Evaluating a prospect in MMA is really not all that different from any other sport. You can look at the raw numbers, the performance against the lower levels of the sport and try to piece together a coherent picture of what to expect when the athlete hits the "big time." But, no matter how sophisticated a system is developed, you never really know what you're going to get until the step up to the big leagues takes place.
Unfortunately for Strikeforce, the recurring theme with many of their prospects as of late has been "not quite ready for prime time." Saturday night we saw it yet again with Billy Evangelista simply getting beaten in every facet of the game by the more experienced Jorge Masvidal. The outcome wasn't exactly shocking given only one of the seven Bloody Elbow staffers who made predictions of the event picked Evangelista. Still, this was a guy that Strikeforce had been pushing as a legit prospect since very early in his pro career.
Evangelista was far from the first of Strikeforce's "big prospects" to fall in recent months. Lyle Beerbohm had been brought along to be a "homegrown" star in the lightweight division. The solid (but somewhat unspectacular) Pat Healy deflated the hype by showing just how little Beerbohm was developing fight to fight.
At Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva the highly thought of (but also highly overrated) Gian Villante didn't manage to last three minutes against the well-traveled Chad Griggs. The same Chad Griggs that ruined the Bobby Lashley hype in a bizarre fight last August. One may think that Griggs would jump into that "potential future title challenger" role, but at 32 years old and somewhat limited in his game the upside is limited. Even Luke Rockhold, a guy I have a very high opinion of, hasn't fought in over a year due to injuries.
The intention here is not to be unnecessarily hard on Strikeforce but rather to point out the realities of their "prospect development." While there are still prospects on the roster only Tyron Woodley sticks out as a guy who can give a lot of fighters at the top end of the division fits. Shane del Rosario is undefeated but has faced very safe opposition and I see him a lot like Evangelista, a talented fighter with some big holes in his game (especially defensively).
Bellator has been much more aggressive in getting prospects with a ton of upside and the season tournament format puts the young fighters through a series of tests against different styles. Sure, some guys flame out in Bellator as well but the system is much better for learning what you have in a prospect much earlier on.
Still, Strikeforce is rolling with entertaining shows and Rich Chou does an incredible job of finding exciting and entertaining fights. I just wonder how well they can function in the long term without having credible young stars develop under their banner. For every Tim Kennedy or Tyron Woodley it seems that we get a series of guys who stall out in their development.
Of course, maybe I'm wrong and losing is what wakes up a guy like Beerbohm to step up his game and makes me look like a fool in the end.