Jake Ellenberger has finished 23 of his 29 victories. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
Rory MacDonald (14-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. Jake Ellenberger (29-6, 8-2 UFC)
The Matchup: MacDonald is one of the most interesting characters in the welterweight division, an intriguing blend of athleticism and awkwardness who is as capable of the jaw-dropping performance in the cage as he is the cringe-worthy interview outside of it.
While MacDonald’s personality might be difficult for the average fan to relate to, most anyone can appreciate his versatile and violent skill set. Since suffering a heartbreaking loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 115 when he was 20 years old, “Ares” has reeled off four straight victories in the Octagon. His triumph over B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 was so lopsided that he drew the ire of some fans for taunting the former champion instead of finishing the bout in the final frame. Still, MacDonald’s dominance against respected veterans such as Penn, Mike Pyle and Nate Diaz demonstrate why the young welterweight has been tabbed as the heir apparent to teammate Georges St. Pierre.
Ellenberger was nearing a title shot until a loss to Martin Kampmann at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale in 2012 slowed his charge. The Reign MMA representative has rebounded to post wins over Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt in his last two outings. The 28-year-old “Juggernaut” possesses formidable knockout power, but that has been counteracted by his tendency to fade against opponents who can survive his initial onslaught.
When MacDonald is doing his best GSP impersonation, he can be overwhelming with positional advancements and heavy ground-and-pound from top position. However, Ellenberger is a physical fighter who often uses a strong wrestling base to keep fights standing. With MacDonald likely to find it difficult to bully Ellenberger, he will have to resort to using a well-rounded kickboxing arsenal. The Canadian was proficient in landing combinations against Penn, mixing his strikes to the head, body and legs. A versatile striker, “Ares” also was effective delivering standing elbows.
Ellenberger is more basic, relying on his solid jab and counter left hook. He will look to press the action early in hopes of the finish, so MacDonald must use his three-and-a-half inch reach advantage and timely kicks to control the distance in the opening frame.
If MacDonald avoids Ellenberger’s heavy hands, more openings should present themselves in rounds two and three. While Ellenberger demonstrated a more measured approach in his triumph over Hieron, he needs to prove that he can be consistently strong in the latter portion of a fight.
The Pick: If MacDonald continues to progress as one expects a young fighter would, he should have the necessary tools to capture the most significant triumph of his career. Making it through round one -- when Ellenberger is most dangerous -- will be crucial. Look for MacDonald to begin conservatively and then pick up the pace to earn a late stoppage or decision victory.
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