A potential UFC welterweight title contender will be emerging tomorrow night (February 15, 2012) as original Ultimate Fighter Diego Sanchez battles the heavy-hitting Jake Ellenberger in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV in Omaha, Nebraska.
Sanchez, a former lightweight title challenger, returned to Greg Jackson's gym and has showcased his tremendous heart in consecutive spirited performances at welterweight. He's trying to become a player at 170 and he will definitely make a statement if he can knock off one of the fastest rising contenders in the division in Ellenberger.
Jake Ellenberger is returning to his home state of Nebraska for the first time in over five years, and now he's doing it as a headliner and budding UFC title contender. His 53 second destruction Jake Shields last September exploded him onto the map and now it's time to see if he can keep his momentum rolling as he takes on one of the gutsiest fighters in the UFC.
Will Sanchez slay his demons and live his "Dream" with a main event victory? Can Ellenberger potentially earn an interim title shot by slaying Sanchez? How does each man find victory tomorrow night?
Let's find out:
Record: 23-4 overall, 12-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Diego Sanchez got his start primarily in the King of the Cage circuit, wining his first 11 fights and becoming champion after defeating Jorge Santiago. He entered the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter as a favorite and became a fan favorite with his unique personality and some of his crazy antics.
After winning the first season as a middleweight, he dropped down to 170 pounds, defeating the likes of Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan and Joe Riggs to become a contender, although he was brought back down to earth after consecutive decision losses to both Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch.
Undeterred, "The (then) Nightmare" dropped down to lightweight and after two impressive victories over the likes of Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida, he was given a title shot against B.J. Penn. Sanchez gave it his all, but he was outclassed in nearly all areas, losing via doctor stoppage to "The Prodigy."
Afterwards, he returned to welterweight and despite suffering a speed bump against John Hathaway, the Greg Jackson-trained fighter bounced back against Paulo Thiago and then scored a close and controversial decision victory over Martin Kampmann. After getting injured in preparation for a fight with Matt Hughes, Sanchez is back and ready to take on Jake Ellenberger, one of the most powerful and dangerous welterweights on the planet.
How he gets it done: To win this fight, Sanchez is going to have to rely on two of the things that he has an advantage of against just about everyone he faces, pure heart and incredible conditioning. "The Dream" can't afford to sit back and fight Ellenberger's fight. He's got to be highly aggressive, get in Ellenberger's face and force the hometown fighter to play more defensive.
If Sanchez can get out of the first round, and he's never had an issue with that before, the fact that he can make Ellenberger work extremely hard might be enough to put him over the top. Expect constant aggression, takedown attempts and a high volume of ugly-looking punches getting thrown in the direction of his opponent.
What matters isn't that he connect or do a significant amount of damage, it's that he makes Ellenberger work and tires him out. By the midway point of the second round, if "The Juggernaut" isn't gasping for breath and looking at the clock, then Sanchez will have failed.
But if he does tire Ellenberger out, his wrestling will become much more effective, as will his striking offense. Those crazy punches might not be the most damaging, but they look pretty and they could perhaps help him win a decision like in his last fight.
Record: 25-5 overall, 5-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Jake Ellenberger won his first 11 fights all by stoppage while fighting primarily in Midwest promotions near his Nebraska home before earning an opportunity to fight in the IFL. He had a rude awakening in his promotional debut, losing a decision to Jay Hieron and he never quite got on track in the promotion, going 2-2 while also mixing in multiple fights with other leagues during his downtime to gain experience.
A solid four fight win streak while fighting for M-1 and Bellator earned "The Juggernaut" a trip to the UFC where again, he'd have a tough first fight against current UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Ellenberger blasted Condit early with some serious power but "The Natural Born Killer" bounced back to take an extremely close split decision in one of 2009's best fights.
Since that loss, Ellenberger has won five straight which includes four stoppage victories due to strikes. The Reign Training Center fighter smashed Sean Pierson at UFC 127 and then followed it up with by far the biggest victory of his career, a 53 second drubbing of former title challenger Jake Shields, stopping him for the first time in over 10 years.
With that victory, Ellenberger is poised to potentially contend for the title, but he's got to get past fan favorite Diego Sanchez first.
How he gets it done: Jake Ellenberger needs to hurt Diego Sanchez badly standing. The Nebraska native has some of the heaviest hands of any welterweight in the world and he'll definitely need to land them hard if he wants to get the win.
Diego Sanchez can take a shot too so if Ellenberger hurts him, he can't let him back to his feet. He needs to swarm him immediately and go for the kill just like he did in his last fight with Jake Shields.
The key for Ellenberger will be to land a strike with power during some of Sanchez's wildest exchanges. Sanchez is likely going to be vulnerable early as he's been hurt by fighters like John Hathaway and B.J. Penn in the first round as well as losing the first rframe to Paulo Thiago in all his recent fights.
If Sanchez shoots in wildly, "The Juggernaut" needs to instinctually attack with a huge knee, similarly to what he did against Shields. Ellenberger has tremendous power both with his knees and his fists and if he stuns Sanchez, he's got to pounce and finish him off before he zombie-modes his way back into the fight.
While Ellenberger was an assistant wrestling coach at Nebraska, it's his striking technique and power which will win him this fight.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the opening round. Diego Sanchez tends to get hit hard early in fights and there's no one that hits harder than Jake Ellenberger right now. If he walks into something or does not utilize proper defense, he's asking for quite a bit of trouble.
That being said, if Sanchez gets out of the first round, and if he pushes the type of pace we've come to expect from him, his conditioning could take over to where he can utilize his wrestling and impose his will. It will all come down to how much damage Ellenberger can dish out early, whether he can stop the fight or at least inflict enough punishment to stop Sanchez from being able to take over late.
Bottom Line: This fight is going to be a war. Diego Sanchez is an animal and he's not afraid of anyone, even someone as powerful as Jake Ellenberger. I expect both fighters to go at it from start to finish with Sanchez working some big sloppy strikes and takedown attempts while Ellenberger loads up for a huge knee or right hand. There's potential for either a highlight reel stoppage or just an incredible Fight of the Night performance as Sanchez has done that in four of his last six fights. This one should be terrific.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV: "Sanchez vs. Ellenberger?" Tell us your predictions in the comments below!