Diego Sanchez made several leading up to his UFC on FUEL TV 1 main event fight last night (Feb. 15, 2012) against Jake Ellenberger, which took place at the Omaha Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska. And the "Dream" lived up to at least one of them, if not more, on the first-ever televised main card on the FOX-owned network.
In the early going, however, it seemed like a one-sided ass-kicking. Ellenberger was drilling Sanchez with clean, knee-buckling punches. However, as we all know, that means little when it comes to the Greg Jackson-trained mixed martial arts (MMA) zombie, who has a remarkable ability to absorb punishment and keep moving forward.
It certainly wasn't for lack of effort on the part of Ellenberger, who also mixed in takedowns and effective ground and pound. So when the third round arrived, it was clear that the hometown hero, Ellenberger, was way ahead on the judges scorecards.
Sanchez needed to go for broke and look to finish the fight early. And that's exactly what he (almost) did.
Sanchez reversed position late in the round and quickly took his opponent's back. He began to drill the side of Ellenberger's face with punches, and when the "Juggernaut" would attempt to escape, Sanchez would maneuver for a rear naked choke submission alongside the fence.
It was a desperate situation for Ellenberger, who looked visibly tired after two rounds of beating up Sanchez. But, with a few remaining seconds left in the round, he mustered up the strength to get to his feet and engage in one last flurry of hellish exchanges before the final horn blared.
Ellenberger survived Sanchez's valiant last-ditch effort. And, in the process, may have punched his ticket to an upcoming 170-pound interim title fight against Carlos Condit with division champion Georges St. Pierre still on the mend from knee surgery.
Rematch revenge with title implications on the line: It doesn't get much sweeter than that.
In the co main event, Stefan Struve and Dave Herman collided in a heavyweight showdown between two exciting fighters looking to crack into the upper echelon of the division.
"Skyscraper" not only accomplished that goal, but also cracked Herman's jaw with an uppercut in the second round that set up the eventual finish. Prior to the exchange, "Pee-Wee" appeared to be fighting his fight, keeping a safe distance from his 6'11" long-limbed counterpart and only getting close to deliver compact combinations, as well as kicks.
It appeared to be an effective strategy, but certainly not one that seemed like it was going to earn him his sixteenth professional (technical) knockout. Not against the dangerous Dutchman, anyway.
With time winding down in the second stanza, Struve uncorked a very large uppercut, which immediately buckled Herman's legs. Struve, noticing that Herman was clearly hurt, followed him to the canvas to deliver the fight-ending sequence that forced the referee in charge of the action to declare, "No Mas!"
That's now back-to-back wins for Struve, who has also won four of his last five. And not one of them, win or lose, has been boring. In fact, he's one of the more exciting, and young, 24, fighters in the division. One who might deliver another fan-friendly brawl if he can get his hands on another hot prospect some day soon.
Speaking of which ...
Two solid, up-and-coming heavyweight prospects, Philip De Fries vs. Stipe Miocic, hooked 'em up to determine who was a possible future division contender and who was just a pretender.
Miocic left zero room for doubt, nailing his English counterpart with a straight right counter in the early moments of the first round, which stunned De Fries and sent him wobbling back from his hard-charging attack. One that actually had the Croatian-American stunned, but in his haste to pour it on thick, De Fries forgot that there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.
Noticing that De Fries was dazed, Miocic landed a few more shots that put him on the canvas. And from that point forward he put it on him like a champ, bashing his face repeatedly, uninterrupted, and leaving the referee no other choice but to intervene and stop it before it got even uglier.
What else would you expect from a former Golden Gloves boxing champion and Division 1 NCAA wrestler? It doesn't get much better than Miocic's pedigree on paper. The 29-year-old has so far lived up to the much-deserved hype.
And then some.
Whatever frustration T.J. Dillashaw had pent up following his flash knockout to John Dodson in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 Finale back in Dec. 2011, he took out on Walel Watson last night for basically 15 straight minutes. Giving up what looked like a one-foot height advantage, the Team Alpha Male-trained fighter immediately looked to nullify that advantage by taking "The Gazelle" to the ground.
And that's exactly what he did, early and often, en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.
Dillashaw at one point in the second round was just pummeling Watson from all sides while in top control. He'd roll to his back to avoid the punishment, but then Dillashaw would attempt to end the fight with a rear naked choke. This scenario played out about a half-dozen times, with Watson able to defend rather brilliantly and easily.
It was maddening, really, because he was unable to muster any offense -- sans a brief submission-laded threat late in the third round -- and his defense was merely delaying the inevitable.
Also inevitable, most likely, is a post-fight employee review -- Watson has now dropped two straight bouts and three of his last five. Dillashaw, meanwhile, earns his first-ever UFC win and looked impressive in the process.
He'll be back soon. That, too, is inevitable.
Ivan Menjivar and John Albert kicked off the main card action, trading enough bombs, as well as submission attempts, in a fight that only lasted less than four minutes, but seemed to have enough action to pack an entire three-round fight.
It was a back-and-forth bantamweight brawl in which both fighters were in serious trouble at one point or another. In fact, Albert rocked "The Pride of El Salvador" with a face kick and then landed several knees that appeared to signal the beginning of the end.
With the referee appearing to itch his official trigger, on the verge of stopping the fight, Menjivar rose to his feet, slipped out of a guillotine choke and began to turn the tide. He soon took the back of the suddenly exhausted "Prince," angling for a rear naked choke and eventually securing it to earn an exciting come-from-behind victory.
That's now three straight wins for Menjivar since his return to the Octagon in April 2011. If he keep that streak alive in 2012 he might soon find himself in more meaningful 135-pound bouts -- against stiffer, more noteworthy competition -- sooner rather than later.
Because no good deed inside the eight-walled cage ever goes unpunished.
That's enough from us. Now it's your turn to discuss UFC Fuel TV 1: "Ellenberger vs. Sanchez" in the comments section below.
Is Ellenberger vs. Condit 2 a must? What's next for Sanchez? Is Struve-Miocic a fight you want to see? While we're at it, how about Dillashaw vs. Menjivar?
Let's hear it, Maniacs.
Be sure to also check out our complete UFC on Fuel TV 1 blow-by-blow coverage of the entire "Ellenberger vs. Sanchez" event right here.
While you're at it, check out our fight-by-fight recaps and immediate reactions for the UFC on Fuel TV 1 action:
Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Ellenberger
Aaron Simpson vs. Ronny Markes
Philip De Fries vs. Stipe Miocic
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Walel Watson
And to checkout our complete UFC on Fuel TV 1 event archive click here.