Fight night cards quite often sail under the radar of your average casual UFC fan, but the main event in this one could see a new candidate for #1 contender raising his head above the parapet. The battle of the Jakes will see veteran Shields facing off against upstart Ellenberger. It will be interesting to note the divisional repercussions of the outcome of this match and the forthcoming matches at the weight on UFC 137. With GSP ruling the roost at 170lbs and Condit, Diaz, Penn, Fitch, the two Jakes and even Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck all vying for contention, the next month or so of fights in the UFC are going to see some intriguing matches at Welterweight and potentially set up some even more intriguing future fights. Anyone who thought GSP has cleaned out the division, should probably reserve judgement for now as this is surely one of the deepest, talent rich weight classes in the organisation.
Elsewhere on the main card, two veterans looking to get back in the hunt for middleweight success after long periods out with injury face off and two TUF winners look to further extend their winning streaks. So without further ado…. Let’s get it on!
Alan Belcher 16-6-0 vs Jason McDonald 25-14-0 – Middleweight
Belcher comes back after a 16 month lay-off from competition following a serious eye surgery and faces “the Athlete”, who himself has only recently returned after breaking his leg in his fight against John Salter at UFC 113. McDonald made his come back at UFC 129 with a slick submission win over Ryan Jensen and will be looking to put together the kind of winning run he was on before his injury. This one looks to be your classic striker vs grappler matchup. McDonald is super-smooth off his back, but his stand-up is severely lacking compared to the dynamic nature of Belcher’s striking game. I’m liking Belcher in this fight; he has beaten a good few of the fighters who have beaten McDonald (Gouveia, Cote, Starnes) and for all those readers who are into MMAth you can’t deny that this stacks up. More than that rather flimsy reasoning however, is the fact that Belcher has only lost one of his 22 matches by submission and has a ground game that is eclipsed by his stand-up skills, but should not be underrated. I would question McDonald’s ability to get this to the ground where he wants it without taking some damage and Belchers ability to defend submissions and his strength should see him through any sticky moments if the action does hit the mat. I’ll take Belcher for the TKO sometime in the middle of the 2nd.
Jonathan Brookins 12-3-1 vs Eric Koch 12-1-0 – Featherweight
Again this looks to be a striker vs grappler match up. Brookins is a strong wrestler with decent takedowns who despite only having 15 professional matches has been around since 2006. His only stoppage loss in his career was a TKO loss to the virtually unstoppable force that is Jose Aldo. Since that loss he has strung together 4 decent wins and won TUF 12 in his last fight in December 2010. Koch has been more active this year (well he’s had one fight) and looks to be a serious striker. He is currently on a 3 fight streak with his last 2 winning KO of the night honours. His lone loss was a decision dropped to the undefeated Chad Mendes. Koch trains with the famed Duke Roufus and time spent training with fighters like Anthony Pettis has brought the best out of his striking game. The key to this fight will rely on Brookins’ ability to get this fight to the mat or not, if Brookins can get him down and keep him there, he will no doubt grind out a decision with great conditioning and controlled aggression. If Koch can stuff the takedowns and control the distance, he may well add Brookins to his highlight reel of KO’s. Koch took Mendes the distance, and it isn’t up for debate that Mendes is a far superior wrestler than Brookins. However he still lost the decision and if Brookin can assert his game and close the gap, I think he will grind out a sadly uneventful decision. I sincerely hope Koch lights him up and gives us an exciting KO of the night performance, but I’m picking wrestle-stomping for the win. Brookins decision
Court McGee 13-1-0 vs Dong Yi Yang 10-1-0 – Middleweight
TUF 11 winner McGee has the kind of “I turned my life around” story that is lapped up by the public. He deserves credit for turning his life around and his ability to do so and his evolution into the fighter he is today has endeared him to MMA fans. Without wanting to sound too cynical, it seems that this matchup looks like it has been setup as a bit of a McGee showcase. Sure Yang packs some power, and has only ever lost one fight – a split decision to Chris Camozzi in his UFC debut – but I’m thinking this is McGee’s to lose. Yang is a tough competitor and I’m not sure McGee will stop him, but I think he has the sort of wrestling / stifling / grinding game that most of our Far-Eastern cousins seem to struggle with when they hit American soil and fight in the UFC. Another grind-em-out decision for a TUF winner is my pick. McGee decision
Jake Shields 26-5-1 vs Jake Ellenberger 24-5-0 – Welterweight
There is barely a hair that separates these two fighters, who seem to be extremely well matched. Shields has been fighting 6 years longer than Ellenberger but has only had 3 more career fights than his opponent who is 6 years his junior. That said Shields has had a much more varied career than Ellenberger with a high level Amateur Wrestling run and also some very high profile submission grappling matches in Grapplers Quest and ADCC to add to his resume. Despite starting his UFC career with a narrow (and some would say debatable) decision loss to Carlos Condit, Ellenberger regrouped and has put together a 4 fight win streak, winning 3 of those by TKO stoppage. Shields UFC run has been less stellar following a razor thin win against Martin Kampmann and a heavy loss to GSP (both decisions). In stark contrast to his opponent, Shields is not a finisher but like his opponent – he is extremely hard to finish. Both men have lost by stoppage only once in their 5 career losses. Both men have clear advantages in the fight: Shields is probably the more accomplished submission grappler and Ellenberger takes the edge in the stand-up. Maybe the defining factor in this fight will not be dominance in a particular range, but in conditioning. This is one area where the smart money will always go on Ellenberger. Shields conditioning has been questioned before and if he has not addressed this area, he could find himself in deep water in the latter rounds of the fight. This was at one time slated to be the first ever 5 round non-title fight in the UFC, but that is no longer the case, Whilst Shields is no stranger to the 5 rounder, he has to be happier that this will only be a 15 minute contest. I keep flipping between the two fighters for the eventual winner, but am leaning towards Shields. Ellenberger most certainly has the potential to nick this, but the fact that Shields managed to go undefeated for 6 years prior to hitting a GSP shaped wall just makes it too hard to write him off. It will be close, it will go the distance and my gut tells me that the judges nod will go to Shields. Shields decision.