This is a guest post by Rory MacLeod (smoogy)
A year ago, we selected the inaugural class of fighters that would make up the first edition of the World MMA Scouting Report. It's been a gratifying experience to see some of the athletes we selected go on to succeed in major fight opportunties, and a heartbreaking one to see others come up just short. For each pick that claimed a significant title in 2011, there were at least two that didn't make their breakthrough, or fell off the rails entirely. Here's a recap to give you a sampling of the highlights (and lowlights) from a tumultuous time in the careers of these MMA prospects.
1. Eduardo Dantas (13-2)
Eduardo had about as good a year as one could hope. Signing with Bellator for their Season 5 bantamweight tournament, Dantas pulled off the unlikely feat of defeating three veteran opponents in two months to capture the tourney title as the youngest competitor among the field. A bantamweight World Championship fight with title holder Zach Makovsky awaits in season 6; Dantas will likely be the betting favorite.
2. Farkhad Sharipov (13-5)
Farkhad Sharipov took a victory over #8 Tommy Vargas at Tachi Palace fights, but at 1-2 so far in his Bellator career, he finds himself left out of tournament action. Larger, better rounded fighters have proven effective at taking Sharipov out of his grappling rhythm. A drop down to flyweight might be in order to get "Frank" back on track in 2012. But more importantly, he needs to supplement his wrestling with a proper kickboxing attack and improve his transitions on the ground.
3. Jimmie Rivera (8-1)
As the Ring of Combat bantamweight champion, Jimmie Rivera headed into the The Ultimate Fighter 14 elimination round as a presumptive early favorite in the featherweight division. But after a dominant first round in his eliminator, Jimmie was overwhelmed by eventual finalist Dennis Bermudez in one of the most unlikely comebacks ever witnessed on the show. Most recently, a scheduled defense of his Ring of Combat title in November was scratched due to injury. Hopefully he can get back in the cage early in the new year and show UFC he deserves a second chance.
4. Yusup Saadulaev (8-1-1)
Yusup Saadulaev got the call up to DREAM for their inaugural Bantamweight Grand Prix, entering the field as the darkhorse against Brazilian standout Rodolfo Marques Diniz (14-1). Their unheralded quarterfinal matchup turned out to be a sensational debut for both athletes and one of the most underrated fights of the year. In a three round grappling epic, both fighters scrambled and swept like madmen to try and gain an edge, and neither was out of reach of victory at any point in the fight. It seemed like the takedowns and positional advantage of Saadulaev might be enough to eke out a win, but the judges favored Diniz and his technical display of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Yusup now faces fellow GP castoff Hideo Tokoro on New Year's Eve in the BWGP reserve bout.
5. John Lineker (19-5)
Maybe John Lineker should consider the nickname "Al Qaeda", because he terrorized his fellow Brazilian bantamweights in 2011, going 7-0 with four knockouts. His streak culminated in September with a Jungle Fight bantamweight championship fight against Jungle Fight veteran Illiarde Sabino Belo Dos Santos (22-6-1) in Sao Paulo. After seemingly being knocked senseless with ground and pound early, Illiarde somehow scrambled to his feet and not only survived the round, but came back to post two very close latter rounds in the three frame affair. The judges ultimately favored Lineker's early efforts and he was awarded the title, much to the protest of Illiarde's corner.
John recently signed to join his fellow Jungle Fight champion Erick Silva in the UFC as one of the first fighters in the newly-opened flyweight division. Despite being left out of the championship tournament, Lineker will enter the promotion as one of the favorites to challenge for the title early on.
6. Adrian Wooley (7-3)
If it wasn't for bad luck, Adrian Wooley wouldn't have had any luck at all in 2011. The Warrior-1 bantamweight champion put up a solid effort in July against Nick Mamalis (23-8) at the inaugural Score Fighting Series event in Mississauga, Ontario, but came up on the wrong end of a controversial split decision. Wooley was expected to rebound from the false start by breaking off Detroit's David Harris (6-3-1), but a slow start and a surprisingly game opponent led to another split decision defeat. Despite the setbacks, Wooley still has fans among the Canadian MMA scene and is expected to get another opportunity on a nationally-televised card in the near future.
7. Rodrigo Lima (10-0)
"Ratinho" continues to be one of the most stellar young overachievers in Brazilian MMA. Fighting under the Watch Out Combat Show banner, Rodrigo Lima went 3-0 in 2011, finishing all three opponents in a combined time of 5:28. Given Bellator's propensity for acquiring emerging Brazilian talent, it was no surprise to learn Lima has secured a place in the upcoming season 6 bantamweight tournament. In a relatively wide open field, Rodrigo has a great chance to follow his compatriot Eduardo Dantas in seizing the tourney crown as the youngest competitor among the field.
8. Tommy Vargas (9-2)
Unfortunately for Tommy Vargas, the loss to Farkhad Sharipov in May not only took him out of contention for a Tachi Palace Fights title shot, it may have cost him a shot in Bellator as well. Sharipov wasn't able to inflict much damage and almost gave the fight up in the closing minutes by shooting into a knee strike, but the Kyrgyzstani wrestler's stifling top control proved that Vargas still needs to make improvements as a grappler to succeed on the world stage. On the plus side, his conditioning was on display on December 1st when he rebounded to capture the Fight Club OC Bantamweight strap in a five round decision victory over Tyler Weathers (8-7). With his last seven fights all having gone to the judges scorecards, Vargas needs to post an impressive finish to get back on track.
9. Mike Easton (11-1)
It turned out that a two year period between pro fights wasn't an issue for Mike Easton. With the UFC bantamweight division in need of veteran talent, Easton made his debut in Washington, D.C. at the final edition of UFC on Versus as the local favorite. Fellow debutant Byron Bloodworth (6-2) succumbed to the power of Easton's clinch in the second round, folding to some particularly nasty knees to the body. Clearly his hard work put in at Alliance MMA is paying off; he's come a long way from the ignominious decision win over Chase Beebe and the controversy that ensued. With no word yet on Easton's next opponent, perhaps a move to flyweight is in his future?
10. Denis Puric (4-3)
Despite his ugly record and proclivity for getting submitted by superior grapplers, Denis Puric continues to show pugilistic promise and a flair for the dramatic that puts him in high demand on the Canadian MMA circuit. After submittiing to Winnipeg's Cory Houston (4-1) at Score Fighting Series 2 in October, Puric made his Bellator debut less than a month later, taking on Chuck Mady (5-6) on the preliminary card. In a performance reminiscent of his compatriot, UFC Lightweight John Makdessi, Denis dominated with a flashy array of kicking technique, spinning and hooking his way to a sensational TKO stoppage win after two rounds. Although Puric did not do enough to earn a spot in the next Bellator 135lb bracket, the buzz about "that tae kwon do guy" should ensure a return invite to the show in 2012.