Jake Ellenberger had everything stripped away from him when lost to Martin Kampmann, something he couldn't afford in the already log-jammed UFC welterweight division.
But where some fighters would get a mere tune-up fight against an overmatched opponent, Ellenberger is instead facing a worthy challenge in Jay Hieron.
As the first man (out of only six) to defeat "the Juggernaut" over seven years, the risks and rewards are equally high for Hieron.
To his credit, Hieron has stayed near the top of the division with an impressive 13-2 run since 2007, grinding through the IFL, Strikeforce and Bellator.
It's one of the division's most important matchups, and could very well define what happens in the title picture at 170 pounds. There are several questions we have about Ellenberger going into this fight, and hopefully all of them can be answered this Friday night.
Can He Pull the Trigger Against Jay Hieron?
To most eyes, there was no good reason that Ellenberger couldn't put away the battered, bloodied Kampmann. However, the problem with that was two-fold.
Kampmann can somehow shrug off beatings that would kill a full-grown bull, and when Ellenberger swarmed him in the opening stanza of their fight, his inability to land a "kill shot" let the Danish fighter stay in the heat long enough to get an upset win.
Ellenberger can't afford that same mistake against Hieron. If he manages to put his enemy on shaky legs early in the fight, Ellenberger needs to zero in with a knockout shot or pour on enough damage that the referee is forced to make the save.
How Will He Be Affected By His First KO Loss?
Ellenberger's been outpointed and submitted, but not many people expected him to be stopped with a vicious set of Thai clinch knees followed up by ground-and-pound.
Considering how dominant he was through most of the match, it must have been demoralizing to lose to Kampmann and to have the tides turn that quickly.
Does that kind of loss make him rethink his entire stand-up game? Ellenberger's never been gun-shy or cautious about throwing heat, but one has to wonder if he'll be protecting his chin a bit more.
Does Xtreme Couture Have His Number?
Jay Hieron trained and cornered Kampmann during his fight with Ellenberger, and the Xtreme Couture duo will put their heads together once again for this weekend's bout.
That alone may give Hieron a slight advantage in the psychological department, and he'll also be the first person to ever fight Ellenberger twice. Is the combined 4.5 rounds of experience between him and Kampmann enough to have a set plan for victory?
Should anyone attempt to "figure out" Ellenberger, it may as well be these training partners. That's a unique situation that ultimately favors two heads against one.
How Will He Look If the Fight Goes the Distance?
Both Diego Sanchez and Kampmann have reminded everyone that Ellenberger is indeed mortal. "The Juggernaut" is at his most vulnerable if he gets dragged into deep waters, where he's more likely to be caught by counter-punches and flurrying shots.
That small weakness is what almost got Ellenberger overwhelmed in the final round of his fight with Sanchez, and against Kampmann, his advantage slipped away the longer the fight went on.
Hieron doesn't have as stiff a chin as Ellenberger does, but if he can stay off the receiving end of too many punches, he might be able to grapple the air out of his shorter, bulkier foe and try sinking him during the third round.
Does a Win Put Him Back In The Title Picture?
One of the biggest mistakes Ellenberger made after defeating Sanchez was not calling out Carlos Condit. Even though Condit likely would've turned down a direct challenge in order to wait for Georges St. Pierre, Ellenberger's dominant winning streak and near-win against the now-interim champion looked extremely credible.
But even if he beats Hieron on Friday—with relative ease, no less—Ellenberger will still be just one fight removed from a devastating upset loss. How far has that set him back? How long will Ellenberger have to go before getting a title eliminator bout of his own?
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