It had to happen sooner or later. Procrastination sets in, the Chicago Bears make the playoffs, and errands pile up on a long list that eventually must get done. The combination of all of these things allowed a major promotion to strike our countdown before I could inform our readers. Damn you, Strikeforce!
At #2 on our 2011 World MMA Light Heavyweight Scouting Report, Ring of Combat Heavyweight champion Gian Villante (7-1) takes his place as one of our top three light heavyweight prospects to keep an eye on in the future. He was signed by Strikeforce last week to participate in the third reserve bout of the heavyweight grand prix tournament, but he'll likely fight at 205 pounds if he isn't utilized in the tournament down the road. He's one of the best prospects in the weight class in North American, and as you would expect -- he has a well-rounded skill-set, athleticism, and one of the best support systems in the Northeast region to help him progress to the next level.
Offensive Skills: Villante's athleticism is his greatest strength in the context of producing threatening offense. A former standout linebacker for Hofstra, Villante was projected to be a NFL-caliber player with a few teams showing interest in drafting him back in 2008. He was also a very good high school wrestler, placing 3rd his junior year and winning the state championship his senior year.
If that doesn't give you an idea of how physically superior Villante is to most of his opponents, a glance at his record should give you a sense. Six out of his seven victories ended in the first round, most of those ending by way of brutal ground and pound or spectacular knockout finishes on the feet.
Villante's offense mostly stems from a kickboxing base in his striking game and a standard wrestling base on the ground. Unlike some of the other prospects on our countdown, Villante is very adept in the kicking department, using his range to pepper opponents with kicks in order to set up more damaging combinations of offense. He's also good at transitioning to the mat from the clinch, and he's one of the quicker prospects on our countdown when it comes to the scramble. It's difficult to regain your feet once Villante has pulled you to the floor, and his jiu-jitsu skills on top of his wrestling skills make him one of the better prospects on our countdown.
Defensive Skills: Villante is prone to counters like many of the prospects we've seen on our list. He isn't a speedy puncher by any means, and his ability to throw combinations at a speed that keeps his opponents on the defensive is lacking. His power alone causes his opponents to cower at the sight of a rush, but he'll find resistance against stiffer competition. He'll need to keep his weak side covered while he's throwing huge overhands at opponents, otherwise he'll be in for a world of hurt against better Strikeforce fighters.
On the ground, he's one of the better defensive wrestlers and grapplers in the division. He has a great knowledge of what to expect and phenomenal training partners to help him progress. In most of the footage I've watched, Villante has shown that he knows exactly what he needs to do when he's in precarious situations, and that's a testament to the D'Arce BJJ team and friends like Chris Weidman helping him train.
Progression: It's difficult to say exactly where Villante ranks in his current progression as a fighter. He's almost always in the cage for less than five minutes, and many times we've seen him in the cage for less than two minutes. Not exactly a lot of time to nit pick at some of the finer points to fighting. But if I had to choose a couple of areas to spotlight in Villante's improvement, I'd choose his stand-up game and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappling abilities.
Both areas have seen improvements, mostly due to his continued training at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and D'Arce BJJ. While he is only a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his more recent fights have showcased some of the skills he's added to his arsenal on the ground, allowing him to maintain more dominant positions or transition out of danger.
Environment: As aforementioned, Villante currently trains out of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy under the tutelage of owner Keith Trimble. The gym houses a few world champion kickboxers along with many aspiring world champions, a great place for Villante to continue honing his craft on the feet. As you probably guessed, Joe D'Arce is the head trainer at D'Arce BJJ in Bay Shore, New York, Villante's secondary training facility. The legendary BJJ practitioner should give Villante all the skills he needs to succeed, and it will also allow him to take advantage of potential sessions at Renzo Gracie's gym.
Furthermore, Villante is a good friend of fellow scouting report prospect Chris Weidman. Weidman's wrestling knowledge should help Villante develop more technique, and his affiliation with Serra-Longo will give Villante the opportunity to train with some proven UFC veterans if he chooses to do so.
Potential: Villante is obviously a high-caliber light heavyweight fighter if a major promotion like Strikeforce has already snagged him up for their local show. While some fans believe he's simply that... a local attraction to sell tickets, I think he'll have a major impact on Strikeforce's 205 pound division once this pipe dream of competing in the heavyweight division passes. At 6'2", 230 pounds, the 25-year-old from Wantagh, New York will have major disadvantages against the beefier wrestlers and strikers at the top of the division. Furthermore, he's fought at light heavyweight once already.
Skill-wise, Villante is progressing nicely. Both areas of his game are improving considerably, and his more recent battles inside the cage have shown some major improvements in areas he's needed to work on. If he can continue to work on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu tactics, he'll become one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division with the athleticism to trump most of the fighters on our countdown and many veteran fighters. His strength and power is his greatest asset, and it's one of the main reasons why he sits at #2 on our report.