Continuing our 2011 World MMA Scouting Report, we'll now turn our attention to the prospects littering the landscape of the 170 pound weight class. The surprise to both myself and smoogy in researching this division was the scarcity of high-level fighters making their way through the ranks, and the fact that Brazil has once again produced many of the talented fighters on our ranking. It's interesting to see how the mix of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai can mold fighters that will be the future of this sport, but it's a bit disappointing to see regions like Asia and the United States fall short in this weight class.
Interestingly enough, our #10 ranked welterweight prospect, Joe Ray (4-0), is an American who is highly skilled in the art of Muay Thai, a martial art that we see predominantly in Brazil. He showed up at Freestyle Fighting Academy four years ago, fell in love with the striking aspect of mixed martial arts, and moved to Thailand where he trained for roughly a year. When he returned, his mixed martial arts career began, earning himself his first professional victory on the undercard at Strikeforce: Miami. He's went on to amass an undefeated 4-0 record, which includes a victory over former UFC fighter Chad Reiner.
Offensive Skills: Ray's offensive arsenal is fairly one-dimensional as he's a credentialed amateur kickboxer with an extensive background in Muay Thai. His ground game is limited, but at only 25 years of age with only four professional fights under his belt -- the potential is there for him to improve dramatically.
Ray does, however, possess the single most sought after attribute that every promotion is looking for -- devastating knockout power. He throws precise, straight combinations when he's able to set his stance and throw on the feet, and he has the ability to flip the light switch in a single blow. Combine that power with an excellent clinch game and solid distance fighting skills, and you've got a fighter who can challenge some of the better strikers in the division worldwide.
Defensive Skills: While Ray's stand-up prowess is a huge asset, his defensive skills on the ground and against the fence need work. Against Reiner, Ray had a lot of problems trying to stay away from Reiner's takedown attempts and stall tactics on the fence. If it weren't for Reiner's gas tank running on empty, Ray may have been on the short end of a decision, and Reiner is far from a UFC caliber talent these days.
The good news is that he has shown some flashes of newly learned abilities in his ground game, and that's promising since I've looked at plenty of prospects who simply lay on their backs and try to maintain posture without ever trying to escape. Ray, at the very least, knows that he must get back to his feet to win.
Progression & Learning Ability: It's tough to gauge how quickly Ray is improving due to his relatively easy schedule, but a war with Chad Reiner in only his fourth fight as a professional certainly raised the bar a bit higher than some of the other prospects in the same boat as him. Reiner may not be an elite level fighter any longer, but he did manage to challenge Ray on the ground, an area that he needs to be tested at consistently.
Ray's progression truly hinges on the shoulders of his training camp and his willingness to learn the intricacies of the ground game. Without that, he'll eventually meet his match and likely fulfill a destiny of mediocrity. Fortunately, he's at the right camp to make those things happen.
Environment: Ray trains out of Freestyle Fighting Academy in Miami, Florida, owned and operated by highly-credential Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Marcos Avellan. The school also helped mold fighters such as Charles McCarthy and Jorge Masvidal into what they are today, and Kimbo Slice was a part of the gym in his early days in mixed martial arts. He also works out at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand with head instructor Ray Elbe.
Ray certainly brings a high-level of striking prowess to the table, but Avellan and Elbe should be able to help him progress his ground game to a point in which he'll be competent enough to get back to his feet. The question is whether it can be done quickly or at a slow pace. With only four fights under his belt, Ray has some time before he truly meets some of the tougher wrestlers and grapplers that lurk in the regional scene.
Potential: Let's be very clear here. Ray is our #10 ranked prospect for a reason. At this point in his very short career, he doesn't possess all the skills to be a top talent in any major organization. But Ray has the support from his camp and the teachers to make him a very dangerous opponent for anyone in the future.
His wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills will be his biggest challenge, and they'll more than likely fall into the defensive category for him. Offensively, Ray could become quite a spectacle to watch. Fans crave knockouts, and Ray can provide fans with a consistent supply of entertaining performances. The question becomes whether he'll simply be a spectacle, or can he progress to the point that he can call himself truly well-rounded. Only time will tell.
Joe Ray vs. Zorobabel Moreira
Joe Ray Highlights
Joe Ray vs. Chad Reiner, Round 1
Joe Ray vs. Chad Reiner, Round 2
Joe Ray vs. Chad Reiner, Round 3