2011 World MMA Scouting Report Review - Light Heavyweights

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 opportunities, 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. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (8-1)

Marcos Rogerio de Lima caught the attention of the MMA world when he took a decision win over former WEC Middleweight Champion Paulo Filho (22-4-2) last October in the main event of Sao Paulo's First Class Fight series. It took a while, but the win eventually propelled him to an opportunity in Strikeforce. "Pezao" was given another step up in competition upon arrival, drawing American Kickboxing Academy's Mike Kyle (19-8-1) as his Semptember debut opponent. In three rounds of cage kickboxing, Lima failed to find an answer for Kyle's tight defense and snapping low kicks. Marcos held his own, but in the end found himself on the wrong end of a unanimous decision. Four months later, no sophomore match in Strikeforce has materialized for Pezao.

2. Gian Villante (9-3)

As the Ring of Combat light heavyweight and heavyweight champion and the primary bro to UFC middleweight rookie sensation Chris Weidman, Gian Villante seemed poised for instant success when he made the jump to Strikeforce early in the year. Those expectations needed adjusting after he debuted as an alternate in the Strikeforce World Grand Prix against unheralded, mutton-chopped heavyweight Chad Griggs (11-1).

Griggs engaged Villante in a savage one-round brawl that thrilled the crowd. Gian took the balance of the hits, almost mounting a comeback after bloodying Griggs' nose before being put away with strikes just short of the three-minute mark. Gian may have come back early when he took a light heavyweight booking with then-undefeated Lorenz Larkin (12-1) just four months later. Villante was outmaneuvered by Larkin from the outset, resigning to a decision loss for most of the latter half of the contest. Since the losses, Gian has brought his Strikeforce record back to .500; he outpointed Keith Berry (11-8) in August, before laying the smack down on Trevor Smith (9-2) in January.

3. Jimi Manuwa (11-0)

Rather than rely on the assessments of others to gauge his readiness for the big show, Jimi Manuwa has carefully chosen his own career path. He turned down a Zuffa contract in favor of continuing to sharpen his skills in the UK, fighting as a main event for the Ultimate Challenge promotion before agreeing to terms with the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts series. In his BAMMA debut, "The Poster Boy" only needed one round to put away French journeyman Antony Rea (22-14), stringing together a damaging spinning backfist and high kick to take the fight out of Rea, who called it quits between rounds. Manuwa figures to continue as a main event attraction for BAMMA in 2012, provided they can keep their schedule on course.

4. Glover Teixeira (17-2)

It appears that the seemingly never-ending saga of Glover Teixeira and his quest to gain full-time entry to the United States is finally over. Glover has gone through the application process for his green card and now looks to return to California, where his career started. In the meantime, he went a perfect 5-0 last year, running his overall winning streak up to 15. Among the victims were UFC veterans Marcio "Pe De Pano" Cruz (7-3), Antonio Mendes (17-11), Marvin Eastman (17-14-1) and former champion Ricco Rodrigeuz (48-15).

5. Jan Blachowicz (14-3)

As the preeminent Polish light heavyweight in MMA, it stands to reason that Jan Blachowicz would have to make it on the world stage for any of his divisional compatriots to stand a chance. Unfortunately, Jan has come up short even when the world stage comes to Poland for him. In March he dropped his KSW light heavyweight strap to PRIDE and UFC veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (12-10), quitting on his stool at the end of the second round.

He bounced back in May with a submission win over Finnish journeyman Toni Valtonen (24-13) before KSW lured Sokoudjou back for a seemingly dubious rematch with Blachowicz in November. However, this time it was Sokoudjou who appeared to have motivational issues, fading in the later rounds and opening the door for Jan to ground him and lay just enough offense down to reclaim the title on the judges' scorecards. The jury is still out on whether or not Blachowicz can ever ascend beyond the Polish national MMA circuit.

