The enticing prospects keep pouring in. The Strikeforce Grand Prix: Barnett vs. Kharitonov card might mark the biggest influx of fresh, skyrocketing talent in the sport's history.
Maximo Blanco -- a bronze medalist at the 2007 Pan Am games in freestyle wrestling, a former King of Pancrase and an utterly trenchant striker -- will make his Strikeforce and North American debut against Pat Healy Saturday night. Of his eleven showings, only one fighter decisively beat him, which was Daisuke "13" Hanazawa in Blanco's third fight.
His other official loss is a DQ for an illegal kick and his debut ended in a No Contest. Blanco's past is split evenly between Pancrase and World Victory Road's Sengoku promotion, and he's soaring on a six-fight stretch. The Yoshida Dojo product has crushed seven of eight victims by TKO.
Originally slated to meet the continuously overlooked but injury plagued Josh Thomson, Blanco draws another deceivingly venomous fighter who doesn't get the credit he deserves. Pat "Bam Bam" Healy has not only defeated Dan Hardy, Paul Daley and Carlos Condit, but he submitted each one of them.
He's finished nineteen of his twenty-five wins, thirteen by catch, and his recent drop from welterweight to lightweight revivified his career. If you're having trouble accepting his sixteen losses, recognize that every one of them was delivered by a respectable fighter who is or was at the UFC level, excluding Francisco Soares in 2005.
Although he's only a purple belt under Fabiano Scherner, I'd estimate Healy's grappling chops to be at the black belt level in MMA. His methodical dismantling of Lyle Beerbohm and early surge on Thomson stand as evidence.
The experienced submission grappler and explosive wrestler-striker are compared in the full entry.
How's this for armbar defense?
North American rules will prohibit such techniques, but "Maxi" shows his combat creativity and penchant for finishing fights with this stomp KO of Seigo Inoue.
Blanco is often likened to the infamous Chute Boxe style of destruction for his violent application of stomps and soccer kicks.
Fans who gravitate toward those who throw caution to the wind and assume the shape of a human highlight reel to overwhelm their adversaries will be pleased with Blanco.
Here we see Maxi's preference for defending takedowns against Kiuma Kunioku.
That is a ruthless uppercut followed by a soccer kick to the melon, automatic fire with short right hands, spinning out to free his leg, another mind-scrambling uppercut and the fight-finishing flurry of ground and pound.
His wrestling ability sparked a scholarship at a university in Japan, the opportunity to excel at the Pan Am games and an invite to join the vaunted Yoshida Dojo.
The wrestling factor strikes this match with an intriguing balance: Maxi is a savage striker with the clear standing advantage but Healy is on another level as far as technical position and submission knowledge, and the wrestling aspect is a close call.
Healy fights out of Team Quest and has robust takedowns and takedown defense. To the right we see his cat-like balance to avoid a very deep double leg from Thomson.
In handing Lyle Beerbohm his first career loss, Healy was thoroughly crafty in shucking off takedowns, such as pursuing two inverted triangles when Beerbohm mis-placed his head on attempts.
Healy's striking is nothing to write home about, but adequate enough so that he's not desperately forcing a ground fight.
He trades in the pocket to set up his takedowns and has only been knocked out by heavy hitters: two early in his career by Brad Blackburn and one apiece from Chris Wilson and Rory Markham in the IFL.
This will be a classic technician vs. brawler affair.
Maxi will simply look to blaze the cannons and avoid takedowns while punishing Healy for trying. Healy will have to carefully dodge decapitating strikes in order to close the distance and manipulate a grappling match.
For me, this fight is about even. Maxi has more pure voracity, but his wild style and cage inexperience offer just enough of a window for a cerebral tactician like Healy to capitalize. Healy gets a huge boost for intangibles like cool composure, veteran-level poise, and knowing all the tricks to use the cage to his advantage.
Blanco is another prospect I'm assuming will impress. The most appealing aspects of a rising fighter are legit potential, a highly entertaining style and marketability ... and Blanco has them all.
The reality of the drastic change in environment for Maxi -- especially the cage and unified rules -- along with the typical risks of being ultra-aggressive make me a bit nervous that Healy will mount a comeback late in the fight. He's a hard-nosed and durable gamer who only needs the slightest lapse to turn the tables. If Blanco respects his grappling wit and using his wrestling in reverse to stay standing, he should persevere a few precarious positions en route to victory.
My Prediction: Maximo Blanco by decision
Blanco vs. Inoue gif via smoogy
Healy vs. Thomson gif via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com