Reading any MMA forum today, the backlash against the 2008 World Combat Sambo Champion, Blagoi Ivanov, is plain to see. The young Bulgarian won a close decision over PRIDE veteran Kazuyuki Fujita at Sengoku IX, an event fraught with close and extremely controversial decisions.
The criticism needs to be put into perspective—Ivanov is but 22 years old. Anderson Silva lost to Luiz Azerdo when he was 25, and he lost to Daiju Takase when he was 28. Fedor was not even competing professionally at 22, and only squeaked by Ricardo Arona at 24. What I'm trying to say here, is that he's young, and he'll improve.
And don't bring up Jon Jones because he's just about the only guy to ever look good while being that young in the history of mixed martial arts.
Let's examine fan's common complaints:
Ivanov looked sluggish on the feet after round one, and if Fujita had not been so gassed, he could have been in real trouble, as he was completely failing to protect his head. This can be fixed by learning how to pace himself by not throwing so hard in the opening minutes.
Also, this was his first major fight, and in Saitama Super Arena in front of thousands no less. I'd be willing to guess that nerves, amplified by being built up as the 'Fedor Killer' by World Victory Road, sapped any cardio he may have had after five minutes. This won't be a permanent thing.
His striking combinations were awful, with only left hook-right hook being used against Fujita, and he will need to work severely to improve this; if he strikes like this against Aleksander Emelianenko he's getting KTFO.
But there are positives here that are not being acknowledged; he knocked Fujita down, which gives us reason to assume he has natural punching power, and the fact that he was able to go toe to toe and take shots from Fujita means his chin can't be too bad either. Fujita is not a knockout artist, but he does throw hard.
No Takedowns and No Submission attempts
This is the most worrying of the complaints. His guard was very much inadequate against Fujita, and he would have almost certainly been eating knees and punches against a better ground and pound artist.
I do believe his takedowns will suffer severely due to the lack of a gi with which to grab a hold of his opponents, and whether he will transition to no-gi grappling properly remains to be seen.
In conclusion, Ivanov does have a lot of work to do, but the raw talents he possesses still allow him to retain the title of 'prospect.'
I'm going to guess that he enters the top-10 in MMA within the next three years, but hopefully his management sees that putting him up against Aleksander at this stage of his career is the wrong way to go about grooming such potential.
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