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2015 Bloody Elbow MMA Scouting Report: #10 - #6 Welterweight Prospects

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T.P. Grant and Zane Simon start their search for MMA talent in the 170 pound division, listing off the first half of their Top 10 Prospects at Welterweight.

The Bloody Elbow MMA Scouting Report is getting a jump on 2015 as T.P. Grant and Zane Simon start their quest through hours of regional MMA to find the next great generation of MMA fighters. The search starts at Welterweight, a division with a deep talent pool to draw from.

A list of over 70 fighters was created and each was evaluated in the making of this list. How fighters were selected, graded, and ranked was covered in the Methodology post a few days ago. It bears repeating that this division is quite deep when it comes to prospects, just because a fighter doesn't appear in this top ten isn't an indictment of their skills, and there will be a few extra pieces highlighting the near misses that will come out in the next few weeks.

But to start things off here is the first half of the Top 10 at Welterweight:

#10 - Anatoly Tokov

Record: 18-1 Height: 5'10" Age: 24 Years Pro: 5

Country: Russia Team: Alexander Nevsky Club Base: Hand to Hand Combat

The first Welterweight on our Top 10 list hails from Russia and has spent much of his career in the cage/ring hybrid of M-1 Global. In fact, he was the winner of their second season of M-1 Fighter, M-1's own MMA themed reality show. He's a master of sport in hand to hand combat and is riding an eleven fight winning streak reaching back to early 2012. He originally started his career at Middleweight and has since moved down to Welterweight.

T.P. Grant: Tokov is a strong top position grappler with good, heavy hips and a solid base. His striking on the ground is a plus part of his game as even at this early stage of his career he has a good sense of how to drop heavy shots. He also has good striking on the feet, but it tends to be him loading up on a single shot rather than throwing combinations and using lower power shots to set up big strikes. When he connects though it can be fireworks as he does seem to have some decent power in his hands. His takedowns are very good, he thrives in the clinch and if he can get a body lock, dragging even much larger fighters to the ground.

Tokov's holes are mainly in his striking. He can counter strike a bit but has a way to go before he is an offensive powerhouse and more advanced strikers with diverse attacks will likely give him serious problems. His clinch wrestling game is strong, but his clinch striking could improve as he mostly only throws a few knees and hooks while looking for takedowns. And while Tokov's top game is very strong what little we've seen of his game off his back needs improvement and he does struggle passing guard at times.

Zane: Tokov is one of those fighters whose game is just built for a certain, basic level of MMA success. He's big and strong and athletic and uses that to stifle opponents in the clinch and on the ground. His clinch and wrestling entries aren't the greatest, but once he has his hands on an opponent, it's almost certain that he'll find a way to drag them to the mat, where he can work grappling and striking game. Because he's a very willing striker, I actually have some hopes that he'll develop more of a sound, technical boxing game. Occasionally, when he just sits flat footed and throws, I can actually see signs of it developing. Add in that he's got great cardio and a brick for a chin and he's always going to find some success.

His hands are a concern, however. He's just not as consistent a striker as he needs to be, to be a great wrestler at the highest level. If that part of his game doesn't advance any further than it already has, it's tough to see him cracking the welterweight elite. Beyond that, he often tries to just "athlete" through things rather than setting them up properly, and because of it, can be less effective than he should be, given his skills and talent.

Overall: Tokov is a good athlete with a solid base of skills, with a background in hand to hand combat, and very likely some experience in combat sambo as well. As a fighter Tokov is currently ready to step into a bigger show, be it the UFC or Bellator, and, given some time to develop, he could end up being a consistent Top 15 to lower half Top 10 fighter on the order of Nik Lentz. The higher end of Tokov's potential and skill set could be on the order of a Combat Sambo version of Rashad Evans, possessing some power in the striking game but relying mostly on takedowns and top position, with a bit more submission game than the UFC Light Heavyweight.

