While this event hasn’t exactly flown under the radar, it certainly isn’t getting too much hype from the fans. Many are rubbishing the event and, while the undercard is definitely lacking a little sparkle, the main card has some great fights in store and I for one won’t be swerving this event.
Obviously the big one here is the main event: Jake Ellenberger is on a tear and his last victory over contender Jake Shields has put him right in the mix with some of the top guys in the division vying for a shot at the belt. Sanchez is 2-1 since his return to the 170lbs division and as a 2 time fight of the year (wrestling observer) and 4 time fight of the night winner, the fans know he leaves it all in the Octagon every time he fights.
In the co-main event we have the towering Stefan Struve against Dave Herman. Herman made a big impression in his UFC debut with a fight of the night performance against John-Olav Einemo. Struve is well known to UFC fans and has faced some of the best the 265lb divsion has to offer. This should be an entertaining heavyweight clash and is a real test for Herman.
UK fans will be looking out for the return of undefeated submissions expert Phillip De Fries. In his UFC debut he gutted out a decision win over countryman Rob Broughton in his first ever fight to go the distance. All previous opponents have been soundly despatched via submissions and the Alliance BJJ purple belt will be looking to add another to that list against Stipe Miocic. Former Golden Gloves champ Miocic will no doubt to turn this one into a classic striker vs grappler encounter and continue his own undefeated run.
Throw in Simpson vs Markes and Dillashaw vs Watson and you end up with a main card that isn’t exactly epic in scale, but will surely provide some good scraps along the way.
Let’s dive straight into my picks for the main card then:
Jake Ellenberger 26-5-0 vs. Diego Sanchez 23-4-0
Sanchez is experiencing a mini-renaissance in his Welterweight career with two fight of the night performances on the trot following his shock loss an on-fire John Hathaway on his return to 170lbs. His decision wins over Kampmann and Thiago showcased the full array of his talents. Some may dispute the actual outcome of the Kampmann fight, but none can dispute the willingness of Sanchez to throw down and keep on coming.
As I said in the intro, Ellenberger exploded into the consciousness of the casual fan with his destruction of Jake Shields inside the first 60 seconds of their September 2011 fight. He is 5-1 in the UFC with his debut fight against current interim champ Carlos Condit the only ‘L’ on his record in his last 10 fights. A win in this match in impressive fashion could well pave the way for a rematch with Condit and a shot at the interim belt.
Ellenberger is exactly the kind of powerful wrestler that Sanchez struggled with at Welterweight in his first 170lb run and the ferocious striking power of “the juggernaut” may well trouble Sanchez. That said, Diego has only been stopped once in 27 fights and that was to a cut so he will be extremely hard to put away.
Both men are good enough on the feet to trouble the other, but it seems unlikely that this will play out entirely as a kickboxing match. Sanchez was a High School wrestling champion and Ellenberger an NCAA div 2 wrestler and both men have shown the ability to control fights with these skills in the past. I would give a slight edge to Ellenberger but only because he seems to be the more powerful of the two men. Whilst BJJ brown belt Sanchez has most of his wins by Submission, purple belt Ellenberger has only ever been submitted once.
This is a super-close match and either man could take home the ‘W’. If this was a 3 rounder I would bet my house on Ellenberger, but now we get 5 round main events the picture isn’t so clear. Sanchez is an absolute machine and has previously gone into the 5th in his match against BJ Penn. He has also gone the distance 11 times, dropping only 3 of those decisions. Ellenberger has only gone the distance 8 times and dropped half those decisions. I think if Sanchez can steal a round early and drag the fight into the the 4th and 5th Ellenberger will tire and he could steal the fight. If he fails to win any of the first 3, then despite the fact that Ellenberger is unlikley to be able to match the cardio of Sanchez, he should survive (just) and take the decision.
As the hometown fighter, Ellenberger will be buoyed by the crowd and he’ll need to be. There will be some moments in this fight where Ellenberger really needs to dig deep and he may well be shocked at finding Sanchez’ chin only for “the dream” to keep coming forward. Ultimately though, my money goes on the judges scoring this one for Ellenberger and both men taking home a nice FOTN bonus. Ellenberger decision
Stefan Struve 22-5-0 vs. Dave Herman 21-2-0
No rocket science behind this matchup at all. All Struve on the floor – all Herman on the feet is a short but sweet summary of how I see this fight. Despite being billed as a kickboxer, Struve has found most success using his frame to secure submission wins in 15 of his 22 career victories. Despite having some KO’s on his record, I find his standup style looks awkward and uncomfortable and his footwork is mediocre. At 6′ 11″ it must be difficult to always have to punch downwards , but you’d think with that kind of reach he would have developed some sort of effective jab or decent kicks. The reverse is true however and in 4 of his 5 losses he has been bullrushed and KO’d, more often than not in the first minute of the fight.
Herman is exactly the kind of fighter who will look to do that to Struve. He brutalised his first 15 opponents, 14 of them in the first 5 minutes, before his only KO loss to Choi Mu Bae. Whilst he hasn’t been competing in the same league of opponents as Struve has, Struve needs to be very aware of just how dangerous the hands of Herman are.
