Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight veterans Jake Ellenberger and Stephen Thompson will hunt for the knockout TONIGHT (July 12, 2015) in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 Finale main event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After a rough 2014, Ellenberger finally returned to the win column against the quickly deteriorating Josh Koscheck. The value of that win in 2015 is questionable, but Ellenberger could put together some real momentum if he follows it up with a big win here.
Since having his hype destroyed back in 2012 by Matt Brown, "Wonderboy" has recovered brilliantly. He's on a four-fight win streak, including a pair of violent knockout wins. Now, he's up for a major step up in competition.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victories for both men:
Key: Nate Marquardt (UFC 158), Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 25), Mike Pyle (UFC 108)
Key Losses: Robbie Lawler (UFC 173), Rory MacDonald (UFC on FOX 8), Kelvin Gastelum (UFC 180)
Keys to Victory: Ellenberger is a very explosive fighter. While he has a background in wrestling, Ellenberger largely uses that skill to keep him on his feet, where he's won 18 of his victories via knockout.
For both men, this bout is all about range. Thompson will undoubtedly look to keep a lengthy distance between him and Ellenberger, while it's "The Juggernaut's" job to make this an ugly fight in close.
While it's blatantly obvious that Thompson's wrestling has increased since his loss to Brown, none of the fighters who he has recently beaten have much wrestling experience. Whereas when Ellenberger commits to a shot, few can match his speed and power.
With that in mind, Ellenberger should look to threaten with his wrestling early. If he's forcing Thompson to react to the threat of the shot, it will make it much easier for him to land his vicious haymakers.
Regardless of Thompson's credentials, one or two big shots from Ellenberger can end anyone's night.
Key Wins: Patrick Cote (UFC 178), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Thompson is an excellent kickboxer with a deep karate background. His footwork is one of his biggest strengths, as "Wonderboy" excels at angling away from his opponent's punches before suddenly bouncing back in with a cracking counter of his own.
In addition, Thompson's wrestling game really is coming along quite well. The 32-year-old combatant is unlikely to start out-wrestling his opponents left and right, but he's done a very nice job developing his takedown defense at a steady pace.
While the main part of Thompson's game plan -- circling, countering and avoiding wrestling and clinch exchanges -- is obvious, I'd like to see him focus on really frustrating Ellenberger. Despite all his experience, Ellenberger tends to shut down when things don't go his way.
To bring this situation about, Thompson needs to be patient early. This is, after all, a five round fight, so Thompson can spend a round without throwing more than a couple punches while flicking out some kicks. If he's focused on his defense, Ellenberger will probably hit plenty of air.
In that case, "Juggernaut" will probably do one of two things. He'll either get really aggressive, skip the pretenses, and try to take off his opponent's jaw, which will tire him out quickly and open up counter punching opportunities, or he'll just stop trying.
So long as Thompson keeps his chin tucked, both of those situations favor him.
Bottom Line: At this point, neither man is really considered a contender. However, a dominant win here could help alter that perception.
Frankly, Ellenberger needs this victory. He doesn't have a single victory over a current member of the top 15, which makes his ranking inside the top 10 fairly questionable. Defeating Thompson won't really prove that position either, but at least it will distance him from that tough string of losses.
If Ellenberger falls to the Karateka, then he's lost four of his last five bouts. This time, the loss would come to an unranked opponent, meaning Ellenberger's place in the standings would take quite a hit. He's not likely to be released, but he also wouldn't be far from it.
Despite his opponent's lack of recent success, this is a major opportunity for Ellenberger. It's the perfect fight for him: A big name opponent who generally likes to stand and could be on the decline. If "Wonderboy" takes out his first ranked opponent, then he'd deserve another high-profile match up next, considering his extended win streak.
Alternatively, a loss would likely establish just where Thompson's ceiling is. He's already in his athletic prime, so it's unlikely for him to make any crazy developments or additions to his game. Against Ellenberger, this is Thompson's chance to prove he's something more than entertaining and that he can make an impact on the division.
At The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale, Jake Ellenberger and Stephen Thompson will go to war in the main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?