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UFC Fight Night 131 card: Jake Ellenberger vs Ben Saunders full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-McGee vs Saunders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight sluggers Jake Ellenberger and Ben Saunders will throw down this Friday (June 1, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 131 inside Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, New York.

The recent road has been rough for both “Juggernaut” and “Killa B.” Both athletes made their names in blood-and-guts battles, winning a majority of them. Unfortunately, a combined 27 years of professional competition take their tool, and each man has suffered more frequent knockout losses over recent years. Ellenberger was cut and returned after a friendly phone call with Dana White, whereas Saunders was released and brought back after a single win.

To guarantee a spot on the roster after Friday, both veterans really need their hands raised. Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Jake Ellenberger
Record: 31-13
Key Wins: Matt Brown (UFC 201), 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), Mike Perry (UFC Fight Night 108)
Keys to Victory: For years, Ellenberger was one of the division’s most explosive fighters, a seriously powerful wrestler with crushing power punches. It’s been six years since Ellenberger’s six-fight win streak nearly saw him earn a title shot, and while Ellenberger’s game has not changed all that much, he no longer shows the insane athleticism that once carried him to the top.

Luckily, this is a much more appropriate match up for Ellenberger. Most of his recent defeats come to an unreasonably high level of competition given how the fights have actually been going. This time, Ellenberger is facing a fellow struggling veteran rather than current Top 15-ranked killer.

Opposite Saunders, Ellenberger wants to start fast. Saunders likes to kick-and-clinch, whereas “Juggernaut” smashes people from both the boxing range and clinch. Realistically, Ellenberger punches harder and is still a bit more durable, so getting in close and flinging punches toward Saunders’ jawline is a simple and reasonable path for success.

Ben Saunders
Record: 21-9-2
Key Wins: Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 103), Kenny Robertson (UFC on FOX 16), Joe Riggs (UFC on FOX 13), Marcus Davis (UFC 106)
Key Losses: Alan Jouban (UFC on FOX 28), Peter Sobotta (UFC Fight Night 109), Patrick Cote (UFC Fight Night 81), Douglas Lima (Bellator 100)
Keys to Victory: A representative of Jeet Kune Do and 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, Saunders has one of the most unique offensive games around. He’s one of the few legitimately dangerous rubber guard users in the sport, and Saunders can quickly build up damage when able to land his kicks and knees.

In this bout, Saunders wants to maintain his range with kicks. Ellenberger has a habit of shelling up and forgetting about his own offense when getting stabbed at with long range strikes, and that’s a strategy Saunders has the build and weapons to employ.

As mentioned, Saunders likes to attack from inside the clinch, but he needs to be cautious there. As of late, he’s been more vulnerable to to winging overhands while securing the double-collar tie. That’s probably Ellenberger’s best punch, so Saunders has to be very cautious about grabbing the clinch ... at least until his foe is fatigued.

Bottom Line: Someone is probably getting knocked out.

Neither man is at the height of his power, but they remain dangerous offensive fighters who generally go for the kill. Combine that with a lower level of durability, and we have a recipe for an exciting fight unlikely to go the distance. Given their history of being released or nearly released, both men should be especially motivated to see their hand raised.

At the same time, retirement seems close for both Ellenberger and Saunders. Win or lose, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable move considering the recent knockout losses. The defeated man is in an especially tough position to continue competing, as a loss likely means a return to the regional scene with a long road ahead.

At UFC Fight Night 131, Jake Ellenberger and Ben Saunders will scrap on the main card. Which man will return to the win column?

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