After dropping a huge surprise in ranking Icelandic phenom Gunnar Nelson at #7 on our list, I'm sure there are plenty of readers who will jump at the opportunity to destroy the sound foundation we've laid for ranking some of these other fighters higher on the list. Here's your first crack. Coming in at #6 on our 2011 World MMA Welterweight Scouting Report is two-time NAIA All-American wrestler and 2005 NAIA National Champion Jesse Juarez (15-6). Despite losing to American Top Team product Douglas Lima at MFC 27 only eleven days ago, Juarez could have the opportunity to produce a berth in a major promotion in 2011 if he can pick up some wins against veteran competition.
Offensive Skills: If you watched the MFC 27 broadcast, you're probably familiar with what Juarez brings to the table, especially if he's stacked up against dangerous grapplers or threatening strikers. While it would seem odd that the two types of opponents would produce a similar gameplan from Juarez, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest.
There is a tendency for Juarez to challenge himself, and anybody who follows the Team Bodyshop Fitness fighters, i.e. Antonio McKee, Jason High, Emanuel Newton, knows that they have a propensity to bring fights to the ground and try to impose their strength in the wrestling department on their opponents. Juarez fits into that mold, and perhaps his gameplan against Lima should have been a bit more patient in trying to work his striking skills instead. That's a mistake he'll need to work through.
But his dominant wrestling style has proven to be successful in most of his fights. The fact that he's faced competition that has a combined record of 90-45-2 in his last 10 fights speaks volumes about what Juarez is looking to accomplish. He isn't intent on padding his record with lowly neophytes, and he's shown that he can deal with a number of different skill-sets by using his background in wrestling. Furthermore, he does seem to trend toward being much more of a finisher than his teammates as he has only 4 decision wins in 15 career victories.
Defensive Skills: Obviously, Juarez needs to work on his submission defense. Three out of his five losses have come by way of submission, and Lima's constant pressure from his back contained Juarez's offense while also winning him the bout. He'll need to work on identifying when he's in deep trouble if he wants to sit in top control and punish his opponent, or try to transition to safer positions than sitting in a closed guard. Lima is a top talent moving up the ranks, and Juarez needs to keep pace if he intends to do the same.
Progression & Learning Ability: Jaurez needs to improve his striking to become much more than an one-dimensional fighter. Promoters want to see action, and while Juarez has shown more finishing ability than similar fighters -- he's limited his success by coming to a fight with the same gameplan every time. The problem, however, is that Juarez is successful in implementing that gameplan, and I fear he won't stray far from what he knows best.
There have been flashes of an improving stand-up game however, and his lengthy 6'1" frame could benefit from some high level kickboxing or Muay Thai training. If he can implement a dangerous counter to average strikers who have immaculate ground skills, it will break the ceiling that Juarez is currently hitting.
Environment: As aforementioned, Juarez is a part of Team Bodyshop Fitness in California, a camp that houses current UFC fighter Antonio McKee along with former UFC fighter Jason High and former MFC champion Emanuel Newton. There are many other professional fighters who make their way through the halls of the gym as well, and the two major improvements made in training at Bodyshop have historically been conditioning and wrestling. McKee is the epitome of those two attributes, and most of the fighters training along side him have picked up on the keys to improving those areas in their games as well. Juarez will certainly benefit with continued work there.
Potential: Let's be very clear here. Juarez has the potential to become a guy who can be quite menacing in the welterweight division of a major promotion. His wrestling is good enough to grind out grapplers, and he has enough power in his hands to punish opponents from the top while also being decent enough to clamp on the occasional submission. He does, however, have weaknesses, and I'm certain that many readers would believe a guy like Gunnar Nelson would absolutely destroy Juarez.
The problem I have with that assumption is that we have yet to see anyone press Nelson on the ground by using an imposing style that wrestlers always bring to the table. Juarez has that style, and it's one of the toughest for strikers entering the sport to pick up. He also happens to have a plethora of experience against competition that isn't your standard, run-of-the-mill fodder to make your record appear impressive. He manhandled some solid veterans during his nine-fight win streak that ended this month.
At this point, I think he deserves his current ranking due to his proven abilities and experience. Does he have the potential to become a top ten talent? I'm not going to go that far until I see something other than smothering wrestling and average striking ability. I do, however, think he's doing the work and fighting the fights he needs to fight to improve himself over other prospects, and I'm not going to let that go unnoticed. We don't need the Jason Reinhardt's of MMA getting credit where credit isn't due. For that reason, Jesse Juarez sits at #6 on our 2011 World MMA Welterweight Scouting Report.