For any top-shelf fighter stationed beyond the Octagon's pearly gates, sustaining their reputation, respectability and ranking status is inevitably a quixotic endeavor -- they're lucky to hold status quo. Actually elevating credibility or raising their stock in other promotions? Fuggedaboutit.
There have, however, been a few rare exceptions, such as Fedor Emelianenko, Shinya Aoki, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Melendez and, to a lesser extent, welterweight Jay "The Thoroughbred" Hieron (23-5), who will re-emerge in the Octagon this Friday against Jake Ellenberger on the main card of UFC on FX 5.
Way back at UFC 48 in 2004, a pair of undefeated prospects who'd been generating a buzz among hardcores were matched up: Hieron, then 4-0 and making his promotional debut, and some Canadian fella namedthen 6-0. Hieron was needled by a barrage of punches and fell quickly by 1st-round TKO; he notched 3-straight wins in smaller promotions but, when the UFC invited him back to face Jonathan Goulet, suffered a frustrating 3rd-round TKO via doctor stoppage (due to a cut) despite performing admirably.
And that was that. Hieron was cut from the roster and scratched off yesteryear's Hot Prospects list ... temporarily. The Xtreme Couture fighter would go on to revivify his aura by becoming lightweight champion in the then-burgeoning International Fight League (IFL), the UFC's only quasi-competition in the stateside market at the time. Hieron pegged a 7-2 clip in the IFL en route to earning the title, which appears even more impressive through a retrospective lens.
His IFL losses were dealt by future UFC talent in Chris Wilson (decision) and Brad Blackburn (TKO), but it's Hieron's 2006 IFL debut that holds relevance here, which was a decision win over Jake Ellenberger (27-6). The loss was the first of Ellenberger's career, having massacred a dozen opponents beforehand to ignite his pro career; finishing each, violently, with only 5 victims surpassing the 1st round and a measly pair surviving til the 3rd.
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Nowadays, of course, Ellenberger is one of the big kids on the block, as his cement fists and head-hunting approach have propelled him to the #5-slot in the consensus world rankings. Of his 8 UFC fights, Ellenberger fell short in his first (a split decision to Carlos Condit that could've gone either way) and his last (a shocking TKO to Martin Kampmann, which was his first and only loss via strikes) while compiling 6 wins (4 TKOs, 2 decisions) along the way.
Continued in the full entry.
Size and skill wise, Ellenberger and Hieron are nearly identical: the former gets an insignificant 1" height bonus (6'0" vs. 5'11"), their reach lengths are equal (73") and both are athletic wrestle-boxers.
The miniscule differences are that Hieron is a bit more spry in his movement with the cleaner boxing technique whereas power favors Ellenberger -- in his frame, his wrestling and definitely with his scorching handiwork. In fact, Ellenberger has my vote for the heaviest hands in the UFC's welterweight division, as reinforced by the trail of lifeless cadavers in his rear-view mirror (17 of 27 wins by TKO).
The consensus prediction for this bout is that Ellenberger's enhanced striking, confidence and momentum will render up a vicious knockout -- especially since Hieron prefers to joust aggressively on the feet and has digested a plentiful diet of strikes in 3 of his 5 career losses. But for all of the emphasis being placed on Ellenberger's respectable surge of late, Hieron deserves a certain measure of praise as well.
(Video by Layzie the Savage of MiddleEasy.com)
Since dropping to Blackburn in the IFL before he attained the title, Hieron's only flaw in his last 12 outings is a shockingly feisty split decision to Bellator champion and Olympic wrestler Ben Askren (though Hieron's narrow split-decision win over Rick Hawn, an Olympic Judo player, was debatable). Though he's plied his trade in smaller shows, Hieron's track record still shows former UFC talent in Jesse Taylor, Joe Riggs (decisions) and Jason High (KO).
Hieron's also made encouraging strides in his personal life and I'm happy to see him back in the Octagon. There's no question that his speed and finesse will be seriously challenged by Ellenberger's heat-seeking punches, but the landslide betting odds for "The Juggernaut" in the -350 range are rather excessive. The notions that Hieron will just swan-dive into Ellenberger's fist or that, as a guy who just performed like a boss against 2 Olympic grapplers, he'll be no match for Ellenberger's takedowns are absurd. The big concerns lie in Ellenberger's left hook, overhand right and timing, followed by how effectively Hieron can capitalize on his speed by snapping in and out of range with his own offerings.
Hieron should be the underdog but not at those margins by any means. Additionally, there's some substance to the skepticism surrounding Ellenberger's gas tank and, even though we're playing up the revenge angle, he's coming off a crippling and demoralizing TKO loss. So, I wouldn't be so quick to write Hieron off and consider him a live dog -- perhaps the most appealing chance-bet on the card. Ellenberger is undoubtedly hell on wheels in the opening stanza and should have enough oomph to snare 2 of 3 rounds if he can't summon a stoppage.
My Prediction: Jake Ellenberger by decision.