Two of the most talented welterweights on the UFC roster will square off this Saturday night (July 27, 2013) as Rory MacDonald battles Jake Ellenberger in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle, Washington.
MacDonald has long been hailed as one of the next great 170-pounders, but he still has to prove it by staying healthy and picking up significant wins. A victory over Ellenberger would go a long way towards cementing his status as the next big thing.
Ellenberger has scrapped and clawed his way to the top of the division with a dynamic attack that includes solid wrestling and lethal punching power. He's bounced back nicely from a tough loss by avenging a prior defeat to Jay Hieron and then obliterating former Strikeforce champ Nate Marquardt in his most recent bout. He'll likely be the next title contender should he get past MacDonald.
Record: 14-1 overall, 5-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Carlos Condit (UFC 115)
How he got here: At just 24 years old, Rory MacDonald has already been fighting for nearly eight years professionally. "Ares" fought the King of the Cage Canada circuit, working his way up to and winning the promotion's lightweight title when he was 19 years old. After winning the title, he fought for the overall King of the Cage belt and won that as well the next November.
He would never defend his titles, simply outgrowing the 155 pound division and moving to welterweight. After one more victory on the local circuit, he made his UFC debut, defeating Mike Guymon with a first round submission.
MacDonald was all over former WEC champion Carlos Condit for two rounds in his second fight with the promotion before fading in the third and getting stopped with just seven seconds left in the contest. After joining the Tristar Gym, he would rebound at UFC 129 against Nate Diaz, destroying the Stockton fighter with slams, wrestling, and ground and pound over the course of three rounds to get back on track in the division.
The top prospect continued his momentum in his next two fights, crushing Mike Pyle with a first round knockout and then steamrolling Che Mills via second round TKO, blasting both men with vicious ground and pound.
He rose to the occasion in his most recent performance, dominating former multi-division champion B.J. Penn over the course of three rounds. MacDonald was forced out of a rematch against Carlos Condit due to injury, but now that he's healthy, he's looking to do some serious damage against fellow top contender Jake Ellenberger this weekend.
How he gets it done: MacDonald is so talented, young and well-rounded already at this point in his career. The key to victory would be to neutralize Ellenberger's early blitz and punish him with his physical gifts.
MacDonald has some vastly improving striking skills, but he'd better be careful standing in the pocket and trading with the extremely powerful Ellenberger, especially early in the fight. Perhaps hubris will get the best of him, but it would be must smarter to wait to exchange with "The Juggernaut" until he slows down in the second or third rounds, instead looking to get inside and try to utilize his potent takedown game and work the Nebraska wrestler over with some of his nasty ground striking attack.
Once Ellenberger starts to slow down in the second or third round, MacDonald should be comfortable standing and banging on the feet with him. His technique is improving leaps and bounds and he's already gone on record saying he wants to "embarrass" his opponent. That will be a lot easier if he waits until Ellenberger isn't as much of a threat with his strikes.
Record: 29-5 overall, 8-2 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.
After the loss, Ellenberger won six straight including 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.
His streak was brought to an emphatic end against Martin Kampmann but he bounced back by avenging an earlier career loss to Jay Hieron in a rather uninspired performance. Ellenberger returned to his violent ways with a brutal first round stoppage of former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt in his most recent performance.
Now, he's got his sights set on MacDonald and a victory over the top contender will put him in a perfect position to potentially claim the next contender spot.
How he gets it done: Ellenberger has some of the heaviest hands of any welterweight in the world and he's going to have to really push it early if he wants to finish this fight and, as he's stated, give MacDonald some "horizontal television time."
If Ellenberger can really put some early pressure on MacDonald, he could force "Ares" to make a mistake and take some serious punishment. We all know how nasty Ellenberger's punches can be, but he also possesses some brutal knees on the inside. If MacDonald attempts a lazy takedown, he could be met with a powerful strike up the middle.
Time is not on Ellenberger's side as almost every single one of his UFC stoppages have taken place inside the first round. If he can't finish this fight early, he could be in trouble. He should definitely have a sense of urgency in there.
Fight X-Factor: One of the top factors for this fight is how MacDonald reacts to some of the smack Ellenberger has been tossing in his direction. Sure, MacDonald had to deal with a steroid accusation and drug testing requests against B.J. Penn, but Ellenberger has taken it to a new level, calling him a "Tears for Fears look-a-like" and more. Who knows how MacDonald will react once he finally has an opportunity to get his hands on Ellenberger, but if he actually shows some emotion, this fight could definitely get more interesting. All Ellenberger needs is one slight mistake and he has the power to punish the top-ranked contender.
Bottom Line: This is perhaps the most intriguing fight on the entire card. Both MacDonald and Ellenberger are top five-ranked welterweights and both have destroyed nearly everyone put in front of them. Whether this fight stays standing or goes to the canvas, there is some serious potential for violence and massive entertainment. Factor in some of the pre-fight trash talk and we've actually got a grudge match on our hands. Whether the fight ends in 15 seconds or 15 minutes, this should be a lot of fun.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!