Last week, the UFC announced it had signed Poland's Jan Blachowicz to a fight in its light heavyweight division.
Though he was signed in January, this will mark Blachowicz's UFC debut. He's expected to face Ilir Latifi at UFC Fight Night 53 in Sweden.
Long considered a top prospect at 205 pounds, he could be an excitement infusion for the weight class, currently so thin it's almost brittle, 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 open yourself up to claims of fragility.
In any event, the 31-year-old Blachowicz (17-3) is about as good of a light heavyweight prospect as exists on the open (i.e., non-American) market. 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 there, Blachowicz's last loss occurred more than three years ago, when he fell by TKO to UFC veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. He has since gone on a five-fight win streak, however, which included avenging his loss to Sokoudjou and capturing and twice defending the KSW light heavyweight title. And those wins were not over any Eastern bloc no-names either. His last four victims—Sokoudjou, Mario Miranda, Houston Alexander and Goran Reljic—all have wins in the UFC.
Blachowicz is a talented and exciting light heavyweight, even if he sports a few 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.
The last time Blachowicz fought in a cage was in 2010, a second-round submission victory.
When it comes to the ground game, he prefers to dump opponents on their backsides using short but deep double-leg takedowns, then work from the top, either with ground-and-pound or a submission, 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 an alumnus of Pride and KSW who now trains 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, he makes himself fairly easy to hit.
That's unfortunate for Blachowicz, because he doesn't appear to like getting hit. Also based on sparing fight footage, he doesn't seem to enjoy 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 signed with the UFC). It will be interesting to see how he adapts to that; far more famous names have struggled with the transition.
Latifi is a savvy first assignment from the UFC matchmaking brain trust. If Blachowicz can pass that test (and even if he can't), he could be a solid addition to the UFC light heavyweight division. Think Stipe Miocic with more of 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.