With a superficial glance and perhaps an increasingly cynical view of the UFC's booking in recent months, the main event for the 25th Fight Night outing looks like an excuse to re-establish the credentials of former title contender, and expensive free agent Jake Shields against efficient but relatively unremarkable Jake Ellenberger. However this contest may well be more interesting and perhaps shocking than many anticipate as the development of talent may outstrip the match making approach.
Jake Shields was a darling of the internet, dominating outside the UFC and being heralded as the man who could take out long term welterweight champion Georges St Pierre. It is hard to argue that the ground specialist who came into his previous fight on a 15 fight winning streak which included Elite XC and Strikeforce gold as well as wins over current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, The Ultimate Fighter 14 coach Jason "Mayhem" Miller and former middleweight contender Yushin Okami was anything but a legitimate danger to UFC's welterweight crown however promise soon turned into despair as Shields was outclassed, losing a one sided decision. Losing in such a one sided way is not an unusual situation for people who challenge St Pierre however coming in with so much hype from the notoriously fickle MMA community and putting in what was frankly a disappointing performance has seen a significant backlash in opinion against Shields as a fighter. This loss of hardcore support is worsened by the fact that Shields came in from outside the UFC and so has significantly less brand recognition. Therefore rebuilding his credibility as a potential star could take more work than previous defeated contenders starting with September 17th free to air appearance.
It would appear that Ellenberger is the perfect person to start that rebuilding process as the former university of Nebraska wrestler is, on paper at least, significantly over matched in the grappling department while holding enough credibility in the eyes of hardcore fans as a ranked welterweight fighter and even has some name recognition appearing on previous Fight Night cards. Also in Shields favour is size as the former ADCC competitor has fought at a higher weight in several of his previous bouts, choosing to cut back down to welterweight when joining the UFC. Competing for championships has meant fighting at better general standard of competition which has a secondary advantage of having to perform on the big stage which should theoretically give him the psychological edge as well. A combination of factors that not only appeases the need to rebuild Shields as a public figure but also can be seen as a relatively safe fight in his progression towards more pay per view friendly match ups.
However this is where perception and reality may differ and lead to an unexpected result.
Firstly, the size difference between the two men is minimal, with Ellenberger being given a slightly longer reach than Shields. A fair indication that fighters inside the UFC are bigger in their respective weight classes than the advertised weight might indicate. Just ask Akiyama who's move down to welterweight is critical for his future success. The experience advantage is not distinct either as Ellenberger only has two less careers fights than Shields while competing in more than double the number of UFC events.
Although the general quality of opponents is still clearly in Shields favour, the style of fights may not be as Ellenberger has made a career of fighting other wrestlers or ground fighters and coming out on top. Wins over the likes of Carlos Eduardo Rocha, Mike Pyle and John Howard attest to this. Leading Ellenberger to exhibit progressive improvement in his defensive wrestling repertoire, both against the shot and the fence. Fight experience against such tactics is invaluable, especially within the walls of the Octagon, and will increase the pressure on Shields who has shown frustration from his lack of success in takedown attempts since joining the UFC compared to other endeavours. Of course this could be down to Shields adjusting to the Octagon which is a different place to work than anywhere else however it could be the quality of the UFC fighters.
Ellenberger could well be near the pinnacle when it comes to stuffing the takedown. suddenly bringing to the fore Shields biggest disadvantage which is his striking. Shields approach to striking can be described kindly as being rudimentary but this lack of quality limits his approach to fighting and opens up his opponents tactical options. Unlike his opponent, Ellenberger has shown constant improvement each time he steps into the Octagon, developing from someone who possessed nothing more than a big right hand to someone who can throw a series of combinations. Couple this with impressive knockout power that has seen Ellenberger take 15 of his wins by KO including in his last fight against journeyman Sean Pierson, this could well be Ellenberger's best opportunity to get the win.It should be noted that Shields has shown great recovery such as the first round of the Henderson fight but against a younger, hungrier opponent with devastating ground of pound of his own, it could all fall in line for Ellenberger to cause the upset.
It would not be the first time that a former challenger for the belt has been set up to reclaim his place in the group of challengers to find themselves displaced by another as Dan Hardy experienced in his fight with Carlos Condit. Both men had a reputation for landing leather and Hardy, who proclaimed his survival skills to whoever was willing to listen, was confident that this was a fight ideal for his abilities. Condit's left hook thought otherwise, suddenly moving him back into contention while Hardy found out the hard way that being a contender can suddenly dissipate as if it were never there in the first place.
There is one last ace that Ellenberger may hold over Shields and that is putting the BJJ man on his back. Although a BJJ black belt, it is not something that Shields has experienced to often in his career and certainly not against someone who is as seasoned as Ellenberger, especially with the great equaliser of elbows thrown into the mix. Elleneberger's short elbow is probably his best offensive weapon and Shields is a fighter who has, for the most part, performed in organisations where elbows on the floor have been illegal. Elbows don't just cause serious damage but remove several holds that can be used to stop punches which conceivable lowers Shields defensive prowess and could be a difference maker in this fight. Mind you, reducing the ability of someone as skilled as Shields on the floor who has 10 submission victories to his name may well be the type of risk that can come back to haunt a fighter.
Ultimately Shields, as someone who has had the UFC's hype machine behind him and coming off his championship loss will be the favourite entering this match up however it could well be, intentionally or otherwise, that the UFC is setting Shields up for a fall. It should be remembered that one man's loss is another's gain and this could be the fight that propels Ellenberger into the divisions title eliminators. What is for certain is that a fight which started out looking like a match made to help reignite one star could well make the other.