The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts has been providing the most in-depth coverage that mixed martial arts has seen in its 20 years of existence.
With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and a handful of well-versed hosts at the helm, the people who work the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
There has been a rotating cast of characters stopping by the analyst desk at Fox Sports 1 as of late, and welterweight slugger Jake Ellenberger will step in for duty for Saturday's Fight Night 49 card in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Juggernaut has been trading leather inside the Octagon with the best fighters in the world for the past six years and has been a staple in the upper tier of one of the most competitive divisions under the UFC banner.
In addition to suiting up and breaking down the fights this weekend, the Omaha, Nebraska, native took the time to swing by this column to talk some face-punching business. While it was Ellenberger's official "Dropping Knowledge" debut, he showed up to get the job done.
The Southern California transplant was all business, and this is what he had to say about the upcoming card for Fight Night 49.
Bleacher Report: Let's start things off by talking about the main event between Benson Henderson and Rafael dos Anjos. While they are both two of the top-ranked lightweight fighters in the world, this fight generates a lot of intrigue because of the similarities they possess stylistically. Granted, there are major differences in their respective offensive attacks, but Henderson and RDA love to push the pace and try to break their opponents.
What are your thoughts on the stylistic matchup in this fight, and do you believe it comes down to who breaks first?
Jake Ellenberger: I think there are a couple of big factors in this fight, and one of them is who can control where this fight goes later in the fight. They are both fighters who constantly press forward and rely on their cardio.
Benson has shown he can go five rounds with no problem, and while Rafael may be more inexperienced when it comes to five-round fights, his conditioning is always there, and he's not going to have a problem going five rounds. I think it is going to come down to who has a little bit more to give in those later rounds, and I also think takedowns are going to be crucial.
B/R: Do you also think this fight could be a game of rushes toward the end of particular rounds to swing those frames in their favor in the eyes of the judges?
JE: Yeah, I do. As much as judges sometimes like to judge an entire round based on the last minute, I think that actually comes into play in this fight. The final minute of each round is going to be so critical because I believe they are going to be that close. Both guys are incredibly skilled and extremely hard to finish. Both actually have great wrestling, and that is something Dos Anjos has been working on a lot in the gym.
I think it's going to come down to who gives that extra edge to win the round and carry that theme throughout the fight, because I think it's going to be very close.
B/R: With Henderson and Dos Anjos both being near the top of the lightweight ladder, this fight has heavy implications on a future title shot for each of them. Smooth has been vocal about putting the 155-pound division on his back since the lightweight title has been on hiatus for the past year with champion Anthony Pettis' absence, and the MMA Lab leader is determined to get back to another title opportunity.
On the other hand, Dos Anjos may be the best kept secret at 155 pounds; while he doesn't carry the profile Henderson does, he has won six of his last seven including a win over Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
Do you see the winner of this fight getting the next title opportunity, or do you think he will have to win another one before getting a shot at gold?
JE: It's always tough when a division is at a standstill because Pettis has been out, but the winner of this fight will definitely step into the spotlight and potentially get the next shot at the title. Benson has been there before, and he's been the champion. He's proved he can beat the best guys in the division, and Dos Anjos has as well.
Rafael is not as well-known, but he's won six of his last seven fights, and he's hungry. I train with him at Kings MMA, and he constantly wants to get better. I saw how the loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov affected him, and it really motivated him to work harder and fill those holes where he felt he was having some trouble. He's a guy who is progressively working to get better, and he's well-rounded. The fans are in for a fun fight, and without a doubt the winner of this fight will be in the title talk.
B/R: Let's move on to the co-main event between Mike Pyle and Jordan Mein. Quicksand was originally slated to face Demian Maia in what had the potential to be an awesome clash of grappling styles, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace got hurt, and the UFC tapped the young Canadian to step in against Pyle. Mein is a natural striker and has proven put-away power on the feet.
Do you see this being the classic "striker vs. grappler" matchup? Or will Pyle's experience and savvy give him a few advantages in this fight?
JE: That's a good question because I believe Pyle is very underrated as far as his skills go. I've fought him in the past, and we've trained together quite a bit, so I know how talented he is. He's always dangerous, but I think when he chooses to throw the switch on, he's extremely hard to beat.
Jordan is another guy who is a bit underrated because he's a young guy, but he has a lot of experience. He will be looking to get a big win over Mike, but I think Pyle is going to have a huge advantage in this fight if it hits the ground.
B/R: There is a middleweight clash between Francis Carmont and Thales Leites that has a few curious circumstances hovering around it. Whereas Carmont was once tearing his way up the ladder at 185 pounds, he's lost back-to-back showings, while Leites is on a six-fight winning streak—three of which have come since his return to the Octagon last year. Typically speaking, we don't see a matchup where one guy is trending down and the other is on the uptick, but this fight strangely makes sense.
With how competitive the UFC middleweight division has become, is this a must-win fight if both guys hope to stay in the mix at 185 pounds?
JE: I would agree with that, and I think both of these guys have the potential to be at the top of that division. I think Carmont really needs to let his potential show. He's really one of the most skilled guys at 185 and just needs to show his skills in there. He really needs to be able to let go in there and have fun. If he does that, I think he can win this fight.
It's the same thing for Thales Leites. He's dangerous, and he'll have the edge in the grappling area. If they keep this fight standing, I think Carmont has the edge, but Leites is a very durable guy and a former title contender in that division. It's a crucial fight for both guys, and it's going to take a win here to stay in that top tier.
B/R: You just touched on an interesting point here in this matchup. Carmont is known to bring a wrestle-heavy attack but hasn't been deemed the most exciting fighter by the MMA fanbase.
As for Leites, he's lights out when the action hits the canvas but has been criticized for his fighting style in the past. Both men have shown the tendency to be one-dimensional at times, so do you think they need an exciting showing at Fight Night 49 to help them stand out in the middleweight pack?
JE: Not necessarily, but I think it's always nice to show you are evolving as a fighter. It is good to show you are growing in areas that you have been weaker at in the past. Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and the guys at the top of the company in the UFC don't like guys who go in there and try to squeak out a win, and both of these guys have won fights that way in the past.
This fight is going to come down to who gets the stamp of a dominant victory. Whether it's a submission or a TKO, it's going to have to be a persuasive victory.
B/R: We've talked about some of the bigger fights on this card, but the lineup for this event features a lot of up-and-coming talent for the UFC. What are some of the fights or some of the specific fighters we haven't discussed that you believe fans should keep an eye on this Saturday?
JE: It really is quite amazing how much talent is in this sport, and that is really what makes the UFC exciting. There are always these new, hungry lions that are coming up and have nothing to lose. That's really what makes this sport exciting.
I think the Neil Magny vs. Alex Garcia fight is going to be exciting. Even though both guys are still developing, they are both getting into their groove. They both have a lot of skill and potential. That is going to be a really fun fight to watch.
Another guy on the card that people need to keep an eye on is Beneil Dariush. I have trained with him extensively, and he's an amazing fighter. He's extremely skilled and a very well-rounded fighter. He's dangerous everywhere, and while he's a guy who is very unassuming, I wouldn't sleep on him. If you watch his fight with Charlie Brenneman, he made that a short night. He'll be a fun guy to watch.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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