The UFC returns to the great state of Louisiana for battle for the seventh time in its history as TUF vets, former WEC stand-outs, and returning blue chippers meet for Ultimate Fight Night 25. Kicking things off in the Big Easy are two middleweight warriors, “The Athlete” Jason MacDonald (23-14) and long absent prospect “The Talent” Alan Belcher (16-6). Featherweight Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins (14-1) takes on the always dangerous WEC veteran Eric Koch (12-1) in the night’s second battle and “The Crusher” Court McGee (11-1) joins Korean fighter “The Ox” Dongi Yang (5-1) in the Octagon to round things out before the main event. For the marquis bout of the evening, one of the most dominant fighters in Strikeforce history, former champion Jake Shields (26-5-1), tries to rebound from his title fight loss by stopping the streaking welterweight frontrunner Jake Ellenberger (24-5). The pair offer interesting challenges for one another, and the winner will likely find himself across the cage from the welterweight champion in the near future.
At First Glance: Shields and Ellenberger are two fighters cut from the same cloth. Both have the tools to finish his foe on the mat and phenomenal positional wrestling that allows them total control once they get their opponent down. Each fighter also suffers from clear deficiencies in the kickboxing area. The differences between the two are few – however, they are prominent. They have both torn through the majority of their opponents but Ellenberger has arguably faced the stiffer competition of the two and has fought on the UFC level for much longer. Shields, though, has had success at higher weight classes and is much larger than his opponent. He also has a much more accomplished grappling background outside of MMA.
In Depth: For two men so similar in method and skill set, Shields and Ellenberger couldn’t be further apart in terms of approach. Shields is the consummate Gracie fighter. He is patient, calculated, and controlled at all times, never taking undue risk or getting ahead of himself. He is far more than willing to control his way to a decision than he is to risk losing control to end the fight. Ellenberger is the opposite. As a collegiate wrestler, he has the competitive drive to push for the win until the final horn sounds, giving up a measure of control and position if it means he can gain an opportunity to end the match. Against a Gracie fighter, this is both a good and a bad thing. If his gambles pay off, he will score big points with the judges even if he fails to finish Shields. However, if he gets too greedy, he could easily find himself caught up in a fight-ending submission. On the feet, the advantage goes almost by default to Shields even though Ellenberger is technically a more skilled boxer. Neither man is an accomplished striker, so Ellenberger’s one inch of extra reach is almost meaningless. Shields’ size is not. The Californian grappler can hit harder and put a lot more weight into his punches.
Wild Card: Weight is a blessing and a bane for Shields. While he is no stranger to the 170lbs. division, he has spent the majority of his recent career at middleweight. In his last bout, he looked a bit drawn out and wane at the weigh-ins and it showed in his performance. There is also the matter that Shields has never been one to fight from his back in MMA. Should Ellenberger get top control, there is a healthy chance he will do significant damage before Shields can escape.
The Verdict: This match is a very even pairing despite the hype around Shields suggesting otherwise. The two have just a pair of common opponents and the results were similar. Both men finished Mike Pyle (21-7-1) and both went to a decision against “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (27-5), though Shields won and Ellenberger lost narrowly. The tale will be told in the place where both men paid their dues, the wrestling mat. Shields is the more accomplished grappler with a longer history of dedication and success in the field and that will allow him to capitalize on Ellenberger’s mistakes and control the fight through the end. Shields via Unanimous Decision