Scouting has been an integral part of every major professional sport. While many fans focus on the goal at hand in winning championships, the behind-the-scenes collaboration of various pieces of the puzzle produce the foundation for which those champions can stand. Baseball is probably the perfect example as it isn't a sport that has heavy exposure in the amateur ranks like football, and it relies on a large amount of legwork and an eye for talent to find the best prospects.
Mixed martial arts has a different structure than other sports in that the promoters are essentially the "major leagues" of the sport. Instead of teams vying for prospects, each "league" scouts out talent and fills their roster according to their goals as a promotion. The UFC aims to cover both the entertainment side and the technical side of the sport, and their past success has allowed them to be fairly aggressive in the market, helping them become the world's most prominent promotion.
In an effort to bring a spotlight to some of the best talent outside of the top promotions, a new series of articles will be featured here at BloodyElbow.com over the course of the next two months. The articles will mimic, to a certain extent, the free agent pieces from last year, but they will not feature prospects who are signed with the larger promotions. In fact, most of the prospects featured will be names you've probably rarely heard about.
The incredible feat of combing through the entire mixed martial arts' landscape for the future stars of this sport is never an easy thing to do. In fact, it's almost impossible without some help, and well-known BloodyElbow.com community member smoogy has collaborated with me once again for this year's findings.
Criteria for the picks follows a range of categories, but it's pretty obvious what gives prospects a higher ranking on our radar versus others. We've compiled lists through all major divisions with emphasis on the following categories:
Offensive Skills: This category encompasses all the offensive skills within a specific fighter's skill-set. Stand-up skills are the obvious starting point, but this will encompass other attributes such as aggression, pace, and ringsmanship. Ground and pound skills along with grappling prowess will also be meticulously scrutinized here.
Defensive Skills: This category encompasses all of the defensive abilities a fighter possesses. Most notably, takedown defense and the ability to escape to better positions on the ground will be a major focus, but stand-up defense, footwork, and submission defense will be highlighted as well.
Progression & Learning Ability: By far one of the more important categories as it gauges whether or not a prospect will have a bright future in a larger promotion. This category focuses on the progression of a fighter over the course of their current fight career. Have we seen a steady progression in said fighter's skills over his last few performances? Is he improving?
Environment: Training camp, training partners, mentors, and teachers to said prospect will be looked at. Obviously, some fighters have a slight edge over other due to the level of their training and their camp. While this won't have a huge effect on the overall ranking, it does merit some discussion.
Potential: The final category is a culmination of the opinions created during the research of the first four categories. They'll most likely include my own personal opinion of where each fighter can go from here, what can be improved, and who may be interested.
We'll start with the lightweight division over the weekend and progress upwards toward heavyweight. Featherweight and bantamweight will finish off the series in December. As with any opinionated ranking, we encourage the community's input on prospects we may have missed or opinions on the fighters we have looked at in within the series. We hope you enjoy the work we've done with this series.