#9 - Yaroslav Amosov

Record: 10-0 Height: 6' 0" Age: 20 Years Pro: 2.5

Country: Ukraine Team: Germes Base: Combat Sambo

In the ninth slot is a fighter who is a bit of a puzzle. Amosov has the glossy, undefeated record many look for when seeking out a prospect, but it comes entirely in fight promotions within Ukraine, which is essentially Xplode Fighting Series: The Country. So while his competition is not noteworthy at all, he deals with low level competition in the manner you'd expect and his recent win against Shamil Zavurov, a very legitimate Dagestani fighter, cemented his place on this list. Beyond his record, he's also a Ukranian combat sambo champion. Perhaps not as strong a base as the Russian contingent, but still suggests a good foundation.

T.P. Grant: Right now, Amosov is an athlete with few stand out skills but he already has an astoundingly solid all-around skill set considering his youth. His most advanced skill his is striking, while he isn't likely to end up an elite striker he could certainly end up being one of the better based if for no other reason than he has good speed and power in his strikes. Amosov's next best tool is his takedown game, in close he is explosive with double legs and a fairly diverse clinch game. Finally, once on top, Amosov has a good heavy top game and while his ground striking is a bit inconsistent he has flashes of good power on the ground.

Amosov is still pretty hittable on the feet and relies mostly on toughness to gut through shots. His ability to close distance into his takedowns is pretty basic and, as a result, he can look silly shooting for takedowns from way outside at times. On the ground, he progresses positions well, but his submission game is still pretty basic and won't be a usable tool against higher level fighters in its current state.

Zane: So, I'm probably higher on Amosov than I have a right to be, because at times I can see him being an elite fighter at the very top of 170. He fights with the ease of an incredibly talented athlete, and his diversity of skills is really pretty shocking for a 20-year-old (at least I'm pretty sure he's about 20). He's an aggressive striker, with solid technique in his punches, although not his footwork, and a dynamic wrestler and grappler. His resume is actually a bit better than it looks, not only is his win over Zavurov legit, but wins over Maxim Shvets and Vadim Sandulitsky are pretty solid.

Of course, the other side of that is that everything he does well, he also does poorly. His footwork is all over the place, his takedown defense and wrestling setups are incredibly hit or miss, and his grappling can be wildly unstructured in its aggression. If he can get with a good camp that can really work on making him more technical, he could be an elite fighter. If he can't, it may take him a long time to work all the kinks out of his game.

Overall: Amosov's youth, athletic talent, and already well rounded game make him a very intriguing prospect, but until we see him consistently face better opposition he'll remain something of a wild card. As a result the range of future projections for him quite broad, it is very possible he has a good career in Eastern Europe but is never quite able to break through. He also could break through and become an upper half of a division type UFC fighter on the order of a Jorge Masvidal. If this kid ends up firing on all cylinders and he translates his pretty outstanding athletic ability into an equally outstanding balanced skill set he could end up being a perennial Top 10 fighter on the order of Josh Thomson.

#8 - Marif Piraev

Record: 12-0-1 Height: 5'9" Age: 22 Years Pro: 2.25

Country: Russia Team: Fight Nights Team Base: Combat Sambo

In a telling trend Eastern European, Sambo based fighters are now 3-for-3 on this list. Marif "Piranha" Piraev hails from Fortress Fight Team, which hosts UFC featherweight Zubaira Tukhugov. Last year he was featured on as the #9 prospect on Patrick Wyman's Searching for Future Champions on Bloody Elbow. Since then Piraev has suffered a slight set back, earning a draw with Brazilian fighter Luiz Cado Simon in a fight he likely should have been able to win outright. This likely cooled some of the larger shows on Piraev, but he remains a young and very talented fighter. Apart from his MMA accomplishments, Piraev is also a Russian national combat sambo champion and hand to hand champion.

