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The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale: Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco

The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale: Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco

Hamid “Akira” Corassani (11-3-1, UFC 2-0) vs. Maximo “Maxi” Blanco (9-4-1-1, UFC 1-1), at the TUF 18 Finale

 Best known by fans as a trouble maker from TUF Bisping vs. Mayhem, Akira is a veteran of the European MMA circuit and now 2-0 in the UFC. The way Akira performed on the show was actually a good indication of his overall skill level and style of fighting. Akira’s best weapons to win this upcoming fight are:

  • Punching power; Akira used heavy hands and an aggressive pace to score a first round KO and gain entry into the fighter house to start his time on TUF and he looked impressive in doing so. Almost any success he has had on or after TUF was with his striking and it remain his best weapon.
  • Aggression; Akira comes to throw leather heavy and often and when he lands clean it usually spells trouble for opponents. He seems to thrive on the adrenaline rush of fighting and if he can continue to refine and direct that better he will be all the more effective.

Akira remains somewhat raw and still has a ways to go in his progression as a fighter; thus far he has shown he is susceptible to the following:

  • Grappling; in his TUF fights with solid grapplers Dustin Neace and Dennis Bermudez it became clear that a fighter with good grappling and a high level of physical strength was going to be a problem, but lucky for him the ref didn’t see Akira tapping to a Dustin Neace heel hook . He did not have much luck keeping the fight upright against Neace nor could he keep Bermudez at bay and although he did his best to scramble back to his feet when taken down it showed he needed more training in this area.
  • In the Bermudez fight we saw the difference between a fighter/brawler and a top level mixed martial arts athlete. With Akira being the former it was not a surprise to see him lose the fight despite early success with his hands. At the higher levels of MMA one must possess top notch game planning, strategy, and composure to win those tough fights and we saw that Akira still needed to work on those areas.

The good news for Akira is that he has progressed in tightening up those weaknesses and it was evident in his 2 UFC wins since the show. Spending time in NYC at Renzo Gracie’s academy is a great start and is certainly a place where Akira will be able to elevate his grappling and reduce his strategic short comings.

Maximo Blanco is coming into this fight looking to make good on the potential that made him one of the brightest prospects coming out of Japan in recent years. He relocated from his native Venezuela to Japan in his teens as one of the better wrestlers out of Latin America. Blanco continued to wrestle at the high school and university level in Japan and then moved up to the international freestyle wrestling circuit where  he won a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan America Championships and earned a spot wrestling at the 2006 and 2007 Fila World Championships. Maxi made his MMA debut in 2008 in Japan and brutally KO’d 8 opponents (1 DQ) leading up to his American debut in late 2011. Losing to veteran Pat Healy lead to a drop to 145 lbs and a move to the UFC but Maxi continued to struggle. Maxi found his 1st UFC win in his most recent fight however and things are looking up. Maxi brings some serious weapons to the cage when he is on, and they are:

  • Aggressive striking; when at his best, Maxi is devastating on the feet, he mixes punches and kicks and for all his aggression he is not as reckless or sloppy as one would think, with a good understanding of head movement and angles.
  • As mentioned previously Maxi is a great wrestler, even in an MMA context. He has a nice style that looks like half freestyle wrestling and half Japanese shoot wrestling with trips, throws, a nice single leg, and good scrambling. It was this style that helped him do as well as he did against Healy even though he looked to be outweighed by at least 25 lbs.

Maxi seems to have lost something that made him so dangerous in Japan. The dreaded nerves associated with debuting in the UFC are surely real and hopefully behind Maxi for good. He will need to address the following to be a force in the UFC:

  • Maxi needs to learn to pull the trigger again. It was his aggression that made him so effective in Japan and now that he is entering his third UFC fight he must not hesitate. Nobody is suggesting he recklessly bum rush guys anymore but a nice happy medium would do fine.
  • Maxi would also be wise to seek out the best possible instruction so he doesn’t have to rely so much on physicality. Yoshida dojo in Japan has yet to produce a top UFC fighter and Maxi may be better off spending more time at Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico.

This fight is a compelling and winnable fight for both men. It will be interesting to see what his time at Renzo’s has done for Akira’s grappling and for Blanco it will be another chance to remind the world of the physical prowess that made him such a beast in Japan. If Blanco can continue to find his balance between power and technique he will be tough to beat and if Akira has tightened up his guard that should allow him to open up more on the feet. On the other hand, wrestling is notoriously difficult to improve in an MMA setting and Blanco is way ahead of Akira there. This will be the difference and Blanco will pick up his best win yet after an action packed fight.

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