By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
Jake Ellenberger (26-5, 5-1 UFC) vs. Diego Sanchez (23-4, 12-4 UFC)
The Lowdown: As the storm surrounding the UFC welterweight title picture finally begins to ease off, two top contenders will go to war in Omaha for the chance to take on the Interim champion, Carlos Condit, later in the year. For Jake ‘The Juggernaut’ Ellenberger, this is the biggest fight of his career – a title eliminator in front of his home-town fans.
The Reign MMA welterweight’s only loss in the UFC came via dodgy split decision to none other than Mr Condit himself but Ellenberger hasn’t looked back since, taking out five in a row and cementing his status as a potential title threat. At UFC 129 last April, the Nebraskan knockout artist did just that to Sean Pierson in the first round but Ellenberger’s coming-out party was a main event clash with Jake Shields at UFN 25.
Just 53 seconds into the fight, ‘The Juggernaut’ felled the shooting Shields with a knee before a series of punches forced the referee to call time. While Ellenberger may be one victory away from a title shot, in Diego ‘The Dream’ Sanchez he faces his most well-rounded and durable foe yet – one more than capable of shutting down his ambitions.
The winner of the very first series of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, Sanchez was once a clearly dominant welterweight but a brief dalliance with 155lbs – and an influx of seriously talented new welterweights – have left the New Mexican looking something of a bit-part player. That said, Sanchez is coming off the back of consecutive decision victories. His dominance of Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 saw Sanchez handed a no-brainer of a unanimous decision but at ‘UFC on Versus 3’ last March, a blood-soaked and disfigured Sanchez took a highly undeserved decision over Martin Kampmann.
The Verdict: Sanchez has the skill-set and style to make this a real barnburner, or a real drag. ‘The Dream’s best route to victory would be to cage Ellenberger at every opportunity, cancelling out his heavy hands and giving him no room to breathe, something Sanchez is very adept at doing. However, Ellenberger’s wrestling – especially defensively, as he rarely uses it as an offensive tool – is stout and he’s powerful enough to muscle his way out of corners if need be.
It’s the striking though, that will be the decider in the main event – despite his experience, Sanchez still wades into battle throwing caution to the wind and often takes his licks in the process. To do so against ‘The Juggernaut’ is asking to wake up on a stretcher and while Ellenberger might not put the iron-jawed Sanchez away, he’ll certainly do enough damage over three rounds to get the nod. Ellenberger, decision.
Stefan Struve (22-5, 6-3 UFC) vs. Dave Herman (21-2, 1-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: The big dogs are on the loose in the night’s co-main event and few are bigger than 6ft 11in Dutchman Stefan Struve, who is making his tenth appearance inside the UFC – a staggering achievement for the 23-year old ‘Skyscraper’. The Team Schrijber prospect is 3-1 in his last four fights and finally seems to have found some rhythm after a couple of early knockout losses in the UFC.
‘Skyscraper’ finished both Christian Morecraft and Sean McCorkle with punches in 2010 but was then ruined by Travis Browne’s thunderous superman punch at UFC 130, the third such loss of Struve’s UFC career. However, the lanky submission specialist got back on his horse to take on Pat Barry last October as the two put on a real show culminating in Struve tapping out the kickboxer with a triangle choke.
Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Dave ‘Pee Wee’ Herman has long been considered one of the blue-chip unsigned heavyweight prospects but apart from a brief fling with Bellator in 2010, Herman rarely laid his hat in one promotion for long. From the Shark Fights cage to the Sengoku ring in Japan, ‘Pee Wee’ racked up some notable victories and is currently riding a three fight win streak.
After taking out Polish slugger Michal Kita with a deft omoplata in Bellator, the 6ft 5in Herman took a close decision over Yoshihiro Nakao in Japan before joining the UFC’s ranks to face Norwegian world grappling champion, John Olav Einemo, at UFC 131. Technique went out the window as the two big men threw down with Herman putting ‘The Viking’ away in round two.
The Verdict: Against Pat Barry, Struve utilised his reach perfectly and did not get dragged into an all-out war – something he would do well to avoid again this week. Herman combines speed and power well, but his somewhat unorthodox striking does leave holes that a long guy like Struve can exploit standing and in the clinch. The chances of Struve taking down the former wrestler are slim, but Herman’s tendency to flag in the cardio department could make him easy pickings if the fight goes beyond the first round or so. Crucially though, ‘Pee Wee’ won’t be giving up as much height or reach as Struve’s previous foes and sooner or later, he’ll penetrate his porous striking defence. Expect to see ‘Skyscraper’ come toppling down as Herman moves into the contenders section with a TKO stoppage. Herman, (T)KO, 2nd round.
Aaron Simpson (11-2, 6-2 UFC) vs. Ronny Markes (12-1, 1-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: A meaty middleweight tilt firms up the main card as Power MMA Team founder, Aaron ‘A-Train’ Simpson looks to pick up his fourth straight victory inside the Octagon. The decorated wrestling convert has won three on the trot since dropping the first two losses of his career in 2010, making 2011 a good year for the 37-year old.
