Rani Yahya is a well-respected fighter and an even more respected grappler. He's an ADCC champion and several-time medal winner. His rear naked choke win over Leo Viera is a thing of beauty. He also owns several notable wins over top fighters Yoshiro Maeda, Mike Brown, Mark Hominick and Eddie Wineland. Yet, he's something of an afterthought. As remarkable as his grappling pedigree is and as capable as he is in beating virtually anyone in the division, he really isn't taken seriously as a potential title contender.
His game is simply lacking too many dimensions for one to suggest it can really take him anywhere close to a title. The path to the title almost universally demands well-roundedness. The ground skills are considerable, and he also has reliable takedowns most of which are faciliated by the cage. But the realization most MMA fans and experts come to about Yahya is that any well-rounded fighter should have no problem dispatching him.
So if Yahya is something of an afterthought, what does that say about Roger Gracie?
I predicted Trevor Prangley would be able to stop Roger Gracie at last night's Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg event, so while I'll have to eat crow for the pick, I didn't walk away with much more confidence about Gracie's abilities than I had going in. Like Yahya, he, too, has an other-wordly ground game and an array of takedowns facilitated by the cage. But it's virtually impossible for me to get the sense that what he has is enough to really make much of a run.
Admittedly, while Strikeforce's light heavyweight division has very accomplished and talented fighters, that division isn't as stacked as the UFC's featherweight division. Gracie's skill set might be enough for him to collect some serious scalps.
Ultimately, though, the idea of monitoring a prospect is watching them chip away at deficiencies while assuming increasingly different challenges. Watching Gracie's career progress is remarkably different than, say, Anthony Pettis or Frankie Edgar or even Michael Bisping. Prangley is a tougher test than Yuki Kondo, but the latter was a fight that should never have been made in the first place. And unlike watching Pettis add considerable takedown defense to his repertoire, both Gracie and Yahya appear to simply enhance or augment their existing skill set. One is trying to produce a MMA game that's ready to take on all comers. The others believe they can do enough to get by.
Gracie may defeat notable fighters. If he does, he'll inch closer to the territory where Rani Yahya occupies. But is that really lofty territory? Yahya has considerable ability, but doesn't register in the minds of fight fans as anyone who can really ever contend for a title. He's a fighter a well-rounded contender should have no problem blowing through. Before we naively assume Gracie's win yesterday "silences the critics", let's wait a little while for this narrative to play out. There are red flags all over the place and I'm not prepared to ignore them because he's got a nice squeeze on his choke.