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. Yuri Villefort (6-0)
Yuri Villefort was signed to a Strikeforce contract in 2011 along with his brother Danillo, and they were supposed to debut on the same Strikeforce Challengers card. But training injuries forced Yuri to withdraw from his scheduled debut against Travis Bush (5-2-1). No subsequent make-up date was set for the fight. Factoring in Danillo's defeat at the hands of Nate James in his Strikeforce debut, 2011 was a lost year for the Villeforts. At just 20 years of age, Yuri can afford the delay, but he needs to get back in the cage soon.
2. Alex Garcia (7-1)
As a member of the famed Tristar gym in Montreal, Alex Garcia was on the fast track to the world stage. That is, until his momentum was halted at the hands of jumbo-sized UFC welterweight Seth Baczynski in April. "The Dominican Nightmare" scored a big slam on Baczynski early, but appeared to tire quickly in the grappling exchanges, losing dominant position about midway through the first round. Garcia succumbed to ground and pound in the second round for his first career loss. He came back in October to take on Canadian circuit regular Matt McGrath (10-7) at Ringside MMA 12: Daley vs. Fioravanti. It was a return to form for Alex, winning by knockout early for his sixth career first round stoppage victory, lifting his Ringside MMA record to 5-1.
3. Erick Silva (13-1)
As expected, Erick Silva was able to parlay his 2010 Jungle Fight welterweight tournament championship run into a contract with the UFC. His debut came against then-Shooto Brazil welterweight champion Luis Ramos (19-7) at UFC 134 in Rio. Erick made it look easy, dropping Ramos with an overhand bomb early in the first. The flashy knockout finish in his debut has garnered Silva a lot of buzz among UFC fans. Next up for Erick is a UFC 142 clash with journeyman debutant Carlo Prater (29-10-1).
4. Douglas Lima (21-4)
If you want an example of a fighter who jumped from prospect to champion, look no further than Douglas Lima. He already held the Maximum Fighting Championship title when he chose to trade up for a spot in the season five Bellator welterweight tournament. Douglas got off to a rocky start, but recovered from a first round knockdown to take a decision from tournament veteran Steve Carl (15-3) in the quarterfinal. The semifinal and final rounds were a different matter, however; Lima found range with his counter boxing attack, scoring one punch knockouts over Chris Lozano (9-2) and Ben Saunders (12-4-2) to take the tournament. Next up is a shot at the Bellator world 170lb. title against immovable Champion Ben Askren (9-0).
5. Luis Santos (50-7-1)
The Scouting Report committee of two were anxiously hoping for an all-report Bellator welterweight tournament final between Luis Santos and Douglas Lima, and it seemed like it might actually happen. Santos outgunned Bellator mainstay Dan Hornbuckle (22-5) in the quarterfinal round with a superior mix of speed, footwork and power roundhouse kicks. In the semfinals, Luis got off to a good start early against UFC veteran Ben Saunders with punches and a takedown, but found himself stuck for much of the fight in an unusual high guard attack from "Killah B" that prevented Santos from mounting any offense. The recurring position eventually led to a keylock submission win for Saunders in the third round. Sadly, "Sapo" has not been invited back for the upcoming Season 6 welterweight tournament.
6. Jesse Juarez (17-7)
Jesse Juarez suffered a broken arm and and broken leg in his third round submission loss to Douglas Lima for the Maximum Fighting Championship welterweight championship last December. To add insult to injury, there was a dispute with MFC promoter Mark Pavelich over reimbursement for medical bills accrued as a result of the bout. Jesse parted ways with MFC in favor of a June main event against UFC regular Josh Neer (32-10-1) at Shark Fights 16 in Texas. It was another setback, as Juarez's corner stopped the fight after the first round due to an injury. Jesse finished the year in style though, successfully defending his Cage Fighting Championship strap against Manuel Rodriguez (8-2) in August, then making his Russian MMA debut in a winning effort over Gadji Zaipulaev (16-6) in December.
7. Gunnar Nelson (8-0-1)
With a nine fight unbeaten streak to kick off his career, grappling sensation Gunnar Nelson was tabbed for a quick transition to the upper echelon of MMA. But Gunnar defied expectations by opting to take a sabbatical from pro competition in order to give himself time to perfect all aspects of his fighting style. He stuck to the plan, staying off the radar for the entirety of 2011. Nelson has declared his intention to return in 2012, however, and the first match in his return is scheduled for February 25 as the main event of Cage Contenders 12 in Ireland.
8. Quinn Mulhern (17-2)
After multiple defenses of the King of the Cage welterweight championship, Quinn Mulhern was picked up by Strikeforce and placed in their Challengers Series, debuting at the 16th edition of the program in June. It was an inauspicious debut for Mulhern, dropping a unanimous decision to UFC veteran Jason High (15-3). But since then Mulhern has been solid, notching Challengers victories over Danny Davis Jr. (6-5-1) and David Hulett (18-10) to close out 2011. As the Challengers Series comes to a close, Mulhern is expected to join the main Strikeforce welterweight division.
9. Alberto Mina (8-0)
Though Alberto Mina won the Ultimate Challenge UK (now Cage Rage UK) welterweight championship and defended it in 2010 against The Ultimate Fighter 9 veteran Dean Amasinger, he languished on the shelf for 16 months without a fight due to shoddy representation by his management and the shambolic state of the UCUK promotion. A fed-up Mina abandoned the title and moved to join Gracie Barra's Greece affiliate academy in 2011. The Brazilian-born grappler returned to the cage in Greece against Dutchman Boy Eggels (3-1) in August, snatching a first round submission win via armbar. Alberto is currently in negotiations that could see him make his major organization debut early in 2012.
10. Joe Ray (6-3)
One step forward and two steps back seems to be the prevailing pattern in Joe Ray's campaign to get his breakthrough opportunity. He came up on the short end of a dubious decision to South Africa's Jeremy Smith (6-0) in last December. He rebounded with a submission over fellow Floridian John Kelly (5-4) in June. He was called up for a slot on the prelims of July's Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum card, but was stifled by fellow newcomer Nah-Shon Burrell (8-1). Another defeat followed at the hands of Chris Spang (4-1) in September at Strikeforce Challengers 19. He returned to Florida in December, easily winning a tuneup over local Levi LaLonde (2-5). With his Strikeforce stint apparently over, Ray needs to continue to improve his grappling if he intends to consistently win fights.