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. Antonio Carvalho (13-4)
Antonio Carvalho was a controversial top pick for our featherweight report last year due to his age, as well as his prominent place in Shooto's 143lb division prior to Zuffa's adoption of the 145 lb. weight class. But considering his lack of mileage due to a self-imposed hiatus from the sport between 2008-2010, we had a hunch that "Pato" would try to make up for lost time in a division that appeared to have left him behind.
After a June win over UFC veteran Doug Evans (13-10) put him at 3-0 since his return, the UFC inked Antonio to a contract and set his debut for August against Brazilian standout Yuri Alcantara (26-3). An injury to Carvalho in training scratched the bout, and now he will face the man who replaced him in that bout, Felipe Arantas (13-4), at UFC 142 in Rio on January 14th. At 32, he's hardly the oldest rookie the promotion has ever seen.
2. Taiki Tsuchiya (9-3)
After running his Shooto win streak to six straight, including a win over former champ Hideki Kadowaki (14-11-3), Taiki Tsuchiya was booked for the biggest fight of his young career against another former title holder, the legendary "Lion" Takeshi Inoue (21-5) at Shooto: Tradition 2011 in April. Tsuchiya held his own for the first half of the three rounder with effective use of his uptempo, fleet-footed striking style. But like many challengers before him, he was unable to sustain his work rate and weather Inoue's heavy blows as the fight wore on, forcing Taiki to be saved by the referee late in the second round. Unfortunately, he hasn't fought since, and there's been no word on what's next for him since vacating the Shooto Pacific Rim lightweight championship after the loss.
3. Mark Adams (6-0)
Having posted a perfect 5-0 record two years into his campaign as a professional fighter, it wasn't a surprise when Mark Adams got the call to challenge for the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) featherweight championship against Germany's Alan Omer (17-3) in May 2010. As the inexperienced underdog, Adams wasn't expected to control the fight from top position for the full five rounds and defend everything thrown at him from Omer's dangerous guard like he did. Though the decision was hotly disputed, the judges favored the grappling of the Portsmouth, England-based athlete, bringing the belt back to the UK. A February title defense against journeyman Robbie Olivier (17-9-1) was cruelly cancelled due to a snowstorm, and the promotion hasn't found space for Adams on any of their three subsequent events; his span between pro fights now stands at 18 months (and counting).
4. Alan Omer (17-3)
As a Kurdish-German former Iraqi refugee, Alan Omer isn't a stranger to turbulent times. While it hurt Omer's standing in the UK to take the BAMMA featherweight championship off Paul Reed (19-9-1) only to drop it to unheralded Mark Adams (6-0) in his next fight, he hasn't let the setback faze him. Since then he's built a three fight win streak, mostly recently submitting Dutchman Joziro Boye (4-1-1) with an omoplata in Germany. Omer was passed over for inclusion in The Ulitmate Fighter 14; UFC ought to take another look now.
5. Koichiro Matsumoto (15-3-1)
It took winning 11 of 12 fights in Deep across four years for promotional featherweight champion Koichiro Matsumoto to get his big shot, a featherweight contest with "Lion" Takeshi Inoue on the DREAM: Fight for Japan card in May. Once again, Inoue played spoiler to a younger, up and coming countryman, wearing Matsumoto down for the TKO finish 6:51 into the ten minute opening round. Koichiro appeared to rebound nicely with a second round stoppage over Yoshida Dojo prospect Tatsunao Nagakura (6-2) at Deep 55 in August to retain the title, but afterwards made the stunning announcement that he was retiring from MMA to pursue a career in comedy. Matsumoto left the door open for a return at some point, so at just 25, let us hope he fails as a standup comedian.
6. Tom Niinimaki (16-5-1)
There may not be another prospect in Europe who is as skilled and well prepared for an opportunity on the world stage as Tom Niinimaki. Unbeaten as a featherweight and currently riding a seven fight win streak, he's also one of the best in his division on the Euro grappling circuit and is nationally ranked in amateur boxing. For whatever reason, Niinimaki can't find any opportunities outside of Finland, and the lack of capable opposition nationally leaves him with few worthy matches unless international opponents agree to fight him on his home turf. It was almost a year between fights when Tom dispatched France's Johnny Frachey (14-9) via knockout in 69 seconds at Cage 15 in November. Maybe he should beat up his manager next because at 29, Niinimaki is ready to make the leap sooner rather than later.
7. Marcos Vinicius Costa Silva (7-2)
Like 2011's #6 Bantamweight Adrian Wooley, a little luck would have gone a long way for Marcos Vinicius in 2011, but there was little to be found. He followed a March split decision loss in his home base of Recife, Brazil to Brazilian Top Team journeyman Janailson Lima (24-14) with another one to Nova Uniao's Rodolfo Marques (14-1) in April. A win in the latter fight could have put him in DREAM's inaugural Bantamweight Grand Prix to boot. Where's a hometown decision when you need one? To add insult to injury, a December rebound fight in Recife Fighting Championships was scratched at the last minute. Expect Marcos to resurface in RFC in 2012; he remains bound to the region as the head instructor of his NineNine academy.
8. Matt Fiordirosa (14-1)
When we check in with Matt Fiordirosa a year ago, it seemed like "Sunshine" had his stop-and-go career back on track. Following a three year break from professional fighting, two wins in 2010 for the Ingleside, Illinois based fighter put him back at the top of the discussion of the state's best fighters. Fiordirosa has other career aspirations outside of fighting, and his studies at Trinity International University have kept him out of the cage for 2011. He further splits his time as the head wrestling coach of nearby Lake Forest High School. Matt is still listed as a member of Team Curran, but there is no word on if or when he will return to action.
9. Isaac DeJesus (9-4)
Back in February 2010, Isaac DeJesus was fresh off of clobbering Nam Phan (17-9) in under three minutes to take the vacant Tachi Palace Fights featherweight championship. An opporunity in a major promotion loomed large, but a disastrous four-fight winless streak suggests he may have found his ceiling as a fighter.
A misguided move up to face Rob McCullough (19-8) at 160lbs. earned DeJesus a first round TKO beat down. He failed to make weight for a title defense against The Ultimate Fighter 14's Micah Miller (17-4), so while he was submitted in that fight, he retained the title in the process. A May 2011 knockout of Fresno's Russ Miura (9-1) was overturned due to Isaac testing positive for marijuana, and the belt was vacated. DeJesus was awarded another chance at the strap in December, but Bellator veteran Georgi Karakhanyan (17-3-1) took it home with a slick first round triangle choke submission. Tachi Palace promoter Jeremy Luchau continues to give Isaac good opportunities, but he simply hasn't risen to the occasion as expected.
10. Mitch Gagnon (8-1)
It would be fair to say that some of the 2011 featherweights fell short of expectations (see above), but at least Sudbury, Ontario's rising star Mitch Gagnon ends this review on a pleasant note. The reigning Ringside MMA featherweight champion first defended his belt in April against Rejean Groulx (5-1) at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The back and forth affair was one of the best fights of the year in Canada, punctuated by a devastating third round slam that put Groulx away. Mitch moved down to challenge for the bantamweight championship in November against Stephane Pelletier (5-1), but a late change of opponent due to injury meant he had to settle for a catchweight contest with Detroit's David Harris (6-3-1). Gagnon made short work of the late replacement, latching on with an arm-in guillotine to score the submission win at 2:09 of round one. Gagnon will now face Johnny Bedford as a late replacement for Eddie Wineland on the UFC on Fox 2 card next month.