In the lead up to this fight Jake Ellenberger has been uncharacteristically loud in making fun of Rory MacDonald, who’s taken his usual Zen like approach to this upcoming fight. With a lot on the line with this fight, especially on a platform like Fox, this could be an absolute barnburner because both guys match up in oddly similar ways.
Fight Breakdown – Both guys have very similar games and approaches to fighting. MacDonald is in that first wave of fighters who didn’t transition from one discipline to MMA, having become a fighter out of the gate, and in his mid 20s looks to be among the elite in the division. His game is pretty simple: he punishes people. He’s a good, well-rounded fighter who thrives with top position that’s accentuated by the fact that he’s perhaps the biggest welterweight in the division.
On the UFC’s “Road to the Octagon” special they showed MacDonald training with Chris Weidman before Weidman’s title fight against Anderson Silva and he didn’t look significantly smaller than one of the bigger middleweights in that division. MacDonald’s size is part of his skillset; he uses top position to wear guys down and tire them out. MacDonald is a big guy and having him on top makes for working off the bottom difficult; the only who’s had success against him off his back was Carlos Condit.
MacDonald has been given a good matchmaking streak by the UFC, though, as he hasn’t faced a slew of elite level wrestlers. Ellenberger will mark the first and that’s where the interesting things begin; so far Rory has shown some high level wrestling but he’s done so against guys who don’t have the pedigree that Ellenberger does. And that’ll be the key to the fight: can Rory get Jake down?
Ellenberger was a skilled college wrestler who mainly uses his wrestling to keep the fight standing up. He’s got a good top position game, and uses it in the Josh Koscheck way to end a round with a takedown for the judges, but Ellenberger is mainly known for his power boxing game. Ellenberger has big time power in his hands, as well, and loves to swarm people when they’re hurt. He’s also got great takedown defense, as well, but his gas tank has led him to being the toughest out in MMA in the first round.
It’s the big flaw to his game, though; Ellenberger has historically gassed the longer a fight has gone. The interesting thing is that he’s seemingly starting to correct this. He showed a more patient game and didn’t seem to be profoundly gassed at the end of the Hieron fight before blasting Nate Marquardt out early in their fight. It was the same with Diego Sanchez, where he showed a more patient game, but after that he blew his wad early against Martin Kampmann and was stopped after nearly finishing the fight in the first (and expending all his energy in the process).
MacDonald’s game is to use his much more nuanced striking game and keep his distance, working the body and pushing the pace to take this longer into the fight. He has to push Ellenberger to the point where he gasses and then pour it on, much like he did to BJ Penn. MacDonald has a tough chin but it’s crackable; Carlos Condit was able to pour it late and finish MacDonald after being dominated in the first two rounds.
Ellenberger needs to land early and often; he’s stopped plenty of guys who have had similarly good chins as MacDonald.
Why it matters – The winner gets a title shot, most likely, as both have earned their way into title contention. It also makes for an interesting story as Rory’s desire for a UFC title clashes with his desire not to face his teammate.
Prediction – MacDonald by split decision