Two very different styles of mixed martial arts will collide next Wednesday night (February 15, 2012) as bantamweights T.J. Dillashaw and Walel Watson meet in the opening bout of UFC on Fuel: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger, which will be the UFC's first foray on the Fuel channel.
Dillashaw was a finalist on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) but came up just short this past December against John Dodson, who handed him the first loss of his professional career. The Team Alpha Male fighter will be looking to wrestle his way back on track and even out his UFC record next week.
Walel Watson, at 5'11 is taller than most welterweights in the UFC. He's tough to handle with his lengthy frame, although he found himself on the receiving end of a tough split decision defeat in his last fight at UFC 140. "The Gazelle" will be hoping to bounce back against his less-experienced foe.
Will Dillashaw's wrestling prove too much for Watson? Can the Team Hurricane-Awesome fighter perplex Dillashaw with his unorthodox attack? What's the best path to victory for both bantamweights?
Let's find out:T.J. Dillashaw
Record: 4-1 overall, 0-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: none
Key Losses: John Dodson (The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale)
How he got here: T.J. Dillashaw was a successful college wrestler at Cal State Fullerton and UFC middleweight Mark Munoz was one of his coaches. When his collegiate career was over, he gravitated towards Munoz and found himself recruited by Urijah Faber and the Team Alpha Male camp.
He adapted quickly to mixed martial arts, posted a 2-0 amateur record and after a 4-0 start to his professional career, he was given an opportunity to compete on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.
On the show, he was labelled arrogant, but he proved himself with three straight victories, the last over scrappy Muay Thai specialist Dustin Pague to punch his ticket into the finals.
In the show finale, Dillashaw was never able to take John Dodson down in the first round, and suffered a tough knockout defeat via the quick hands of "The Magician." He's hoping to rebound against the long and lanky Walel Watson next Wednesday night.
How he gets it done: Dillashaw will need to take advantage of his strength in this fight. He can't let Watson dance around him on the outside, he must cut him off and either take him down or put him against the fence where he has no escape.
Standing and trading wouldn't be the worst thing in the world either, but he has to get inside to do it as Watson, at 5'11, is one of the tallest bantamweights with the longest reach in MMA?
If Watson overcommits to a punch or kick, don't be surprised one bit if Dillashaw either changes levels and takes him down, or catches the kick and takes him down. The ground is Dillashaw's bread and butter and his opponents had serious issues dealing with his wrestling on the show.
His opponent can be tricky on the ground, but he wasn't able to submit Yves Jabouin despite his best efforts in his last fight, so as long as Dillashaw has confidence in his submission defense and he's active with ground and pound, he should have no problems staying in top position with his significantly superior wrestling.
Record: 9-3 overall, 1-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Yves Jabouin (UFC 140)
How he got here: Walel Watson surprisingly has spent the majority of his professional career fighting in Mexico. Despite hailing from Texas and training in San Diego, he found a home away from home in Tijuana, where he fought six times from 2009-2011, winning all six.
With the UFC acquiring new talent to fill up their 135 pound division, Watson seemed a perfect fit, making his promotional debut against Joseph Sandoval this past October and thoroughly thrashing him, dropping him three times inside 80 seconds to score a first round technical knockout (TKO) victory.
His second UFC fight was against kickboxing veteran Yves Jabouin and the bout was extremely close, with neither fighter truly taking a big initiative. Watson threatened with submissions, but wasn't able to put Jabouin away and was disappointed to find himself on the losing end of a split decision.
He'll get a shot at redemption against Dillashaw on the first UFC on Fuel TV show.
How he gets it done: Watson is very long and lanky, and that body-type is perfect for either keeping his distance in the stand-up or for clinching and throwing vicious knees. "The Gazelle" has already utilized his frame to perfection against Joseph Sandoval, he can certainly do it again. If you remember, Dustin Pague caught Dillashaw with a pretty nasty flying knee during their fight during the TUF 14 semifinals, so landing a big knee is certainly a possibility.
Also, if he can keep his distance and do it safely, Watson should work low leg kicks as long as he can snap them without getting them caught. I don't know if he's been working on his jab or not, but if he can keep popping a jab in Dillashaw's face to keep him at a distance, it would work wonders for scoring points and doing some damage.
It's extremely likely that Dillashaw takes Watson down, as Yves Jabouin was able to do it repeatedly and he's not one fourth of the wrestler that Dillashaw is, so if and when it happens, "The Gazelle" needs to be prepared with a plethora of submission attempts, chained after each other. He's got to attack, attack, attack and either force Dillashaw to submit or scare him enough that he doesn't want to stay on the ground with him anymore.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor in this fight has to be Dillashaw's submission defense versus Watson's offensive submission abilities. While the stand-up is where the fight always starts, it's almost a certainty that this fight goes to the ground. Dillashaw is going to try to remain in top position and either pass guard working for a submission of his own, or posture up and work ground and pound.
Watson, on the other hand, will likely be either tying Dillashaw up to force a stand-up or throwing repeated submission at The Alpha Male team member. Whoever wins this chess battle on the ground is going to be the victory, plain and simple.
Bottom Line: This fight has boatloads of potential as both combatants are young (26 and 27), finishers (just two decisions total between them in 17 career fights) and best of all, bantamweights. They won't get tired and will be throwing down for three straight rounds if need be so expect some fun striking exchanges, big takedowns, submission attempts, ground and pound as one of these men tries to make their mark in the division. With both fighters coming off tough losses, they've got plenty to fight for, and hopefully that comes out in the Octagon on Wednesday night.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!