For most fans Saturday night, UFC Fight Night 25 is nothing more than eleven irrelevant match-ups leading up to a showdown between former UFC welterweight contender Jake Shields (26-5-1) and challenger Jake Ellenberger (25-5). To uninformed fans, Shields should walk through Ellenberger, just in time to catch Floyd Mayweather take on Victor Ortiz. While it is difficult to dismiss the perceived irrelevance of the other eleven bouts on the card, Shields vs. Ellenberger isn't without implications.
Ellenberger has amassed a 4-1 record in 5 appearances inside the Octagon. Most fans forget that Ellenberger impressed in his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 19 back in September of 2009, narrowly losing to current UFC welterweight title contender Carlos Condit on the scorecards. At the time, Condit was unproven against better competition as he spent most of his career dominating the opposition in the WEC. In retrospect however, Condit has become one of the better welterweights in the division.
Since that loss, Ellenberger blasted his way through the divisional ranks, knocking out Mike Pyle, John Howard, and Sean Pierson over the course of the last year. His only scare came at UFC 126 when Carlos Eduardo Rocha put him in some precarious situations on the mat. Ellenberger survived, escaping Rocha's submission attempts and doing enough damage to edge him on the scorecards.
The Rocha bout has been referenced as evidence that Shields will overwhelm Ellenberger on Saturday night. Ellenberger's love affair with his hands and deficient takedown defense because of that allowed Rocha to power through his defenses. Shields isn't a vaunted striker by any means, and Ellenberger has an advantage in the power department. Like Rocha, Shields has the advantage in the grappling department. The problem? As with any Jake Shields fight, he has to get the fight to the ground.
Ellenberger's strength makes this a very interesting encounter. Shields has dealt with veterans such as Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, Jason Miller, Robbie Lawler, and Paul Daley. Surely Jake Ellenberger won't be an issue, right?
Ellenberger is a fresher wrestler in my mind than any of those opponents. Henderson, on paper, is a better wrestler, but he hasn't maintained those skills over the years due to his propensity to strike. Ellenberger falls into the same category, although he hasn't completely abandoned his focus. If Ellenberger can use his wrestling and strength to stuff Shields' advances, it will leave Shields wide open for damage on the feet.
The implications of this fight are also interesting. For Ellenberger, it's obvious. A victory propels him into the title picture. Shields has much more to lose. If Ellenberger can find a way past him, it isn't unfathomable that all of the Jake Shields talk that was produced when he made his way to the UFC will disappear. It could become a moment that derails his career at this latter stage.
Shields shouldn't have that problem against Ellenberger however. Ellenberger will focus heavily on trying to knock Shields' block off in the stand-up department, and I think that will lead to Ellenberger having a hard time defending against Shields' takedown attempts. Shields finds a way to bring this fight to the ground and control Ellenberger to a decision. Don't sleep on Ellenberger however. If you are a betting man, it might not be a bad play.