Last week, the UFC designated Poland's Jan Blachowicz for his first fight in the promotion's light heavyweight division.
Though he was signed in January, Blachowicz had not been set to fight until now. He's expected to face Ilir Latifi at UFC Fight Night 53 in Sweden.
A longtime leading prospect at 205 pounds, he could bring an infusion of excitement to the weight class, which in its middle ranks is thin to the point of brittleness, not unlike rice paper. Actually, the brittle descriptor works on more than one level. When Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Mauricio Rua are still considered upper crust, you expose yourself to claims of fragility.
In any event, the 31-year-old Blachowicz (17-3) is about as good of a light heavyweight as exists outside North American markets. Most of his pro career has unfolded in KSW, Poland's flagship promotion and one of the best MMA operations in Europe.
Despite the stiff competition in KSW, Blachowicz's last loss occurred more than three years back, when he fell to veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. He has since broken out a five-fight win streak, however, which included avenging his loss to Sokoudjou and capturing and twice defending the KSW light heavyweight belt. And those wins were not at the expense of any Eastern bloc no-names, either. His last four victims—Sokoudjou, Mario Miranda, Houston Alexander and Goran Reljic—all have wins in the UFC.
As far as style is concerned, Blachowicz brings a high-octane skill set, even if he sports a few of the shortcomings classic to the European fighter.
His striking game is sharp and strong, even if he doesn't possess the kind of knockout power that makes a danger out of less precise blows.
When it comes to the ground game, he prefers to dump opponents on their backsides with short but deep double-leg takedowns, then work from the top with ground-and-pound or submission attempts, usually a rear-naked choke or kimura. His mat work is clearly informed by his time with Pawel Nastula, the 1996 Olympic judo gold medalist and former pro fighter who now trains other fighters, including Blachowicz, in Poland.
Blachowicz is not the greatest athlete in the world, though he does seem to possess decent cardio. He kind of just tromps around in there, and in so doing makes himself fairly easy to hit.
That's unfortunate for Blachowicz, because he doesn't appear to enjoy getting hit. Also, based on fight footage, he doesn't seem to like working from the bottom on the ground, where he usually just pulls guard and waits for a referee's stand-up. And just as he's susceptible to getting hit, he's also susceptible to the takedown. It's the classic bully who doesn't like to be bullied.
So, in essence, he's a European ground-and-pound artist who may be vulnerable to an American ground-and-pound artist. That said, his skill set can get plenty done, especially in a division as scattershot as light heavyweight.
His first UFC test, against a rugged fireplug of a wrestler in European Latifi, could reveal a lot. It will also be his first engagement in four years that will take place inside a cage. It's certainly not something he's used to doing, as KSW employed a ring during his entire tenure there (it recently switched to a cage but only after Blachowicz's departure).
If Blachowicz can get past Latifi (and even if he can't), he could be a solid addition to the UFC light heavyweight roster. Think Stipe Miocic with more of a tendency toward submissions and less of a tendency toward wrestling and boxing.
The Beaten Path is an ongoing series from Bleacher Report MMA that highlights the sport's top prospects. You can check out the latest interview here. Scott Harris covers MMA and other things for Bleacher Report and other places. Follow Scott on Twitter, if you feel so inclined.