Bay Area product Jake Shields is taking on Jake Ellenberger in the UFC's welterweight division, headlining the UFC Fight Night 25: Shields vs. Ellenberger card. Both fighters are taking criticism and both fighters need this fight for their careers, but it's going to be a close one. For more on the event or MMA in general, head over to Bloody Elbow and MMA Nation.
At UFC 129 on April 30th, the Bay Area almost took him yet another major mixed martial arts title. "Almost" is used solely because Jake Shields happened to be the number one contender and was fighting Georges St. Pierre for the UFC's welterweight title, not because he was particularly close to besting the French-Canadian superstar. No, from the onset, Shields stood an outside chance of even looking competitive, but in the end, he managed to steal a round or two, which was more than anybody gave him credit for.
Still, though he represents the Bay Area and generally does it well, Shields (who trains with Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and fights out of San Francisco, born in Mountain Ranch, CA) didn't necessarily deserve the shot at the UFC's best. Most folks felt that he was just riding the hype of having beaten PRIDE legend Dan Henderson in Strikeforce - which is probably true. Now he's coming back down to earth and taking on Jake Ellenberger (born in Nebraska, but fights out of Lake Forest, CA) at UFC Fight Night 25: Shields vs. Ellenberger on September 17th.
Ellenberger's last fight was a huge knockout of Sean Pierson, just 2:42 into the very first round back at UFC 129. He currently rides a four-fight winning streak, and a wave of angry fans pleading him to take another step up. Many have been frustrated with Ellenberger and his lack of top competition, but one can hardly blame him, seeing as how he's been slated to fight both Ben Saunders and Jon Fitch in recent fights, but both moved up to fight bigger opponents shortly before the fight.
What constitutes a big step down from GSP does not necessarily equate to an easy fight in Ellenberger for Shields. The both of them are great wrestlers, but unlike many of the wrestle-boxers in the 170 lbs division, Ellenberger has the standup to be comfortable wherever a fight goes. The transition is usually an ugly one for wrestlers, but Ellenberger's angles have always been crisp, and his technicality is second only to his monster power. Shields has been resilient in the past, but if Ellenberger can connect, it might be lights out.
If it isn't lights out, Ellenberger should be looking to jump on top and stay on top. This is a quintessential decision in the making, but an exciting one is a possibility, providing Ellenberger goes the smart route and employs a sprawl-and-brawl technique throughout the early parts of the fight. Shields has standup as well, but it's more of a means to force an impasse and set up the takedowns than it is an actual offense (short of mutilating his opponents eye, a la his tactic versus GSP).
Make no mistake about it: Shields will be going for the takedown early and often, and if Ellenberger isn't precise and calculated with his striking, Shields will get it. The Cesar Gracie product usually keeps people down when he's got them there. If this becomes a fight where Shields is hitting the takedowns, we do have some past fights where Ellenberger has looked impressive off his back, most notably the recent matchup with Carlos Eduardo Rocha.
It's a pretty even fight, though Shields is favored by Vegas, most of the MMA bloggers have been picking Ellenberger. Look for a close decision as Shields is trying to fight-off the naysayers and Ellenberger is trying to show he belongs in the top five in the UFC's welterweight division.