UFC on Fuel: Why Sanchez vs. Ellenberger Is a No. 1 Contender's Fight
I knew when I started this blog that it was going to have something to do with the welterweight title.
Once the most “stagnant” and firmly held of the UFC belts, (GSP modern day hasn’t had a “Silva vs. Sonnen” style close call) today it is the most tumultuous—and talked about—belt in the game.
Full disclosure: I was going to write about Carlos Condit, and the controversy that is still swirling more than a week after his decision victory over Nick Diaz for the interim title. After all, it’s what most folks are still talking about, fans and media alike. It would have been a shot across the bow, that’s for sure.
Whose bow? I don’t know. Maybe Nick’s. Maybe Condit’s. Maybe Greg Jackson’s. Maybe I’m amazed at the way you love me all the…wait, sorry, lost track of where I was headed for a second there.
But no, as a member of the MMA media, it’s my responsibility to look forward, not back. Especially with a big event just around the corner. After it’s over, we can spend the next week looking back. That would be the responsible thing to do.
Still, we can’t stray too far from Diaz vs. Condit—after all, I want MMA fans to actually read this, right? Good news: turns out tonight’s main event has a lot to do with what happened over a week ago—or more accurately, what likely happened weeks ago and only showed up in a drug test last week.
Yes, I’m talking about Nick’s most recent failed test for marijuana, and the consequences it has had for the welterweight division. Before the failed test, the road map was clear: Diaz rematches Condit. Diaz beats Condit like his legion of fans, the UFC (I’m guessing) and even GSP were hoping for.
And then Nick faces GSP in the fall in the most anticipated welterweight title fight since Penn vs. St-Pierre 2—and likely with the same outcome. Everybody wins.
Now that Keith Kizer is likely sending Nick to his room for a year to think about what he’s done, the picture is not so clear. The obvious move would be to have Condit just wait until GSP is ready and face him as intended, but I just don’t think that’s the best plan.
As I’ve written before, it doesn’t make sense for a fighter in his prime to spend over a year sitting on his title, making zero dollars. It also won’t help sell GSP vs. Condit if the interim champion disappears for a whole year after barely squeaking by to get his belt.
More and more, it’s looking like Condit’s going to have to defend his faux-strap. And who better to defend it against than the winner of Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez?
OK, so Johny Hendricks also has a pretty good case for a title shot. He’s got the three ingredients for MMA superstardom: a wicked amateur wrestling background, a knockout win over a P4P entrant and a beard so manly it actually absorbs testosterone from air molecules.
But outside of the Fitch KO, Hendricks doesn’t have a whole lot of elite-level names on his resume. He also has the loss to Rick Story in his (somewhat) recent history, as well as some decidedly “not ready for title shot yet” squeaker wins over T.J. Grant and Mike Pierce.
And finally, he’s already got a fight scheduled with Josh Koscheck already, so it’s probably better to let him get another big name on his resume, and wait to face the winner of GSP and whoever next year.
What does that leave us? Tonight’s main event, pitting possibly the hottest contender at welterweight against…Diego Sanchez. I’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, Ellenberger. In the words of Will Ferrell’s character from Zoolander: "He’s so hot right now."
Ellenberger has five straight wins in the UFC over some pretty serious competition, a stunning KO over another former P4P entrant in his last fight (26-5 overall) and his only UFC loss being a very controversial decision loss to…wait for it…Carlos Condit.
He has the resume, the style, and history with the (interim) champ. He beats Diego Sanchez tonight, and he’s got an easy pass to an (interim) welterweight title shot.
But what about Diego? Yeah, his case for a title shot is a lot murkier. With a victory, he’d only be riding a three-fight win streak—but those three wins would be over Paulo Thiago, Martin Kampmann and Ellenberger. That’s a damn good list of names if I do say so myself.
Still, any Diego title shot at welterweight will be marred slightly by the old “didn’t this guy get stomped at lightweight?” argument.
And yeah, that hurts. But if Diego wins tonight, I have a sneaky suspicion the UFC will give him the shot for two reasons. One, he is a “name,” a TUF winner, and a personality that can sell a fight. Two, his style practically guarantees an exciting fight, something I never thought I’d have to say in a Carlos Condit bout.
Assuming the UFC decides to have Condit defend his title pre-GSP fight, I suspect the person who will be challenging him is the winner of tonight’s battle.
Call it a No. 2 contender’s fight.
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