Dear UFC Brass,
Please reconsider an interim title bout between champion Carlos Condit and Jake Ellenberger next. After Ellenberger’s electrifying unanimous decision victory over Diego Sanchez in the promotion’s live-event debut on Fuel TV tonight, there should be no argument that he’s not only ready; he’s earned his shot at gold.
The fans want it and Condit should want it. An interim titleholder defends all worthy candidates in the interim, and with recovering champion Georges St-Pierre out until November, sitting out should not be an option. Neither should be pairing Ellenberger against the winner of May’s Josh Koscheck-Johnny Hendricks fight on Fox. Ellenberger is ready now.
Just ask the fans that watched Ellenberger (27-5) prove himself a capable foil to the gritty Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Sanchez (23-5), an opponent whose matching aggressiveness delivered early fireworks from Ellenberger’s hometown of Omaha, Neb.
Ellenberger cinched the first and second rounds with his counter-striking and well-timed takedowns, showing great durability in Sanchez’s surging attacks. He cut (and reportedly broke) Sanchez’s nose early, and scored a knockdown off a counter-punch combination to lock up a very close first round. The 26-year-old Ellenberger then found his range and nailed a clean double-leg takedown with a minute left in the second round to seal his lead on the scorecards.
Ellenberger’s only misstep came in the final round when he fell out of position during a scramble. Sanchez took Ellenberger’s back, and with the clock ticking down with one minute remaining, tried to punch out the stoppage. Sanchez bloodied Ellenberger, as referee Dan Miragliotta hovered and waited. Ellenberger seemed a little fazed before his athleticism kicked back in with a beautiful reversal in the final seconds.
Miragliotta’s face said it all, as he exhaled deeply at the horn’s sounding. He wasn’t alone. It was a close call, and a sequence that Ellenberger stands to learn a lot from upon review.
Ellenberger’s performance, his sixth straight victory in the Octagon, punctuated a stellar top-to-bottom debut for the promotion on Fuel TV. And a rematch between Ellenberger and Condit, who eked out a close split decision in their first meeting in 2009, sits waiting on the silver platter.
Notes from the undercard
Slow and steady: Through Stefan Struve’s plodding pace wasn’t as inspiring as our main-event heroes, it was enough for the 6-foot-11 Dutchman to clip and down fellow heavyweight Dave Herman (20-3) for a second-round TKO finish. Herman was the aggressor early, backing Struve (23-5) to the fence with a beautiful combination. But, as with many of Herman’s performances, the bottom fell out when his lagging stamina couldn’t keep up past the second round. It’s a shame: Herman’s technically a better striker than Struve, but a proper work ethic can make all the difference.
Marke-ing his spot: Ronny Markes (13-1) made good on his middleweight debut against a fired-up Aaron Simpson (11-3), edging out the NCAA All-American wrestler via a split decision that could have been argued either way. Brazilian Markes survived a first-round knockdown and mixed competent (and sometimes heavy-handed) striking with takedowns in key moments to sway the judges. Markes, who previously fought at light heavyweight, will have a size advantage over many of his opponents in his new division, and with a few more fights on the main stage, he has potential to become a contender.
Taking care of business: T.J. Dillashaw, Stipe Miocic and Jonathan Brookins all advanced tonight with definitive performances. Collegiate wrestler Dillashaw (5-1) erased his December stumble against John Dodson in The Ultimate Fighter 14 bantamweight finale by shutting out striker Walel Watson (9-4) en route to an easy unanimous decision. Heavyweight Miocic (8-0) iced British grappler Philip De Fries with a striking barrage in 43 seconds, while TUF 12 featherweight winner Brookins reversed Vagner Rocha’s half-attempted takedown and put the Brazilian to sleep with follow-up strikes in one minute and 43 seconds.
Miocic, an Ohio-based fighter of Croatian descent, is the early standout of the aforementioned trio, having collected six knockouts in his eight career victories. A successful wrestler and baseball player for Cleveland State (rumored to have garnered interest from Major League Baseball), former Golden Gloves champion Miocic looks ready to handle a fast-track fight against Struve, Herman or even gatekeeper Roy Nelson.
Fool me once: I made the silly mistake of picking against Canadian bantamweight Ivan Menjivar in his UFC return last April. Never again. Menjivar (24-8) has graced the game since 2001, besting heftier opponents in the 145- and 155-pound divisions until his true weight class came around. Tonight, John Albert tested Menjivar out of the gate in a frenetic and highly entertaining single-rounder, nearly coaxing out a stoppage when he caught Menjivar with a flurry on the fence. But the veteran made it through the storm, calmly hooked himself onto Albert’s back and found the rear-naked choke for the finish at three minutes and 45 seconds. It was a great cross-section of skills at a feverish pace with a dramatic comeback all in under four minutes – just the type of fight that would win over new fans on the FOX broadcasts.
And a big, hearty welcome to: Coach Trevor Wittman is a man of his word. The Grudge Training Center guru said to watch out for his newest UFC prospect, lightweight Justin Salas (10-3), who demonstrated great cagemanship and fluidity in his unanimous decision victory over an equally game Anton Kulvanen (16-5). Salas’ clean takedowns were what you’d expect from his NCAA Div. I collegiate wrestling pedigree, and his nimble footwork and solid striking kept Kulvanen off balance. Wittman, who’s trained UFC notables Brendan Schaub, Nate Marquardt and Shane Carwin, knows a winner when he sees one: Salas should prepare himself for stiffer competition from matchmaker Joe Silva sooner rather than later.
– Loretta Hunt