Simpson went back to basics to take lopsided – but uneventful – unanimous decision wins over Mario Miranda and Brad Tavares before once again stifling an opponent with his top-control game at UFC 136, handing Eric Schafer defeat on the scorecards. ‘A-Train’ gets a deserved spot on the televised card in Omaha as he welcomes Brazilian prospect, Ronny Markes, to the 185lb division.
At just 22, the Nova Uniao fighter was snapped up by the UFC on the back of a decision win over former WEC champion, Paulo Filho, in the Brazilian promotion, IFC. The well-rounded youngster made his UFC debut at 205lbs, sobbing on his way to the Octagon at ‘UFC on Versus 5’ last August to face scary Czech wrecking machine, Karlos Vemola.
The emotional Markes then turned in a master-class, tossing the former Czech national wrestling champion around like a child for three rounds and showing some good positional sense on the ground to take the decision. Markes has the tools and athleticism to make some serious noise at 185lbs but first he must derail the ‘A-Train’.
The Verdict: A firm but fair step-up in competition for Markes could be a tricky one – the Brazilian has never faced a true, dogged American wrestler like Simpson and ‘A-Train’ has the cardio and heavy hands to go all night. But the Brazilian is deceptively strong and training with a diverse camp full of killers at Nova Uniao, Markes will be prepared wherever Simpson wants the fight. Expect the American to land a few early takedowns but Markes will stall him up on the mat and win the striking battles to take a nip-tuck and possibly controversial decision. Markes, decision.
Philip De Fries (8-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Stipe Miocic (7-0, 1-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: Heavyweight prospects get the bump to the main card in Omaha after both impressed on their UFC debuts in 2011 and one man will be leaving nursing his first career defeat. Sunderland’s Philip De Fries boasts an 8-0 record and a BJJ purple-belt to his name and the 6ft 4in Brit garnered quite a reputation submitting tough regional circuit opposition like Stav Economou in the UWC promotion. Now training with Alliance MMA in California, the 25-year old prospect out-grappled and out-lasted fellow British heavyweight, Rob Broughton, to a decision at UFC 138.
De Fries faces a sterner test this week in the shape of unbeaten Croatian-American prospect, Stipe Miocic. Long regarded one of the best unsigned talents in North America, the Ohio-based Miocic forges a background in collegiate wrestling with Golden Gloves boxing skills and made short work of all comers in the little leagues. A veteran of the East coast promotion, NAAFS, Miocic took his UFC bow at UFC 136 in October – battering Joey Beltran to a one-sided unanimous decision.
The Verdict: This fight is Miocic’s to lose, simply put. De Fries is a unique British heavyweight in that he has real talent in the grappling department but he lacks the striking usually associated with British fighters and Miocic will have no problem dealing with his rudimentary stand-up. While De Fries has made a good move in training with Alliance MMA, his wrestling will not have improved enough to enable him to ground Miocic – the Croatian-American takes this, wearing down the Brit with legkicks and putting him away in round two to remain unbeaten. Miocic, (T)KO, 2nd round.
T.J Dillashaw (4-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Walel Watson (9-3, 1-1 UFC)
The Lowdown: Team Alpha Male bantamweight T.J Dillashaw gets a surprising recall to the main card despite only lasting two minutes in the season finale of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ in December. A member of Team Bisping, the 5ft 6in wrestling crossover from Sacramento, California had looked close to unstoppable during the elimination stages, dominating Dustin Pague in the semi-finals to reach the last hurdle.
However, the stocky and heavy-handed Dillashaw could not gauge the rhythm of John Dodson who dropped the wrestler and scored a slightly premature TKO stoppage in round one with his rapid-fire punches. While Dillashaw struggled to match the speed of Dodson, he faces a very different challenge in Omaha – the praying mantis of the division, Walel Watson.
‘The Gazelle’ has tasted both victory and defeat inside the Octagon, beginning with a first round TKO over Joseph Sandoval in October – dropping his man with a headkick and finishing him off in less than two minutes. The 5ft 9in Team Hurricane Awesome bantamweight then slipped up at UFC 140, losing a razor-close split decision to Yves Jabouin.
The Verdict: On first glance, Watson’s height could be a real problem for the shorter Dillashaw but T.J has the tools to take this, and I think he’ll get the job done – just about. Dillashaw’s top wrestling and always improving striking should allow him to close the gap and get the takedown, but that might be just the start of his troubles as Watson’s ground game is good and he’s always dangerous in close quarters with knees and elbows. One thing that stood out about ‘The Gazelle’s last fight was his bad habit of leaving his chin wide open and straight up in the air when going into exchanges – Dillashaw will exploit this, hurting him with a few right hands and taking him down, rinse and repeat. Dillashaw, decision.
That’s all for the main card of ‘UFC on FUEL TV 1: Ellenberger vs. Sanchez’, remember to log onto UFC.tv at 1am for the main card live from Omaha, Nebraska and also check out the prelims live on Facebook to get you warmed up for the big show.
By Steve Davies