This weekend's UFC on Fox 8 event will feature an intense welterweight clash between Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger. The bout will function as the card's co-main event and will play a decisive role in shaping the formation of the 170-pound landscape as we move through the second half of 2013.
Coming into the bout, the 24-year-old MacDonald is riding a four-fight win streak and will be looking to add another big name to his growing hit list. Last time out it was the legendary, though declining B.J. Penn. This time he is seeking victory over a dangerous foe at the peak of his game.
Ellenberger has won back-to-back fights and eight of his last nine. A win over MacDonald at UFC on Fox 8 may be enough to earn him a crack at the welterweight title, but of course, that's far from a given. Either way, he'll have to concentrate on his opponent, not the consequence of the fight's outcome. For all his success inside the Octagon, Ellenberger's toughest challenge since Carlos Condit may very come this Saturday.
Here we will take a look at the MacDonald vs. Ellenberger matchup and examine how it is likely to play out. We will assess which fighter has an edge in each of the striking, wrestling, and grappling and submission areas of the game and use those assessments to project the probable outcome.
Ellenberger has become quite an accomplished first-round knockout artist. Operating in the same division as Johny Hendricks, his contributions to keeping fight cards moving along often go unnoticed, but he's a dangerous from the opening bell.
He'll likely want to pressure MacDonald in the early going of their UFC on Fox 8 bout, so expect him to come out swinging. If he lands, that might be all she wrote.
He schooled B.J. Penn on the feet last December, but he will have to tread lightly against Ellenberger. MacDonald's defenses are by no means a weakness, but he gets hit from time to time, so he'll have to be careful.
But this is no survival situation. MacDonald wields a pretty extensive offensive striking repertoire, and he hits hard. Only Penn's fortress of a skull prevented MacDonald from gaining a knockout last time he fought.
Edge: Ellenberger in Round 1, MacDonald in Rounds 2 and 3
This is a first, at least for me, but I do believe qualifying the edge is necessary here.
Ellenberger is a terror in the early going of his matches—and he has the edge over MacDonald then—but he tends to fade after that. When he starts to slow down, the advantage shifts the other way and it will be MacDonald who will begin to pick his opponent apart.
Ellenberger is often content to keep things standing, but he's adequate when he seeks the takedown. Since joining the UFC, he has scored on 58 percent of his attempts, a solid though unspectacular number.
Takedown defense is where Ellenberger really shines. He's only been dragged to the mat once as a UFC competitor, and that was back in 2009. On the whole, his defense rate sits at a gaudy 93 percent.
The Canadian has a holistic MMA background, but there may be no aspect of the game in which he excels so much as wrestling. His 58 percent takedown offense equals Ellenberger's, and his 89 percent defensive rate nearly matches his foe's as well.
MacDonald's wrestling has served him extremely well in the UFC, as he has been able to take down opponents who wanted to strike with him and stay off his back against those with the desire to put him down.
I'm tempted to qualify this edge in the same way I did for the striking, because I do see wrestling as a key element of the fight for MacDonald in the later rounds. However, MacDonald has posted similar numbers to Ellenberger, but against lesser wrestlers. For example, his takedown rate is greatly aided by his seven successes against Nate Diaz.
On the whole, this area of the game goes to Ellenberger, but only by a very, very slight margin.
All takedown statistics for this slide are from Fightmetric.
In 2006, Ellenberger decided he would no longer pursue submissions. But hey, he hasn't been made to tap since 2007, so it kind of balances out.
On the whole he is a steady grappler, capable of maintaining advantageous positions and doing damage from them. He also uses his wrestling to positive effect to get to his feet when in trouble. But he is not much of a threat to end a fight with a submission.
MacDonald hasn't sunk in a submission since his UFC debut, but make no mistake, he is a dangerous guy on the floor.
He's capable off his back, but really excels when he gets on top of his opponents. Between brutal ground-and-pound and the ability to end a match with a hold, MacDonald is not a guy any fighter wants to be underneath.
And for good measure, he's never been submitted.
It isn't that Ellenberger is a hapless grappler; he's adequate, MacDonald is simply better. How much better, is the question.
It's improbable that MacDonald submits Ellenberger, though it's not impossible. But, he doesn't need to end the match to make use of his advantage on the floor.
If MacDonald can maintain control and do damage from top position, that may prove to be the defining element of this bout. He could conceivably score a TKO with ground-and-pound, or at least riding out a decision win for the damage he causes.
As one of the faster starters in the welterweight division, Round 1 will be key for Ellenberger. It's not that his only chance of winning is to stop MacDonald quickly, but that is one of his most likely paths to victory. It always is for Ellenberger.
His game plan should center on the big punch early, then move towards a more balanced wrestling-striking attack from there. He can't just hunt for the knockout all night or he'll get tired and be picked apart.
But, hunting the finish in the early going will definitely be worth the exertion.
MacDonald is a very well-rounded fighter, and he'll likely have to rely on his extensive arsenal to find success at UFC on Fox 8. Ellenberger will test him on the feet, make it difficult for him to score a takedown and put him on the defensive at times. MacDonald needs to be sharp in all areas to have a chance on Saturday night.
In a perfect world, MacDonald would be able to take Ellenberger down and work from top position. That would not only negate Ellenberger's power, but would place MacDonald somewhere that he is very capable of finishing. However, that's just in a perfect world.
I think MacDonald will score some takedowns, but he'll also have to stand for long portions of the fight. He'll have to use his superior technique to counter Ellenberger's power-punching and will have to make sure his defenses are up in the early going.
Projected result: MacDonald def. Ellenberger via TKO (Round 3)
MacDonald's cardio is outstanding, and Ellenberger tends to fade as his fights wear on. I see this playing a crucial role in the outcome of the fight.
After a competitive start to the bout, I envision MacDonald taking control, getting the better of the striking exchanges and finding himself more and more able to take Ellenberger to the floor.
And eventually, I see him wailing away long enough and hard enough to warrant a stoppage.