This Saturday night (Nov. 30, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Akira Corassani and Maximo Blanco will face off on the main card of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale on FOX Sports 1 from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Swedish-born Corassani made the biggest waves of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career as a contestant on TUF 14, where he advanced to the semifinal round. Corassani has won both of his fights in UFC since signing a contract after the show's conclusion.
He made his official promotional debut by defeating Andy Ogle via split decision at UFC on FUEL TV 5. Corassani followed that performance up with another decision win over Robbie Peralta at UFC on FUEL TV 9.
Corassani is an impressive striker who only recently made the cut down to featherweight. He's fought at both lightweight and welterweight, so he should seemingly have a noticeable power advantage at 145 pounds.
But he's yet to prove that inside the Octagon.
He'll be looking for an elusive knockout against Blanco, who brings in the momentum of a decision victory over Sam Sicilia at the TUF 17 Finale back in April. Before that, Blanco dropped his UFC debut to Marcus Brimage at UFC 145 after coming over from Strikeforce.
The fight was also his first at featherweight.
These two combatants have a lot in common. Both are new to the division and both are in need of an emphatic finish. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco:
Record: 11-3 (1) overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Andy Ogle (UFC on FUEL TV 5), Robbie Peralta (UFC on FUEL TV 9)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Corassani is a Tae Kwon Do black belt who has won seven of his 11 wins by decision. He doesn't necessarily unleash all of the flashy strikes you'd expect from a fighter with his martial arts background. Corassani prefers to outpoint his opponents on the feet, picking them apart with good Octagon control and a high volume of jabs, hooks, and uppercuts.
And he's effective at that style.
If he can stay out of the way Blanco's big power, there's a great chance that Corassani can control the striking game en route to a decision win.
He also has three submission wins to his name. Corassani may be only a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but half of Blanco's four losses have come by way of submission. If and when the fight hits the ground, Corassani will need an improved ground game to contend with the smothering top control of Blanco.
It's going to be hard to lock up a fight-ending hold if punches are being rained down on his face.
Movement is another key for Corassani. With his opponent able to end the fight in an instant, Corassani needs to stay on his toes and utilize angles to stay out of harm's way. Getting into a slugfest with Blanco is not going to be a path to victory here.
If Corassani can keep the distance and beat Blanco to the punch, the bout will turn in his favor. He needs to turn this fight into more of a boxing match than a street fight. Blanco's power isn't something to be messed with. Corassani could surprise in the grappling department, but he will probably be better off sticking to his main strengths on the feet.
Record: 9-4-1 (1) overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Sam Sicilia (TUF 17 Finale)
Key Losses: Pat Healy (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov), Marcus Brimage (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Blanco is a lethal striker who also competed in freestyle wrestling at the 2007 Pan American Games. Prior to making his way to the United States to fight for UFC and Strikeforce, Blanco enjoyed an impressive six-fight win streak in Japan. He finished five of those six bouts via striking stoppage, a testament to his scary knockout power.
But he hasn't exactly take the Octagon by storm.
Winning and losing a decision, Blanco is still on the lookout for his first UFC finish. The steep step up in competition may be a big reason for that. He'll look to make a statement by finishing a name fighter at TUF 18 Finale.
To do so, Blanco should look to take this fight to the ground. Although Corassani has exhibited a measured degree of submission prowess, Blanco's wrestling background should be able to control this fight once it hits the mat.
The former Pancrase lightweight champion won't be looking for a submission on the ground. He'll be looking to end this fight with a knockout, something he's been ruthlessly efficient at thus far in his career.
Corassani will be content to use distance and footwork to outpoint Blanco; it's up to "Maxi" to get in his face and disrupt that rhythm. He has all the tools to do so.
Corassani has lost via knockout three times, so Blanco should look to push the face early and often with punches, kicks, and knees. Changing levels effectively from strikes to takedowns will also be paramount here.
Blanco needs to prove he belongs in a crowded division this Saturday. Going 1-2 UFC isn't the way to do that, That means maintaining his focus and mental acuity will be instrumental to victory, as well.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line of this fight is that it is absolutely pivotal for both men. Featherweight is quickly becoming one of the best in MMA so wins come at a premium. Blanco has more pressure on his shoulders after losing his Octagon debut.
Corassani, on the other hand, remains undefeated in official UFC competition. However, he hasn't impressed with any signature finishes, so there's not a whole lot of buzz surrounding him.
He can change that by finishing a former champion at Mandalay Bay.
This fight is going to prove if Corassani is the real deal or not. If he gets knocked out in devastating fashion, we'll know that he could have never contended with the elite of the division regardless. If he wins another decision, the jury will still be out on him because it would be more of the same.
A finish is the only way he can send a clear message this weekend.
That won't be easy to come by. Blanco has shown aggressiveness that is very tough to defend. There are still question marks about his ability to face the best competition in the world, so Corassani can't let "Maxi" get into any sort of comfort zone.
This bout is a huge proving ground for both fighters. A win will earn the victor the right to fight on while the loser will fade in a stacked division. It's time to sink or swim for Corassani and Blanco.
Tensions will be running high when Akira Corassani and Maximo Blanco hit the Octagon this Saturday night. Which fighter will emerge victorious at TUF 18 Finale?