I actually have Rhodes ranked as my #3 prospect, but in the interest of building some name recognition before his UFC debut tomorrow I've decided to move up the schedule and profile him here. Check the story stream on the right side of the page or the links at the bottom of the article for previous installments, where I've laid out the methods behind the list and criteria for inclusion.
7) Mike Rhodes, Welterweight (6-1)
Years Pro: 1.75
Roufusport has produced a steady stream of young and exceptionally talented up-and-comers, ranging from Anthony Pettis to Erik Koch to Pettis the Younger to WSOF's Rick Glenn, whom I profiled a couple of weeks back. Mike "Biggie" Rhodes is the newest representative of this highly athletic and well-rounded crew, with a polished and technical striking game, surprisingly strong wrestling, and big power in his strikes. A former basketball player, Rhodes is exceptionally light on his feet, covers distance well, and generally showcases great athleticism. Most importantly, however, Rhodes has shown massive and rapid improvement on a fight-to-fight basis, to the extent that he's barely recognizable as the fighter who lost to current UFC buzz-saw Brandon Thatch last year on very short notice.
Striking is Rhodes' bread and butter, and he's a great deal more polished in that phase than his brief tenure in the sport would suggest. Unlike many of his Roufusport teammates, there's nothing fancy about his striking arsenal, which consists mostly of straight punches and round kicks complemented with the occasional jumping knee and spinning backfist. What makes it an outstanding skillset, however, is the fact that he shows smooth movement and sharp angles, has fantastic timing and understanding of the range, and packs big power in his strikes. That power is the product of fine technical skill rather than telegraphed, winging shots: he always keeps his feet under him when he throws, and you'll rarely see him reaching for a punch. Rhodes flicks out a hard and accurate jab at range and likes to follow with a laser-straight right cross. As he moves forward, he tends to follow his punches with extremely fast and potent kicks as his opponent backs away and angles out. The most intriguing and impressive part of his game for such a relative youngster is his punishing and diverse counter game. He works beautiful step-back counter straights and hooks to nail his opponent as he moves forward, catches kicks and comes back with punches very well, and has good, technical instincts in exchanges, though you'll rarely catch him brawling. Earlier in his career, Rhodes would get a bit too passive at range and load up looking for the big shot, which is part of what got him in trouble against Brandon Thatch, but he seems to have fixed this flaw in his recent outings. At this point, he has all of the skills you'd expect from a Duke Roufus-trained fighter, and his exceptional rate of improvement speaks to both his natural talent and a great deal of hard work in the gym.
Outside of the striking realm, Rhodes is far from helpless. He shoots a gorgeous power double, complete with a quick level change and great drive to get deep onto his opponent's hips. Even opponents defending correctly against the cage with a wide base have seen themselves slammed to the mat by Rhodes' enormous strength. I'd say, however, that the double is the only takedown in his arsenal that he's really mastered from a technical perspective; otherwise, he tends to rely on his strength and athleticism to get his opponent to the mat, and while that's been effective against lower-level competition, it probably won't work consistently against the kinds of fighters he'll face in the UFC. It's obvious, however, that Rhodes has spent a lot of time working on this facet of his game, and there's every reason to believe that he'll continue to improve and round out his takedown arsenal under the direction of Ben Askren: in the Jouban fight, for instance, he showed excellent slams and mat returns that hadn't appeared in his game before. Defensively, none of his opponents have had much success getting him down and holding him there. He springs back to his feet the moment he hits the mat, and works quickly to create distance and separate. He has excellent balance against single-legs, and a quick sprawl. The clinch might be his biggest weak point - the vastly more experienced Brandon Thatch soundly beat him in that phase - but again, he seems to be improving based on his more recent outings, with better awareness of position, use of head pressure, and integrating his strikes.
Once the fight hits the ground, Rhodes shows good striking from top position, feeding his opponent a steady stream of powerful punches, hammerfists, and elbows. He will occasionally look to pass guard, but he seems a bit tentative, and nobody's going to confuse him with Jacare or Demian Maia anytime in the near future. If he doesn't pass, Rhodes is perfectly comfortable working his ground striking from inside his opponent's guard, with good submission awareness, strong posture, and a heavy base. On his back, Rhodes doesn't have much to offer: his default approach is to work back to his feet, and if there's a weakness to be found in his ground game, it's his tendency to give up his back as he's standing up. This is a fixable issue, and if his coaches have seen the same film I have, they've already worked on it.
As you might gather from this scouting report, I'm pretty high on Biggie Rhodes. His physical tools are absolutely outstanding, his coaches are top-notch, and he's shown remarkable improvement from fight to fight during his brief pro career. In short, he's the prototype of the up-and-coming prospect that my data-driven analysis of Leland and Smoogy's Scouting Report guys says we should be looking for. I was initially apprehensive when I saw that he'd been signed by the UFC: he's been fighting for less than two years and has only seven fights on his record, and that's a really, really quick transition to the highest levels of competition. After reviewing video of his fights, however, I'm confident that he has both the talent and the skill necessary to compete right away. He's still a bit raw, and there are facets of his game (namely his grappling) that will need a lot of work before he's ready to fight the upper echelon of the division, but don't be surprised if Rhodes becomes a staple of the welterweight top five or even higher within the next couple of years.
25-23: Steve Mocco, Michinori Tanaka, and Nick Newell
22-20: Max Nunes, Gleristone Santos, and Walter Gahadza
19-18: Ramazan Emeev and Rick Glenn
17-16: Georgi Karakhanyan and Jim Alers
15-14: Tyrone Spong and Marlon Moraes
13-12: Mansour Barnaoui and Islam Makhachev