UFC on FX 4 will host a welterweight match up between standout grapplers Brian Ebersole and T.J. Waldburger on the 4-part main card, which starts at 9:00 p.m. ET on the FX channel and is headlined by Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida.
Brian Ebersole (49-14) is one of the most experienced veterans in the UFC. The sheer volume of his resumé and his willingness to trade leather makes the fact that he's never been knocked out quite a remarkable feat. The former D1 wrestler has an interesting blend of traditional and technical boxing from the southpaw stance and circus-act striking, such as the rolling cartwheel kick he's known for.
When Ebersole was signed, many wrote him off as a mid-level journeyman and sacrificial fodder for the contenders to feast on. However, a closer look at his recent performances paints a different picture: he's won 14 of his last 15, with Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard being responsible for the sole defeat, and he's flawless in the Octagon with wins over Chris Lytle, Dennis Hallman and Claude Patrick. Additionally, Ebersole is only 31-years-old but boasts a total of 63 fights and a decade-plus in the fight game.
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T.J. Waldburger (15-6) is a young (age 24) submission specialist with a very bright future. In his first 14 turns, Waldburger posted a mediocre 9-5 clip, though each of those losses (excluding his MMA debut) were delivered by UFC- or WEC-caliber competition in Josh Neer, Ricardo Funch, Pete Spratt and Todd Moore.
In his last 7, 4 of which were in the UFC, Waldburger's only defeat is to top-contender and feared wrestler Johny Hendricks, who caught him with a punch for a 1st-round TKO. Waldburger debuted on the heels of an impressive decision over Strikeforce's Pat Healy and joined David Mitchell in setting a UFC record for the most submission attempts in his Octagon debut; a unanimous decision win. After falling to Hendricks, Waldburger has latched on a pair of 1st-round submissions (Mike Stumpf, Jake Hecht).
What makes this pairing an interesting one is that each fighter embodies his opponent's Kryptonite: 5 of Waldburger's 6 defeats are via TKO and Ebersole has exceptional punching power; 9 of Ebersole's 14 defeats come by way of submission, which is Waldburger's obvious forte.
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Waldburger's striking is pretty commonplace for the UFC level, but I believe that he's intentionally wild and upright on the feet to bait opponents into taking him down. He has decent boxing -- he gets great extension on his punches and flaunts an imposing 75" reach length -- and he flings out a lot of right-footed kicks to the legs and body.
Whether it's a technical flaw or a calculated strategy, Waldburger throws everything hard and his upright stance causes a loss of balance. Typically, this would be a no-no as it leaves the striker wide open to takedowns, but Waldburger welcomes the opportunity to enforce his submission grappling. His wrestling is not phenomenal but still above average.
What sets him apart is his willingness to pressure with takedowns even if he's unlikely to succeed -- such as the power double he greeted Hendricks with -- and his creativity to chain his offense together and transition from one attack to the next. That can be accomplished by switching from a double to a high single, from a takedown attempt into a submission attempt, rolling into a leg lock from the clinch or just exploding with a catch from an unorthodox position.
Ebersole is a beefy welterweight with considerable strength, athleticism and wrestling skill. In conjunction with his straight boxing, this makes him extremely difficult to control or manipulate. Waldburger is the type of opponent who provides a good reason to shelve the somersault kicks and fan-friendly tactics for a more simple and effective strategy, as he preys on reckless mistakes and his submission acumen is highly unforgiving.
Waldburger's not an inept striker but he should be out-matched by the crisp technique and timing of Ebersole, especially if he sticks to boxing basics and adamantly avoids entanglements and takedown attempts. Ebersole displayed a solid level of submission defense against Claude Patrick but Waldburger is absolutely spectacular in scrambles and transitions; perhaps one of the best in the game.
That leads me to believe that Ebersole's wrestling, or his wrestling in reverse to stay afoot, along with his Fight I.Q. should dictate the outcome. If he respects Waldburger's grappling prowess, stays composed and on-balance while plunging straight shots and circling away from the cage corners, Ebersole should be able to clip Waldburger on the feet or evade his clutches for a decision. Waldburger is clever and poisonous on the mat and I don't think Ebersole can survive with him there for any extended periods of time, so his movement and wrestling will be pivotal.
To summarize, Ebersole should have a much better chance of relying on control to exploit Waldburger's known weakness while Waldburger will have his hands full trading with Ebersole or taking him down. Ebersole is no rookie on the floor and his short, thunderous elbows from the top can be an effective deterrent to submission attempts from guard.
My Prediction: Brian Ebersole by TKO.