It's taken myself and smoogy an extended period of time to compile a list of middleweight prospects for the masses to mull over, but we are finally bringing you the 2011 World MMA Middleweight scouting report. While the outlook of the 185 pound weight class is a bit grim due to the lack of talent working their way through the ranks, our compilation of fighters should encompass most of the talent out there that has a chance of signing with a major promotion in 2011.
First on our list at #10 is Swedish-born striker Assan Njie (10-2). Primarily known for his striking skills, Njie has amassed ten wins over the course of his four-year foray into mixed martial arts, defeating notable names such as Sean Salmon and Alex Makhonin. Those names probably don't ring much of a bell with the casual fan, and I'm sure Salmon's name doesn't inspire confidence that Njie is going to tear through the ranks of the UFC. But Njie's striking is an attractive part of his skill-set that should help him ascend through the ranks in 2011.
Offensive Skills: Njie's striking game is what separates him from most of the prospects who didn't make our list. While we dug through loads of prospects who edged out their opponents with smothering wrestling or methodical grappling techniques, Njie stood out due to his aggressiveness and propensity to finish off opponents quickly. His training background with camps such as Chute Box and Golden Glory have had a profound impact on his style, and it's easy to guess that his skill-set consists of the aggressive Muay Thai striking that those camps produce.
Njie also has a boxing background along with a few professional bouts. His punching can be crisp, but he has a tendency to hook his punches. That minor deficiency is made up for by his ability to link combinations together, and his propensity to throw devastating knee strikes in tandem with those combinations makes him one of the more prolific finishers on our list. He's also very good at countering incoming opponents with those knees, a skill that could be effective in crushing wrestlers trying to take him down.
While Njie doesn't possess a high quantity of knockout victories, many of those were created by dazing strikes. His submission game is by no means average either as he has a nasty guillotine that he normally slaps on in the scramble.
Defensive Skills: Defensively, there isn't much that's notable about Njie. His stand-up does have some holes in it, but his power and aggressiveness usually tilts the tide in his favor when it comes to clashes on the feet. That offensive ability acts as a deterrent to his opponent's own ability to create offense.
The ground is where Njie needs some work, especially if he intends to make a mark in the North American scene. While his jiu-jitsu and submission ability is something he can use to threaten wrestlers who try to smother him in ground and pound, he lacks the grappling ability off his back to be dangerous.
Progression: Offensively, like most proficient strikers gaining experience, Njie has steadily become much more patient in his approach. In his earliest days, he was much more of a loose cannon in stringing together his strikes on the feet. It's apparent now that he's eying his openings, mostly for the Thai plum and knee strikes.
His scrambling ability from the floor is getting better as well, and he isn't the easiest man to keep down, especially with the constant threat of a guillotine choke. If he can continue to improve his takedown defense, he will progress into a very dangerous opponent for anyone in a major promotion's lower ranks.
Environment: Njie trains out of GBG MMA in Sweden with Joakim Engberg, Hamid Corassani, and fellow middleweight prospect Bruno Carvalho. He's also trained at Chute Boxe and Golden Glory during the course of his career, and he has access to some of the higher level striking camps in Scandinavia, England, and Europe.
Carvalho is going to be his best bet in honing his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, and while Carvalho squeaked out of our top 10 ranking at the last minute due to his somewhat limited ability to finish fights and work effectively from top control -- he's a very capable grappler from his back. He should be able to provide Njie the proper training to progress that weakness in his game.
|#1 - Thiago Michel
#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
|#1 - Yuri Villefort
#2 - Alex Garcia
#3 - Erick Silva
#4 - Douglas Lima
#5 - Luis "Sapo" Santos
#6 - Jesse Juarez
#7 - Gunnar Nelson
#8 - Quinn Mulhern
#9 - Alberto Mina
#10 - Joe Ray
|#10 - Assan Njie|
Potential: Njie is a bit limited by his ground game, but he has the potential and resources to develop that into a threatening tool in his arsenal. It's either that or he drills his takedown defense to the point that he's nearly impossible to put down without a relentless struggle. The latter allows him to pounce on tiring opponents while the former gives him the opportunity to finish quickly. Both options obviously have drawbacks, and I think a better takedown defense benefits his skill-set more as his stand-up is his means to finishing fights quickly.
The Scandinavian scene won't offer the kinds of fights that Njie should be looking for right now if he wants to continue to move up the ranks for much longer, and Britain may be his next stop before making his way stateside. Look for Njie to make an impact in 2011 and possibly sign with a larger promotion by year's end.