This is a guest post by Rory MacLeod (smoogy)
A year ago, we selected the inaugural class of fighters that would make up the first edition of the World MMA Scouting Report. It’s been a gratifying experience to see some of the athletes we selected go on to succeed in major fight opportunities, and a heartbreaking one to see others come up just short. For each pick that claimed a significant title in 2011, there were at least two that didn’t make their breakthrough, or fell off the rails entirely. Here’s a recap to give you a sampling of the highlights (and lowlights) from a tumultuous time in the careers of these MMA prospects.
1. Guram Gugenishvili (11-0)
If there is one fighter whose profile among mixed martial arts fans benefited the most due to his inclusion in the 2011 World MMA Scouting Report, it was M-1 Challenge Heavyweight Champion Guram Gugenishvili. At the very least, his top ranking produced the report’s most surreal meta-moment in the form of a forboding, WWE-like promotional video teasing Guram’s imminent arrival in America. Sadly, a series of training injuries have delayed his second defense of the title several times.
In the meantime, M-1 Challenge top contenders and previous victims Maxim Grishin (11-6) and Kenny Garner (8-3) put on an atrocious five-round fight to determine the next challenger. It was so bad that when Guram finally does return in 2012, M-1 Global should consider importing a more credible opponent.
2. Shamil Abdurahimov (12-2)
Shamil Abdurahimov captured the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship tournament title in March, stopping Marcos Oliveira (5-3) with strikes in the finals. On top of his earlier round victories over UFC veterans Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Jeff Monson, the tourney win was thought to be enough to put Shamil over the top for a major fight opportunity stateside. But such a booking never came, so he was left to compete in the main event of December’s World Ultimate Full Contact event in Dagestan, facing off against American gatekeeper Tony Lopez (28-8).
Abdurahimov blasted Lopez to the mat with strikes early, cruising through the early rounds with his superior top control. Cruising, that is, until Tony framed up a triangle choke early in the third round, forcing Shamil to submit in front of a shocked partisan audience.
3. Tony Johnson Jr. (6-1)
As a former high school wrestling star, Tony Johnson Jr. promised to go far as a heavyweight fighter, and he took his first step toward the big time when he made his Bellator Fighting Championships debut in June. His superior grappling made the difference in a three-round decision victory over fellow Bellator newcomer Derrick Lewis (6-2). Unfortunately, Johnson hasn’t been called on by Bellator for a sophomore scrap, having been passed over for inclusion in their second heavyweight tournament. Whether Tony is focusing on improving his skill-set, nursing injuries or just hasn’t come to terms with Bellator on a multi-fight agreement, here’s hoping he makes his return soon.
4. Gerald Turek (11-2)
Gerald Turek started the year riding a six-fight win streak with recognition as heavyweight champion of Slovenia’s World Free Fight Challenge (WFC). The win streak and the title were snatched in shocking fashion by dangerous Brazilian journeyman Jair Goncalves (9-4). The Rio-based fighter survived an early onslaught by Turek, securing an armbar submission win midway through the first round to upset the Austrian champ at WFC 13 in Belgrade, Serbia. Incredibly, Goncalves accomplished the feat without any cornermen, having traveled to the country alone. Turek returned to action in Austria on January 20th, stopping Serbian Dragan Berich (0-3) with punches in the opening round.
5. Stipe Miocic (7-0)
As was projected, 2011 saw Stipe Miocic parlay his heavyweight crown in Ohio’s North American Allied Fight Series into a shot with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The Strong Style Fight Team representative fittingly won his final NAAFS fight in June by using his signature power low kicks to chop out the legs of Chicago’s Bobby Brents (11-2). Miocic made his anticipated UFC debut in October, edging past Joey Beltran (13-7) via decision after both fighters noticably faded toward the end of the bout. Next up for Stipe is a February 15th encounter with undefeated English submission specialist Phillip De Fries (8-0).
6. Jared Rosholt (4-0)
Jared Rosholt fights alongside his brother Jake as a member of Team Takedown, and so far he has followed a similar early career trajectory. After an untelevised win over Ray Clayton (2-2) on May 21, Jared made his TV debut on HDNet a week later, stopping Kirk Grinlinton (2-3) with punches in the first round. The following week, Rosholt took out Robert Haney (0-2) to bump his record to 4-0. Since that burst of activity, Rosholt hasn’t fought again, opting instead to spend time sharpening other skills to compliment his wrestling base. He was spotted in December training kickboxing with K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Alistair Overeem.
7. Vitaly Minakov (6-0)
As a hulking heavyweight Sport Sambo champion, Vitaly Minakov is already an imposing figure in Russia MMA early in his pro career, and has trouble finding willing, quality opposition. He improved to 6-0 in 2011, walking over Juan Espino (1-2) and Ivan Frolov (0-1) in a combined 54 seconds of action. Minakov capped off the year by claiming his third Sambo World Championship title in the over 100 kg division, defeating Belarusian Yuri Rybak in the final. If Minakov can add improved kickboxing to his unquestionable grappling prowess, he’ll be on the fast track to a major fight opportunity.
8. Konstantin Gluhov (20-8)
For the most part, Konstatin Gluhov did what he does best in 2011: win obscure heavyweight tournaments across Europe. He took France’s four man Pancrase Cup in April, submitting Arnold Oborotov (0-1) with a toehold before roasting Jessie Gibbs (10-5) for a body punch knock out in the final. At Ukraine’s Warrior Honor tourney in May, Gluhov put away Yuri Gorbenko (4-9) and Ruslan Magomedov (6-1) with the exact same techniques (seriously, look it up). Most recently he entered Dagestan’s Challenge of Champions invitational on Christmas Eve, dropping a decision to Alexei Kudin (7-3) in a rather dull two round semifinal. Konstantin next enters February’s Draka Governor’s Cup field in February, where he will face Austalia’s Peter Graham (4-5) in the opening round.
9. Nick Gaston (5-1)
It wasn’t long ago that everything seemed to be going great for Nick Gaston. “Afrozilla” was undefeated, made an appearance on MTV’s Bully Beatdown, and found himself winning fights on HDNet as a feature fighter for King of the Cage. He has continued to fight exclusively in KOTC, but the promotion was off television by the time he took an easy win off of Jerry Burns (6-18) in April. Gaston’s winning streak came to an end in June at the hands of mercurial big man Tyler East (10-3) in a bout to crown the new KOTC Heavyweight Champion. Gaston hasn’t fought since, but with East subsequently being stripped of the title, Nick may be recalled for another shot at the belt.
10. Mark Potter (4-2)
Added to the 2011 report at the last minute, England’s Mark Potter made the list based on his ongoing destruction of his peers on the UK heavyweight MMA circuit. As a former boxer who famously lost to a one-armed Danny Williams, Potter excels at crushing the unrefined brawlers who populate the division, as he reiterated by knocking out Ireland’s Mark Walker (0-1) in March. Ground skills, however, are not Potter’s forte and Oli Thompson (9-2) proved as much in June, shooting early for a takedown, then softening Mark up with punches before latching an easy rear naked choke submission win. On the paper-thin UK circuit, such a win was enough to propel Oli to the UFC. At 37 years old, Potter seems down and out but he could still be a factor regionally in 2012.
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