The UFC will lock “The Dream” Diego Sanchez (23-4) in the cage with Jake Ellenberger (25-5) after a night of solid fights this Wednesday as UFC on Fuel TV: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger hits the airwaves. The card will follow what so far has been the status quo with the UFC/FOX deal: big names headlined by title bouts on FOX, mid-tier and up-and-coming fighters headlined by big names on FX, and journeymen and new faces headlined by mid-tier fighters on Fuel TV. Opening the night, TUF alum TJ Dillashaw (4-1) will face the hardened young slugger fromSan Diego, Walel Watson (8-3). Strong Style MMA knockout machine Stipe Miocic (7-0) will trade leather with fellow undefeated journeyman Philip DeFries (5-0). “A-Train” Aaron Simpson (10-2) will look to keep his recovery from back-to-back losses in 2010 going strong with a win over dangerous Brazilian Ronny Markes (1-0) who sits 12-1 when fights contested outside the Unified Rules of MMA are considered. Shoring up the main event is a bout between two men poised to make a name for themselves in UFC heavyweight division, “Pee Wee” Dave Herman (20-2) and “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (20-5). The fights are a glimpse at some of tomorrow’s top contenders and, more importantly from a spectator’s perspective, an evening of fights between fighters who are undeniably hungry to impress the fans and their bosses.
TJ Dillashaw vs. Walel Watson: The TUF finalist steps in to prove his worth to the UFC after failing to capture the TUF Season 14 contract. Standing against the Team Alpha Male fighter and former PAC-10 wrestler is a seasoned journeyman of the Mexico MMA scene, Walel Watson, who holds a 1-1 mark in the UFC and seven submission victories to his name. All speculation on the quality of opponents faced aside, Watson seems to be the better man on paper. He has more than twice as many bouts and has shown the ground skills to easily handle the pedestrian wrestling resume of Dillashaw, who went 53-40 in the PAC-10 conference. There is always more than the paper shows though and the steady improvement Dillashaw displayed in college along with continued training at Alpha Male and the fact he has never been submitted point to a strong enough wrestling base to negate Watson’s submissions and take the win in three. Dillashaw via Unanimous Decision
Stipe Miocic vs. Phil DeFries: The ultimate in classic MMA match-ups, undefeated Stipe Miocic brings six wins via strikes and a one-sided decision win in his UFC debut against Phil DeFries, who also took his debut by decision but supports his entry into the UFC with seven submission wins, six in the first round. The records scream striker vs. grappler. Unfortunately for DeFries, Miocic is also a Div. I level wrestler and DeFries earned his stripes in the UK, where skilled wrestlers are at a premium. This points to a situation where DeFries will be forced to absorb punishment from the heavy-handed kickboxer while fighting tooth and nail for every potential takedown. Miocic via KO (Punches), Round 2
Aaron Simpson vs. Ronny Markes: Aaron Simpson lost back-to-back fights in 2010 and looked to be on his way out of the UFC; then he responded with three straight wins in a perfect 2011 to bring himself to UFC on Fuel TV where he will meet Ronny Markes of the Nova Uniao camp in Brazil. “A-Train” has built his career on his very capable All-American wrestling base, but may find that the much younger Brazilian has more to offer than he can handle. Simpson has a handful of wins over mid-tier middleweights, but has been handily beaten in his only two matches against upper level opponents. Markes, by contrast, dominated former WEC champ “Eli” Paulo Filho (19-3-2). Simpson may be able to wrestle Markes to the mat, but not without taking damage. That combined with Markes’ submission game keeping “A-Train” constantly working will likely cost the Arizona native the fight. Markes via Submission (Armbar), Round 3
Stefan Struve vs. Dave Herman: Playing the part of the co-main event, experienced veteran and UFC newcomer Dave Herman will look to move up the ranks by hammering Struve firmly into the roll of gatekeeper with a knockout win. At 6’5” with a 77” reach, “Pee Wee” will be in unfamiliar territory as he gives up six inches of height and seven inches of reach against the Dutchman, but his superior boxing and big power should allow him to land and land big against Struve much as “Big Country” Roy Nelson (16-7) did. Struve does have a nasty ground game to worry about, but Herman has never been submitted in 23 bouts and has the kind of heavy hands that have represented a big issue for Struve in the past. Herman via TKO (Punches), Round 2
Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Ellenberger: The main event pits the eclectic, division-hopping Diego Sanchez against Jake Ellenberger, a consistently competitive wrestler and, recently, a devastating power puncher. Sanchez lost two in a row at welterweight, dropped to lightweight, ended a four-fight win streak on back-to-back losses, then returned to 170lbs. where he again claims to have renewed his focus and training and has put together a pair of “Fight of the Night”-winning decision victories. Where this match turns sour for Sanchez is Ellenberger’s wrestling pedigree. “The Dream” has historically struggled against strong wrestlers, going 1-3 against UFC-level wrestlers with his lone win a Split Decision at lightweight. Diego has also shown a tendency to crumble mentally when his opponents land damaging strikes. Ellenberger has won four of his last five by KO or TKO, including finishing Jake Shields (26-6-1) for the first time in ten years in brutal fashion with a knee. Against a fighter like that, Sanchez’s notoriously fragile mental state is a serious handicap. Sanchez doesn’t get finished easy, so it is unlikely that Ellenberger will knock him out, but a good overhand right could cause “The Dream” to check out mentally, resulting in more damage and a fight-ending cut. Ellenberger via TKO (Doctor’s Stoppage), Round 3