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6. Yoel Romero (4-1)

After making this report and producing a viral moment among MMA fans with his incredible standing ankle pick takedown against Michal Fijalka (8-2), Cuba's Yoel Romero garnered insider buzz as an emerging superathlete that could seriously shake things up in the light heavyweight division. Strikeforce came calling for his services, booking Romero into a doozy of a debut against former title holder Rafael Cavalcante (11-3) in September.

Yoel's normal whirlwind style wasn't on display, however, as he curiously danced around for most of the first round. Eventually, referee Dan Mirgliotta issued him a rare warning for inacivity. Romero responded in the second round, scoring takedowns and engaging Cavalcante in brawling exchanges that favored the former champ. Late in the frame, "Feijao" missed a high kick but stunned Yoel with a follow-up backfist, chasing him down with more punches to force a stoppage. Romero hasn't been back in action since the loss.

7. Ryan Jimmo (16-1)

The unique career path of Canadian karateka Ryan Jimmo stayed course in 2011. He continued to reign as Maximum Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion, successfully defending the belt three more times. He sent Fort McMurray's Dwayne Lewis (12-7) home with a busted eye socket in February, then notched consecutive five-round decision wins over Strikeforce veteran Zak Cummings (13-3) and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. His steady presence was finally rewarded in the form of a UFC contract offer, which he happily signed near the end of the year. A planned January debut was scratched due to injury, so Jimmo will have to wait for another slot to open up on the schedule before he makes his promotional debut.

8. Nik Fekete (5-1)

Given his status as a former NCAA Division 1 All-American at Michigan State University, there were high hopes for Nik Fekete (5-1) when he was invited to compete in Bellator Fighting Championship's inaugural light heavyweight tournament. Combine his wrestling credentials with Muay Thai tutelage from Xtreme Couture's renowned Marco Van Den Broek, and it seemed like Fekete may be able to overcome his experience disadvantage to go deep in the tourney. Those pipe dreams were dashed quickly in the quaterfinals by Tempe, Arizona's Richard Hale (18-4-1).

The 6'4" Koncrete Gym representative turned Nik into fodder for submission highlight reels in less than two minutes by reversing a Fekete takedown attempt into a rarely-seen inverted triangle choke. Fekete was quickly rendered unconscious, creating a scary scene as the referee took several seconds to realize the fight was over. After the humbling defeat, Fekete quietly made his Bellator return in August, overwhelming Mark Griffin (3-3-1) with strikes in the second round.

9. Marcus Vanttinen (21-3)

Marcus Vanttinen, Finland's preeminent light heavyweight hope, kept his busy schedule going in 2011, continuing to fight primarily for the long-running Fight Festival series in Helsinki. He started the year off with dominant first-round TKO wins over faded former UFC fighters Ron Faircloth (33-20) and Edwin Dewees (37-15). Marcus had his eleven fight win streak snapped by Slovakian powerhouse Atilla Veigh (24-4-2) via unanimous decision at May's Rock and Brawl show in Kouvela. Vanttinen came back in October at Fight Festival 31 to elbow France's Malik Merad (11-8) into submission. Shortly after, Marcus was signed by Bellator; he will likely make his debut in the upcoming sixth season. There is no 205 lbs. tournament in this cycle, so Vanttinen will likely have to win a fight or two to qualify for the next one. With Veigh also making his way to Bellator, Marcus may get a chance to avenge his only recent loss.

10. Ronny Markes (12-1)

Though he barely made our 2011 report, Ronny Markes went on to have the most visible, successful campaign among the light heavyweight selections. The Shooto Brazil 93 kg Champion took a step up in competition in April, facing former WEC Middleweight Champion Paulo Filho in Recife. A convincing decision win in that bout catapulted Markes into the UFC, where he made his August debut against Czech tackler Karlos Vemola (8-2), an intimidating former heavyweight who was fresh off a first-round destruction of Kimbo-killer Seth Petruzelli. Surprisingly, it was Ronny who dominated with takedowns right from the start, cruising to an easy decision win. In another twist, he opted to cut down to middleweight after the fight, and he'll make his divisional debut February 15th in Omaha, Nebraska against eight-fight UFC veteran Aaron Simpson (11-2).

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