We're down to our #1 ranked prospect on our 2011 World MMA Welterweight Scouting Report, and he embodies the idea that the new breed of mixed martial artists will be exactly that... mixed martial artists. We've heard countless predictions that the youth who grew up watching the UFC and mixed martial arts in general would be a much more diverse group of fighters at a younger age. Joe Rogan has talked in great lengths about how there is "some kid out there" who is learning everything at once, molding his craft and tuning all of the techniques he's learned into one incredible fighting machine.
One of those fighters is the highly-touted American Top Team prospect Yuri Villefort (6-0). With a background that encompasses Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai, he is one of the most complete mixed martial artists in the world, and he's only 19 years old. While there is some criticism as to how Villefort has performed since his debut in the sport, the potential is infinite.
Offensive Skills: Villefort possesses a vast array of skills within his arsenal. He has an extensive background in Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai, but he lacks the credentials to certify him as a whiz on the ground or an elite striker. Some believe this is simply because he's worked so hard at rounding out all areas of his game versus obsessing over one specific area, but Yuri seems to be working hard at obtaining those high level credentials while molding himself into a complete mixed martial artist.
Right now, Yuri is much more of a striker than an offensive threat on the ground. He has worked the Muay Thai clinch effectively in his early bouts, tenderizing the midsections of his opponents and nearly knocking out a few of them in the process. His boxing still needs some improvement as it can be a bit sloppy at times, but he has shown glimpses of knockout power from his hands. Yuri's range fighting abilities are his best asset right now at this early stage in his career. He has absolutely devastating kicks, whether it be to the body, head, or leg. If it isn't blocked, it's likely causing agonizing pain.
On the floor, Yuri is still developing, but it'll only be a couple of years before Yuri is sporting black belt level Brazilian jiu-jitsu on the ground. He scrambles effortlessly to better positions when he's in trouble, transitions quickly to submissions when on the offensive, and possesses an extensive knowledge of the different submissions he can pull off from specific positions. He's not limited like some of the prospects we see on our list when it comes to breaking limbs.
Yuri is no slouch on the ground though, and he has all the abilities to transition to advantageous positions and crush his opponents in ground and pound. His striking from top control is a bit underrated in my opinion, and he's shown some brutal power from the top in some of his early bouts.
Defensive Skills: At this point in his career, Yuri's best defensive capabilities come in the ground game. He's almost always fighting off takedowns as his opponents realize fairly quickly that they cannot eat leg and body kicks for more than a few minutes. Yuri's defense to those takedowns is lukewarm in terms of success. It's apparent he needs work, but I don't think it's a huge concern for him as his jiu-jitsu skills normally give him the upper hand when he's on his back as well.
He has shown some nice reversals and sweeps of opponents in early match-ups, and he has the knowledge to transition to very dominant positions from those sweeps. Specifically, he's worked on locking in triangle chokes from his back or sweeping his opponents and ending up in full mount.
On the feet, there is some concern as Yuri comes off as a bit cocky in his approach. His defense to strikes is a bit sporadic, and once he realizes that he's the better striker -- he begins to flash leather while keeping his hands at his hips. Hopefully, Yuri doesn't get caught in those instances.
Progression: The most significant question about Yuri is whether or not he can live up to the hype that his team and fans have put upon him. He's progressed nicely as a natural talent with a strong support system at American Top Team, but his early bouts haven't shown us anything spectacular. What you can see, however, is that there is a foundation that has been laid for Yuri to become a champion.
He's improving in all areas, and if you can imagine a devastating Muay Thai striker with phenomenal Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and Judo -- it sounds like the makings of a champion. Unfortunately, fans want to see that right now, and it isn't going to happen overnight.
Environment: Villefort works out with American Top Team, and he's been bred by the world famous camp since his introduction to mixed martial arts. That support system provides him with UFC caliber training partners on a daily basis, and that is the absolute best place for Villefort to be training if he intends to make a big splash in the UFC in the coming years. After all, Dana White has stated on numerous ocassions that ATT is one of the few camps in the world that can produce champions.
Potential: Yuri's #1 ranking is heavily based on the fact that he has the potential to be a clear cut #1 fighter in the world in the next couple of years. He possesses all the skills to go on the offensive in any area of a fight, and the only question is whether his continued progression will turn him into the fighter that many fans believe he can become.
I believe this is a bit of a risky pick as well for our #1 prospect, mainly because Yuri has some similarities to Erick Silva in that there is a lot of stale moments in his offense. He seems to be much more of a counter fighter in his approach, but most of the time -- he must eventually go on the offensive because his opponents aren't willing to be a punching bag to his counters. While I'm not opposed to slow starts and a steady pace, it's a bit strange that Yuri isn't throwing devastating leg kicks with more frequency when it's obvious that his opponent can't handle the power.
Those are some things he'll need to work on in the future, but overall -- Yuri has the potential and skills to become a highly-ranked world class fighter in the UFC. Furthermore, he's stated that 2011 may be the year that he goes on a 4 to 5 fight run and angles his way at a UFC berth late in the year or in early 2012. Look forward to seeing if he can do that in 2011.