This Wednesday night the UFC will hosts their first event of the FOX platform sister-network Fuel, getting top billing is a welterweight bout with huge title implications between Diego Sanchez and Jake Ellenberger.
Sanchez has been a staple of the UFC since he won the first season of The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight, earning a spot on the welterweight roster – Sanchez seemed destined for greatness from the first time we saw him, despite his loose-cannon antics and personality quirks he displayed in the house he took on all comers and looked impressive doing so.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico looked to be on a collision course towards championship gold at 170-pounds pushing his perfect record to 17-0 with notable wins over Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan, Kenny Florian and Jorge Santiago before back-to-back losses to American Kickboxing Academy students Jon Fitch & Kosh Koscheck put his title hope on ice.
In 2008 he started his trek to lightweight gold winning four-straight bouts to face lightweight champion and pound-for-pound star BJ Penn who put a whoopin’ on Sanchez forcing the doctor to stop the action in the final frame.
He them made his way back up to welterweight and was welcomed by British prospect John Hathaway who edged him on points giving him his second-straight defeat and forcing him to pack his bags in San Diego, California and move back home to Albuquerque hooking up with his original trainer Greg Jackson again.
Maybe he has a new sense of dedication or maybe the people around him have lit a fire under him but Sanchez has looked as good as ever and seems to be on track to realizing the success pundits predicted for him in 2005 with consecutive defeats of Paulo Thiago and Matin Kampmann.
But Jake Ellenberger isn’t ready to be a stepping stone, in fact many believe he is one of the toughest challenges for anyone at 170-pounds – The NCAA Division II wrestler sure has come a long way from the man I first saw get beaten quite soundly by Xtreme Couture product Jay Heiron in the International Fight League back in 2006.
Despite most insiders in the industry having a keen eye on Ellenberger for years he didn’t get a chance to test his skills against the best in the UFC until 2009 – In the four-year period from when he started out to when he got the all-important phone call to join the UFC ranks he had 25 fights facing some tough customers in Pat Healy, Gil Castillo, Jay Heiron & Rick Story.
You hear all the time about first days from hell, Ellenberger faced current UFC interim welterweight champ Carlos Condit in what on paper seemed like a first day from hell but “The Juggernaut” wasn’t going to roll over and die.
In fact he gave Condit everything he could handle and then some but Condit was able to narrowly sneak past Ellenberger collecting a split decision victory on points which was the last defeat on his record.
Ellenberger had to prove that he was worth to tangle with the big boys at 170-pounds and did so winning his next four bouts, putting away three of them before getting the chance to face his toughest challenge to date in former Strikeforce middleweight champ Jake Shields.
Despite Shields coming in with a heavy heart having recently lost his father and mentor journalists and fans alike didn’t give Ellenberger much of a chance but it was egg on our face when he put the world-class wrestlers lights out with beautiful a knee to the face.
With long-running UFC welterweight kingpin George St-Pierre sitting on the shelf, not expecting to return to action until the later shades of 2011 the UFC crowned an interim welterweight champ in Condit.
Now that a rematch with fan-favorite Nick Diaz is off the cards, the winner of this Wednesday nights clash would be the consensus top-ranked contender for the belt that resides around the waist of Condit.
With 23 knockouts between them, it’s safe to say that Ellenberger and Sanchez can throw fists of fury, Sanchez is the more aggressive striker with a tendency to move forward throwing punches in punches – In his last bout, a bloodbath with top-ranked contender Martin Kampmann he threw 202 strikes over fifteen minutes.
With blood gushing from his forehead Sanchez didn’t slow down the entire time moving forward but not landing significant damage to Kampmann, a similar strategy has been used by former featherweight title-challenger Leonard Garcia to steal some questionable decisions.
Ellenberger doesn’t throw as many punches as the two-divisional superstar but the ones he does throw he makes them count throwing with crushing power – Ellenberger is comfortable to sit in the pocket, wait for his opponent to come to him and punish them with his counter-striking.
Although you can’t look past the fact that the Danish kick boxer Kampmann implied the same strategy and wound up losing on all three judges’ score cards despite the fact that Sanchez looked like he stumbled into a razor blade factory.
Don’t get me wrong, Sanchez is a quality striker who brings a crowd-pleasing style that has earned him four fight of the night bonuses and even won fight of the year with his instant classic against Karo Parisyan according to Sherdog.com but he doesn’t bring finishing power that will knock your socks off.
Ellenberger on the other hand does bring the power to the table; he picks and chooses his shots well mixing up his strikes with a barrage of punches, kicks, knees and body shots that will hurt anyone at 170-pounds.
Sanchez is most effective when he gets on top of you and does damage, if you have “The Dream” on your chest raining down punishment it’s not going to be a pleasurable night for you but getting Ellenberger to the floor and keeping him there is no simple task.
Ellenberger was an accomplished amateur wrestler for the University of Nebraska but his wrestling for MMA is much better – He is able to seamlessly fight off takedowns from good wrestlers in the past but there is a chance that Sanchez could tire him with his frenetic pace and while he is fatigued put him on his back.
Although many have categorized Sanchez as a submission grappler he has never submitted an opponent in the octagon, in fact his last submission came in 2004 to Rage in The Cage mainstay Ray Elbe so I wouldn’t be putting money down on a prop bet for Sanchez by submission.
When the cage door closes this Wednesday night in the main event on Fuel TV expect an all-out war with both men throwing everything but the kitchen sink at one another for fifteen minutes.
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