Kickboxing has historically produced mediocre results when one of its elite athletes has crossed over to mixed martial arts. Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic is probably the best example of a K-1 level striker having success, but we tend to see kickboxers lack the takedown defense and the grappling know-how to compete at a high level in mixed martial arts. As time has progressed, that knowledge gap continues to get slimmer and slimmer, and in the modern era -- it isn't unheard of to see world class kickboxers also training in the arts of grappling as well.
In fact, our #1 ranked lightweight prospect, Thiago Michel Pereira Silva aka. Thiago Michel, fits that mold perfectly as he was the 2010 WAKO World Cup champion at 75 kg while also sporting a 7-1 record in MMA competition. While he did take a leave of absence from the cage for over two years, he returned in August to battle Nova Uniao prospect Felipe Olivieri in front of a capacity crowd, defeating him over the course of three rounds. The win not only proved that he's still a legitimate MMA talent, but it also secured his spot at the top of our 2011 World MMA Lightweight prospect ranking.
Offensive Skills: Michel's kickboxing is exactly as advertised, world class. While he may not have the skills to fight in K-1 MAX, it wouldn't surprise me if he honed them enough to where he could succeed at that level. He has unbelievably quick kicking ability, and his best asset through all of his techniques is his use of front kicks. In some of the footage of his kickboxing battles, he's came fairly close to knocking opponents out with front kicks, and he uses that ability very effectively in limited his opponent's opportunities to shoot for takedowns or strike with power from a distance.
If kickboxing wasn't enough, Michel throws some of the meanest knees I've seen from a lightweight in a very long time. He also possesses what you'd typically expect from a world class kickboxer in intelligent footwork and ringsmanship. He knows exactly when to retreat from incoming attacks, and his awareness is a step above the rest of the competition.
Defensive Skills: Unlike many of the fighters I've watched in researching this list, Michel actually has great head movement, an attribute that is overlooked by a lot of professional fighters today. His hands stay up at all times, and his defense is impeccable on the feet.
Obviously, Michel's ground game is his major weakness, but much of the footage on Michel would indicate that he's evolved quite nicely in that department. While his takedown defense does need some work, he's worked a threatening front choke game into his arsenal that has proven to be a deterrent to the constant pressure of takedowns.
Progression & Learning Ability: The improvements that Michel has made over the course of his career are easily one of the main reasons why he's #1 on our list. He has progressed from having very limited skills on the ground that really only relied on his strength and speed to scramble to his feet to actually threatening with an effective guard game. He even managed to show off the rubber guard during his battle with Felipe Olivieri, and it proved to be quite tough for Olivieri to escape.
If you actually run through most of his fight footage chronologically, it's pretty evident that his takedown defense and grappling gets progressively better with each fight, and that's a major plus in my book. Some prospects simply use the same style to beat opponents until it doesn't work against a better opponent, and then it's back to the drawing board. Michel is actively moving toward being a better fighter.
Environment: Thiago's main trainer is Ely Perez, a world champion kickboxer who retired with a 163-6 record. While kickboxing seems to be the major focus for Michel, he has been getting his fair share of training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well. It's somewhat odd that he has the exact opposite problem that many fighters have. He possesses the elite level kickboxing skills in a country that isn't predominantly known for it like Holland, so he only needs to focus on improving his ground tactics, an art form that is abundant in his own backyard.
World MMA Lightweight Scouting Report:
#2 - Ricardo Tirloni
#3 - Magno Almeida
#4 - Ui Cheol Nam
#5 - Henrique Mello
#6 - Reza Madadi
#7 - Alexander Sarnavskiy
#8 - Ole Laursen
#9 - Guillaume DeLorenzi
#10 - Al Iaquinta
Potential: Obviously, we ranked him #1 because we believe the potential is there for Michel to be a fairly successful fighter on a bigger stage. The real kicker here is that the top three fighters in our prospect rankings could be interchangeable with Tirloni or Almeida potentially grabbing the top spot as well. But Michel's progression and improvement have impressed us. Most fighters just don't improve at the rate that Michel has, and there are even fewer fighters who could take two years off and come back to fight at the level he did in October.
While Michel isn't as well rounded as our #2 prospect, Ricardo Tirloni, he does have a vastly better stand-up game, and his ground skills are progressing rapidly. From all indications, Michel has the potential to be a star in a major promotion, especially if he can continue to finish off opponents while also gaining considerable ground in his jiu-jitsu training. For that reason, Thiago Michel tops our list as the #1 prospect on our 2011 World MMA Lightweight scouting report.
Thiago Michel vs. Felipe Olivieri
Thiago Michel vs. Murilo Filho
Thiago Michel vs. Damasu
Thiago Michel vs. Cesar Gordin
Thiago Michel vs. Luciano Pit Bull