TORONTO - Jake Ellenberger won a thrilling unanimous decision over Diego Sanchez in an early fight-of-the-year candidate at UFC on FUEL TV 1 in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday.
Ellenberger utilized his sharp counter-striking to drop Sanchez in the first round. He then bloodied the The Ultimate Fighter winner with stiff elbows after securing a takedown in the second.
If Sanchez is known for anything, it’s never taking a step backwards. Despite being down two rounds on the judges’ scorecards, he came out looking for the finish the third. After capitalizing on an error by Ellenberger, Sanchez secured back control and unloaded with violent ground-and-pound. Ellenberger managed to escape the dangerous spot as time expired, eliciting a thunderous reaction from his hometown fans.
“Diego is known for that,” Ellenberger said. “He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever fought and a true warrior. He’s always in there, every minute of every fight. This was the greatest test for me and it was an honour to fight him.
“That was a tough position (in the third round). I was tired and just trying to fight through.”
Gracious in defeat, Sanchez admitted Ellenberger deserved the decision.
“All I’ve got to say is: Was that enough of a dog fight for you?” Sanchez yelled to the crowd. “Jake got the first two rounds. I thought we should have done five. I was ready for more.
“Jake is incredibly tough. I’ve never never fought a guy that was that tough. I hit him with hard shots and I thought he was going to go out.”
Following the bout, interviewer Jon Anik asked if Ellenberger has his eyes on a rematch with interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, who won a close split-decision in their first encounter.
“I don’t know,” Ellenberger said. “It’s up to the UFC.”
Stefan Struve secured a TKO victory over slugger Dave Herman in the co-main event.
Following a rocky first round, Struve dropped Herman with a hard uppercut in the second. He then transitioned to full mount and rained down big punches, forcing referee Josh Rosenthal to stop the bout.
“The first round wasn’t fireworks like you guys are used to when I fight,” Struve said. “We’ve been working on my balance and ground-and-pound. He tried to escape, but he took to many shots.”
Ronny Markes won a close split decision over Aaron Simpson in his middleweight debut. Simpson hurt the Brazilian with a well-timed uppercut in the first round, but found himself getting out-muscled against the cage for the remainder of the bout.
After three rounds, the judges scored it 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 for Markes.
Stipe Miocic made quick work of Philip De Fries in a battle of undefeated heavyweights.
De Fries’ wild gorilla-arm punches caught the former NCAA Division I wrestler early, but Miocic responded with a hard straight-right. With De Fries hurt, he then pounced with strikes to make it academic.
“I’ve got to keep my hands up, I guess,” Miocic said. “I hit him, saw him wobble a little bit, saw some blood, went after him and just kept going.”
T.J. Dillashaw earned a one-sided decision over Walel Watson.
The TUF 14 finalist put on a methodical grappling clinch, consistently threatening with submissions and strikes from top position. Watson showed a ton of heart, refusing to give up and continually finding his way out of bad spots. But it was a dominant performance from Dillashaw, who out-struck his opponent 172-12.
“I definitely stuck to the plan,” Dillashaw said. “He has a super-long reach and I had to stick to my wrestling pedigree.”
Ivan Menjivar was moments away from suffering the second TKO loss of his career when he managed to turn the tables and submit John Albert in an exciting bout.
The Montreal bantamweight looked good early, getting the fight to the mat where he worked his ground-and-pound. Albert threatened with numerous submissions off his back, but Menjivar was able to defend against the holds and unload with big shots.
When the the two returned to their feet, the TUF alum caught Menjivar with a kick to the face. Albert went in for the kill, but ran out of steam. Menjivar then secured back control and slipped in a rear-naked choke for the win.