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UFC on Fuel In-Depth Preview: Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez

With the recent announcement that Nick Diaz had failed a post-fight drug test at UFC 143, and already important UFC on Fuel was just given even more weight. With Diaz on the sideline and GSP’s knee injury suddenly feeling a lot worse as soon as a he lost the chance to fight Diaz, the need for an interim title defense by champion Carlos Condit has grown, and the winner of this fight may well find himself in prime position to be the man to challenge for the strap.

Jake Ellenberger

Ellenberger is a veteran of the IFL, Bodog and Bellator prior to signing on with the UFC, and despite clawing his way into the top ten has remained outside of discussions for fighters at the top of the division looking for a title shot. With his only loss in his last ten coming by way of a split decision to newly crowned interim welterweight champion Condit, adding another big name to his trophy case could be just what Ellenberger needs.

Recent Fights

Since the split decision loss to Condit, Ellenberger has won five straight fights in 2010 and 2011, failing to get the finish only once. Ellenberger stopped Mike Pyle in the second round in his first bounce-back fight, then blew up John Howard’s eye like a beach ball to force the doctor’s hand. Carlos Eduardo Rocha’s tricky ground game offered some threat to Ellenberger, but the American showed equally game escapes and punished his way to a split decision win. Ellenberger began voicing his wish to take on a big name, but was forced to settle for a bout with Sean Pierson at UFC 129, where a quick KO there set up a fight with Jake Shields. Shields was dismissive of Ellenberger before the fight, but certainly not after when Ellenberger needed just :53 seconds to claim the undisputed Jake Welterweight Championship Title.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As is a popular trend on this fight card, Ellenberger is a wrestler who often prefers to use his pedigree to keep the fight upright, rather than to set up opportunities to hammer away from on top. Ellenberger is a technically sound striker and he hits with great power. What’s more, Ellenberger is effective both at range and in tight, making any time on the feet with him a dangerous proposition. Where Ellenberger is most likely to be in trouble with Sanchez is if the Jackson MMA fighter manages to put him on his back, however Ellenberger’s wrestling should be strong enough to prevent that.

Fantasy Impact

Ellenberger is providing some of the best value on the card, with a -250 line despite sports books favoring Ellenberger as high as -400. For players with a high bankroll, invest some safe money in Ellenberger for solid return, while players looking for big scores should consider Ellenberger with a pair of moderate dogs in a parlay. For fantasy picking, Sanchez is durable but the end seems inevitable, so take Ellenberger by TKO in round two.

Diego Sanchez analysis after the jump.

Diego Sanchez

Sanchez is one of the most recognizable names in the sport, having won the first season of The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight and put on some of the most entertaining fights in UFC history. For all his talents, however, Sanchez has fallen short at the top multiple times, and is hoping to earn another chance at a title run with a win in the main event Wednesday.

Recent Fights

Sanchez hit a bit of a rough patch after a strong start to his new lightweight home. His title shot against BJ Penn went, much like the shots of every other lightweight not named Frankie Edgar, somewhat less-than-swimmingly, ending when a gash opened by a Penn high kick was deemed too much by doctors. The loss prompted a return to welterweight, where John Hathaway dominated Sanchez to make it two straight losses. Sanchez staved off a three-fight skid by winning a decision against Paulo Thiago, only to find himself on the receiving end of a brutal beating from Martin Kampmann. Despite the apparent clear win for Kampmann, however, Sanchez "won" the fight by Garcia decision, "earning" him this fight with Ellenberger.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Sanchez is a talented grappler with a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, however he has shown a lack of desire and ability to use the art to finish his fights on the big stage. After starting his career with six submissions in his first eight fights, Sanchez has not finished a fight with a submission hold since. While he has shown the occasional burst of power in his striking, the majority of Sanchez’s victories in the UFC have come about as a result of grinding out decisions in fights which move throughout all the phases of the game, and has struggled when facing an opponent who could hold him down or force a pure striking competition.

Fantasy Impact

Everything about this pairing just screams bad times ahead for Sanchez. Ellenberger is exactly the kind of fighter capable of both taking Sanchez down and wearing on him from on top or forcing a striking game where Sanchez is outgunned. If you insist on picking Sanchez, go with another close fight in a split decision win. On the fantasy game, Sanchez’ +250 offers the chance for a good payoff, but it’s still less payoff than the pros are giving and just doesn’t offer any appeal to me, so I’d suggest staying clear.