T.P. Grant: What really makes Piraev exciting is that he has a strong, fundamental game. He moves very well and has fairly solid defensive skills in addition to an ability to go on the attack. He uses angles well in his striking and seems to have a decent overall boxing game in addition to some kicking ability. His Combat Sambo background means that Piraev has a great deal of experience setting up shot takedowns with strikes, and also has an excellent takedown game in the clinch.

One of Piraev's biggest drawbacks is his size, he is small for a Welterweight, and that does hurt his overall wrestling ability. He often ends up on his back, but unlike many Sambo fighters in MMA, he has an active and dangerous guard. Piraev is actually quite good off his back, but the one critical skill he seems to lack is using the guard to stand back up, which could hurt him in American based promotions using the Unified Rules were playing guard is considered losing up until locking in a submission. Piraev is a good athlete and a skilled fighter and overall bright prospect.

Zane: The more I watch the tape on Piraev, the more I like him. He's crafty to the core. Whether that's working a string of takedowns or slowly inching his way into a submission, he's the kind of fighter that does a lot of small things well, to work to one big thing. His kickboxing is fundamentally decent, his wrestling is good, his grappling is very, very diverse and nicely aggressive. There are so many things Piraev does fundamentally well, it's really hard to find fault.

What few faults he does have, however, could be a big limiter. While he's very nimble, Piraev isn't all that powerful a fighter, and at times that extends all the way to his grappling. His striking is there technically, but he doesn't seem to ever land with the kind of force to punish opponents, something larger fighters have taken advantage of, to bull through his boxing. And, on the ground, as can be seen in his bouts with Simon and Berhamov, if opponents can survive his grappling, they can make a very competitive fight out of it. Pireav often ends up on his back and is content enough to grapple that he could, foreseeably, drop close rounds.

Overall: It looks like the near future for Piraev contains, mostly, fighting in Russia as he continues to try to develop his skill set. In the long term, a drop to Lightweight might serve him if he proves unable to build himself up a bit more as he is often the smaller fighter in the cage. If Piraev is able to reach his full potential he could very well be a lighter weight version of Gegard Mousasi, who uses squeaky clean technique and strategy to defeat larger, more athletic fighters. A more tempered expectation of Piraev would be a Thiago Tavares type fighter, skilled in all phases but losing to the upper crust of fighting talent.

#7 - Zebaztian Kadestam

Record: 7-1 Height: 5'9" Age: 23 Years Pro: 3.5

Country: Sweden Team: Legacy Gym Team Base: Muay Thai

Our seventh prospect hails from Sweden and brings a healthy dose of Muay Thai to the welterweight list. Kadestam currently fights out of Pacific Xtreme Combat, a promotion that hosted Dustin Kimura, Hyun Gyu Lim, and Jon Tuck before their UFC runs. Primarily a striker, Kadestam is 3-1 in the last two years  with a win over Ross Ebanez, a student of B.J. Penn and a very legitimizing win for a young prospect.

T.P. Grant: This kid brings to the table everything you'd expect of a Northern European thai boxer, namely good hands and heavy leg kicks. Kadestam striking game is already fairly complete and any critiques would be fairly minor, he has a diverse offensive game and solid defensive fundamentals in place. Kadestam is a very good athlete and is able to leverage that into a  passable takedown defense game.

Grappling is Kadestam's primary weakness. He doesn't have the clinch game one would expect of a Muay Thai fighter and his ground game isn't strong right now. He is at risk against any above average ground fighter if he hits the mat and this something he will have to address to be an effective fighter at the higher levels.

Zane: I really like what Kadestam's game is developing into. He's got the kind of raw athletic strength and power to make himself difficult to deal with, even if he never evolves beyond his current iteration. His takedown defense has improved noticeably since his earlier fights and his striking has become the sort of stalking, inevitable beating that only really good strikers can achieve. He kicks with devastating power and has shown the kind of clean boxing behind it to make him a very exciting prospect to watch.