If Struve can drag this one to the mat he should destroy Herman, but if he can’t get the fight to the ground – unless his standup game has come on a lot – he is going to get tagged and suffer another crushing KO loss. I want Struve to be so much better than he is, and I really think if he got his striking game together he would be a huge test for any fighter in the world. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be marked improvement in his standup and he is content to let people come to him and then try and grab hold of something and pull guard. With a chin like he has, in a division of guys who throw bombs, this is a dangerous plan. This one is a huge toss-up as to whether Herman lands first, or Struve is successful in taking it to the floor when Herman pushes forward. So I tossed a coin and it landed on Heads for Herman. Herman KO rd 1
Aaron Simpson 11-2-0 vs. Ronny Markes 12-1-0
Markes drops down to 185lbs and faces a stern test in his debut at the weight in Aaron Simpson. “A train” is a former NCAA All American wrestler for Arizona State and on making the switch to MMA went 8-0 in his career. Tipped by many to go all the way to the top of the divsion, his career trajectory took a bit of a dive when he came up against top fighters Chris Leben and Mark Munoz. Three wins since then (all by decision) have seen him get back on track and he will look to continue that momentum with a convincing win ove Markes.
Markes is only 23 and with 13 fights already under his belt he has bags of potential. His strength lies in the clinch and getting takedowns to GnP. He pretty much did what he wanted with Vemola at lightheavyweight so if the cut isn’t too draining on him, he could end up being a beast at this weight. He also fights out of one of the best camps in the world at the moment and despite most of the standout fighters in his camp being little guys. Just being around all that talent has to have had a positive effect.
A lot is going to depend on how comfortably Markes makes weight, but if he comes in following a good cut, I think this could be a breakout fight for him. Simpson is an excellent wrestler and will be very strong in the clinch where Markes is most comfortable. On past performances alone you’d have to say that Simpson has the better – or at least more powerful – striking. Markes is in the right place with Nova Uniao to make hige strides in his standup game though, and Wednesday night will determine if and how much he has improved in that department.
Simpson isn’t known for his jiujitsu and has no submissions on his record, Markes has a few submissions on his – but doesn’t often need to resort to that skillset. Having it in reserve though is better than not having it at all and although the fight is unlikely to descend in a jiujitsu chess-match, if it did Markes would win.
Whilst fans will hope for a barnstormer this could end up being an up-against-the-fence-clinch-fest snoozer. This one is highly likely to go to the judges and if it does will be hard to score. I am going to take a punt on Markes to come away with a win here, this isn’t based on anything more scientific than a hunch and I would be completely unsurprised if it goes the other way. Markes decision
Philip De Fries 8-0-0 vs. Stipe Miocic 7-0-0
In a “someones 0 has to go” fight, two undefeated prospects, both relatively green to the UFC go at it. Again this looks like a fight with a pretty simple formula: De Fries – get it to the ground at all costs. Miocic – Keep it standing.
De Fries standup is a total unknown quantity but we have to assume it is nowhere near the standard of his opponents. He has an excellent top game and it was to Broughtons credit that he survived the crushing pressure of De Fries for the full 15 minutes in their match. In his world on the mat, you have to favour De Fries in the fight.
Miocic has decent wrestling and that will be the key factor in stopping De Fries getting the fight to the ground. Miocic will likely try and make De Fries come to him and look to throw power shots as De Fries closes and sprawl heavy if the Englishman does get underneath his punches.
I picked against De Fries in his fight against Broughton and was proved wrong in a big way. It is for this reason that I am unsure of picking against him again, but Miocic is a very different beast to Broughton and probably a bigger test due to the ferocity of his punching. I hate to go against the UK guys and so I’d be very happy for a submission of the night performance from De Fries to be the outcome. BUT, it seems like Miocic has more tools to win this. So reluctantly, I’m taking a punt on Miocic by TKO in the 2nd
T.J. Dillashaw 4-1-0 vs. Walel Watson 9-3-0
TUF finalist Dillashaw came unstuck in a big way against the dynamic John Dodson. He will need to assert his wrestling game early on if he is going to avoid getting knocked around by the huge range advantage of the long and lanky Watson.
Fighting out of the brilliantly named ‘Team Hurricane Awesome’ Watson uses his god-given advantages really well to set up submissions as well as fight at range on the feet. Most of his wins have come by submission where he is able to use his snake-like limbs to hit submissions off his back as well as from the top position. A particular favourite seems to be the ananconda choke and Dillashaw needs to be careful if he gets sprawled on that he hides his neck well.
I watched quite a lot of TUF 14 and despite him coming off as a bit arrogant, it is clear to see Dillashaw has talent. He is slightly one-dimensional though and this can be a problem. In the final TUF match, Dodson very well-prepared in how to handle the team alpha males fighters assault and avoided being taken down before blitzing Dillashaw on the feet. Watson isn’t quite as explosive as Dodson but has the ability to hit big knees and again this is something TJ needs to be aware of.
Dillashaw will be pretty confident going into this fight, despite the height and reach disparity, as Yves Jabouin was able to take Watson down at will and Dillashaw is head and shoulders above Jabouin with his wrestling. Watson will need to blast leg kicks and jabs and continually move and angle off to avoid being taken down, but in my opinion that is just delaying the inevitable. At some point he will get Watson down and this fight will likely be decided on the mat. Either Dillashaw is going to control Watson and TKO him or Watson is going to get some sort of submission. As always, the jiujitsu fanboy in me roots for the fight ending submission and I think Watson will latch onto something late on in the fight. The lighter guys always provide fantastic entertainment and this one will not disappoint. Watson Submission rd 3
****************** UPDATED WITH ACTUAL RESULTS ***************************
T.J. Dillashaw vs Walel Watson – My Pick:Dillashaw sub rd 3 Actual: Dillashawt Decision
Stipe Miocic vs Phil De Fries – My Pick:Miocic TKO rd 2 Actual:Miocic T/KO rd 1
Ronny Markes vs Aaron Simpson – My Pick:Markes Decision Actual: Markes Decision
Stefan Struve vs Dave Herman – My Pick:Herman KO rd1 Actual: Struve KO rd 2
Jake Ellenberger vs Diego Sanchez – My Pick:Ellenberger decision Actual: Ellenberger decision