with fellow light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith, who submitted him back at UFC Fight Night 138 in Moncton in October 2018.
Up-to-the-minute UFC on ESPN+ 23 results include:
Volkan Oezdemir def. Aleksandar Rakic via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) Charles Jourdain def. Dooho Choi via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:32 Da Un Jung def. Mike Rodriguez via KO (punches) – Round 1, 1:04 Jun Yong Park def. Marc-Andre Barriault via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) Kyung Ho Kang def. Liu Pingyuan via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27) Ciryl Gane def. Tanner Boser via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) Seung Woo Choi def. Suman Mokhtarian via unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-25) Omar Morales def. Dong Hyun Ma via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 29-28) Alexandre Pantoja def. Matt Schnell via KO (punches) – Round 1, 4:17 Raoni Barcelos def. Said Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) Amanda Lemos def. Miranda Granger via technical submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 3:43 Heili Alateng def. Ryan Benoit via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)