That thing I mentioned about takedown defense, though... that's a real concern. He's not the worst offensive grappler in the world, honestly, and appears to have some history in BJJ alongside his Muay Thai. But, as for wrestling, he's basically an MMA fighter. The fact that he's a pretty amazing athlete and has solid striking footwork could do the job of takedown defense for him, even at an elite UFC level (it worked for BJ Penn), but it's a major question mark hanging over the head of a very good fighter.

Overall: Kadestam is developing a game that would be very functional in the UFC or Bellator. He is a good athlete but has clear holes in to plug. If he is able to effectively implement a survive-and-stand-up game from the bottom he could become an Edson Barboza type striker. Without that development, his ceiling would be more of Duane Ludwig type, action/mid-card fighter.

#6 - Eduard Vartanyan

Record: 9-1 Height: 5'10" Age: 23 Years Pro: 3

Country: Russia Team: Tiger Muay Thai/ Fight Club Number 1 Team Base: Combat Sambo/Muay Thai

Our list closes with yet another Combat Sambo fighter hailing from Russia. Vartanyan has spent his short career bouncing around the Eastern European scene. He owns a few solid regional wins, including a Majority Decision over Sergey Faley, a Unanimous Decision Benjamin Brinsa, and a tough TKO win over another good Welterweight prospect Sergey Khandozhko, who just missed this list. Apparently Vartanyan is a Moscow combat sambo and muay thai champion, and he medaled at the national level in muay thai, although I couldn't tell you what that means for his talents there.

T.P. Grant: Starting on the feet, Vartanyan is not really a good striker. His offense is very Combat Sambo as he tends to load up on single strikes and doesn't throw much in the way of combinations. Defensively he is very hittable and tends to rely more on toughness to survive on the outside than actual, technical defense.

Where Vartanyan really shines is in the clinch. He is very adept at mixing together strikes with his takedowns in close and once in on a takedown Vartanyan excels. His takedown is an excellent example of the diverse nature of Sambo as he is able to chain wrestle traditional double and single legs together with an array of trips, reaps, and throws that would put him in the upper half of takedown artists in the UFC if he were to join today. Currently, he relies heavily on his chain wrestling because he is small for the division and often his first attempt at a takedown is stopped. Once on the ground he is pretty able to hold his opponents down and stifle offense.

Zane: Much like Marif Piraev, Eduard Vartanyan is a very complete, crafty prospect. He has generally solid boxing, with good power in his hands, diverse wrestling and a real ability to get the fight to the mat, and the kind of solid, opportunistic grappling that melds quite well with his strong ground and pound. He's also capable of gutting out the win, if a fight isn't quite going exactly as he planned. Mix all that with tireless cardio and constant output and you have a very, very promising fighter.

Unfortunately, also like Piraev, I'm a little concerned with his baseline athletic dominance. He's reasonably fast and very technical, but he's not huge and bigger, more powerful welterweights (or even lightweights) could pose problems for him. Add to that, that he can be an overaggressive grappler and doesn't mind giving up position for submissions and his lack of raw power could become a real issue.

Overall: While not the most impressive athlete at first glance, Vartanyan is a dynamic takedown artist. His size may force him drop to Lightweight at some point, but his game is pretty ideally suited to excel in the cage and under North American style judging. His striking needs to develop a bit more before he will be ready to step into larger promotions, but as it stands he could be a mid-card grapple-boxer type like a Justin Salas. If Vartanyan is able to continue to develop his game and fight smart he might be able to fill the space once held by Dong Hyun Kim before he fell in love with spinning back fists.

2015 Bloody Elbow Scouting Report

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Stay tuned for the Top Five, who will all be getting their own article.

To look up other articles in this series click on the Stream link up and to the right. For comments, questions, or suggestions head down to the comment line or reach out to T.P. and Zane on Twitter: @TP_Grant and @TheZaneSimon