Jimi Manuwa fights Jan Blachowicz at light heavyweight in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2 on April 11, 2015 at the Tauron Arena Kraków in Kraków, Poland.
Jimi "The Poster Boy" Manuwa
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
David: Blachowicz has one of the most interesting highlight videos. I mean, it's not "interesting" per se so much as amusing. It basically tells the narrative of him losing to Sokoudjou only to rise from the ashes to defeat him in the rematch, thus validating his status as if beating Sokoudjou in 2011 is the ultimate accomplishment. Up until recently it was his biggest accomplishment. Then he started feasting on some UFC relics. And now here he is, somehow and someway. He's a solid fighter, as evidenced in his bout with Latifi but I just wonder about his ceiling.
Phil: What other awesomely underwhelming revenge stories could there be in MMA? Keith Jardine could come back to fight Houston Alexander. Actually, no, scratch that. I don't want to give Bellator ideas. Or do I...?
His signature win thus far has to be the body kick KO of Ilir Latifi last time out as mentioned, and it's interesting to see whether that's an indication of functional ability at the upper level, or whether it was simply a single perfect strike.
David: Manuwa has impressed me in the little time he's been active. Perhaps it has something to do with expectations. I didn't think much of him even after some of his victories; given the names on his list you can't really blame me, but he impressed me against Gustafsson and now it's causing me to look at his career in somewhat different light. He's like a David Lynch film I guess.
Phil: Manuwa's weird mix of tangential and direct violence leaves him in line with something from Japanese or Korean cinema I reckon, perhaps one of Beat Takeshi's offerings. Anyway, I first saw him back in a regional show in London, and while he was impressive (and had hilarious personalized walk-out music which I'm always bitterly disappointed didn't survive the transition to the UFC), the general level of competition left me unenthused about his future.
The boy done good, though. Despite starting MMA late in life, with no athletic background, and fighting in a regional org devoid of LHW talent, he's put on some great performances in the UFC. His exact ceiling remains to be seen -the jump from Jimmo to Gustafsson can be roughly measured in parsecs- but he's clearly a fantastic natural athlete. I have a lot of respect for the careful, self-aware way he's managed his career, only taking the jump to the UFC when he felt he was genuinely ready. He's been getting training with the Allstars team and Gus up in Stockholm (following in Alex's footsteps by training with the first man to beat him in the octagon), and I think that can only help him, despite Allstar's grisly recent record
What are the stakes?
David: Not a whole lot. Both of these guys have the kind of names and resumes that could see them buried on main cards even in victory for awhile like some sort of Light Heavyweight version of Gleison Tibau. Manuwa is the one with the high profile name on his list, so perhaps the stakes are higher for him, whereas Jan doesn't gain a whole lot. It's a funky co main event that I have a hard time selling to someone who wants to know if they should watch it. Not that it's my intention, but what is there to say really? At least it's not like Dan Walsh vs. Patrick Kelly.
Phil: These two have the benefit of fighting in an extremely shallow division, and Manuwa, as said, has made some small inroads into public perception: headliner and co-main are good spots to be in for your last two events, even if this card is basically dreck. With a good win, I can see either one of these guys vaulting into the rarefied air of the Rampage / Maldonado / OSP / Cummins tier.
Where do they want it?
David: Both guys will be more than happy to stand and bang with their six shooters. Manuwa has the edge in power whereas Blachowicz has the edge in off kilter single fire. The thing about Blachowicz is that while he has a variety of skills on the feet, it's always one thought at a time speed. He is convinced he doesn't need to do much else except rapid fire a quick left, or a kick. Even in flurries, he kind of does this, and I struggle to think of many fighters who are successful that get away from combination striking.
Manuwa, on the other hand, is as rudimentary as it gets. His arsenal is limited, but he makes the most of it, taking the less is violently more approach.
Phil: If there was something to take from Blachowicz's fight against Latifi, it's that he's surprisingly quick on his feet. He was able to strand Latifi outside of his favoured clinch and low kick range with a combination of footwork and lowering his base, and was set up for the fight ending kick. Like you said, his main problem is in volume. It's not a style which is built to win decisions, and even the most surgical distance hitters (Machida, for example) have been forced to up their pace at times.
As with almost all of my countrymen, Manuwa's money punch is the left hook. Other than that he has strong unpolished Muai Thai, like a quicker if less well-rounded Thiago Silva. He does excellent work from the clinch, and has a herculean grip from the double collar and the side clinch (lit: crossface plus underhook), where he really ups the violence with some crackling knees. My main worry is in his cardio. He's never really been pressed in a fight, with his victories all being blowouts and his only loss being the (completely explicable) knockout from Gustafsson.
Insight from past fights?
David: I would say Blachowicz' fight with Goran Reljic, just because it's a fun fight. You get to really see Blachowicz' limitations as well as his strengths. I'm just not sure what his future looks like. He's not young, which means he's the proverbial dog that won't learn new tricks. But he has a relatively eccentric skillset.
Phil: If we're accepting that Blachowicz is a distance pot-shotter, then Manuwa actually did well against a similar type of mobile fighter in Gustafsson. The fight only really went downhill for him when Gus just decided to throw caution to the wind and dive straight into the clinch, and it's difficult to see Blachowicz doing that.
David: Do either of them get private screenings to the new Mad Max on fight night? Other than the usual, I can't think of any.
Phil: I'm not sure if we've mentioned actual superpowers as an X-Factor before, but it has to be Manuwa's Psychic Leg Destruction Technique. From psionically popping Cyril Diabate's calf to killing Ryan Jimmo's ankle, he does not need to touch in order to obliterate. I only ask one thing of him in this regard: If Blachowicz suddenly starts spasming and clutching his leg apropos of nothing on Saturday, then I hope Manuwa narrows his eyes, and then slowly raises one hand and clenches it into a fist, keeping his eyes on Blachowicz the whole time as his opponent keels over. Embrace the witchcraft, Poster Boy. Embrace it!
David: It's Manuwa's to lose. He'll be able to land the strikes he wants to against Jan, and his strength will serve him well if Blachowicz tries to make the bout a more rough and tumble clinchfest/grappling war. Blachowicz doesn't have the strength to turn this into anything favoring him. Jimi Manuwa by TKO, round 2.
Phil: While Manuwa's defense is a little bit of a question mark, I doubt that Blachowicz can replicate the Latifi magic. I think Manuwa has the key advantages in volume and power on the outside, and Blachowicz isn't the fighter to disrupt his clinch game with a double leg or outwork him and tire him out. Jimi Manuwa by TKO, round 2.