UFC Fight Night 25 breakdown
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Louisiana for the seventh time this Saturday night as UFC Fight Night 25: Battle on the Bayou invades the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
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The four-fight main card, airing live on Spike TV, is highlighted by a “Battle of Jakes” as former four-time world champion Jake Shields squares off with heavy-handed prospect Jake Ellenberger.
Here’s a closer look at the bouts on tap:
Jake Shields (26-5-1) vs. Jake Ellenberger (25-5)
In a pivotal welterweight showdown, Shields will look to bounce back from his first loss in six years when he tangles with the fast-rising contender Ellenberger.
Shields, 32, a product of the acclaimed Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school, made his highly anticipated UFC debut this past October, winning a tougher-than-expected split decision over Martin Kampmann.
After a dominant run that saw him vanquish the likes of Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Mike Pyle, Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler, Jason Miller and Dan Henderson, a single UFC win was enough to earn him a title shot against welterweight king Georges St-Pierre.
Shields was able to snap St-Pierre's streak of won rounds in a unanimous decision setback, losing on scores of 50-45 and 48-47 twice, but he was clearly outclassed by the French-Canadian champion. Shields showcased an improved jab and striking game, but he was unable to secure any of his patented takedowns, nor threaten St-Pierre with any particularly damaging blows. Shields' potent jab was enough to batter St-Pierre's eye, but the most significant strikes of the fight came from the champion.
In his first fight since that loss, Shields is also dealing with the recent death of his father and manager Jack Shields, who passed away at the age of 67.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former NCAA wrestler has dealt with adversity before and he will be particularly motivated on fight night, having suffered his first loss since 2004.
A former Shooto, Rumble on the Rock, EliteXC and Strikeforce titleholder, Shields has grown accustomed to carrying gold and he’s undoubtedly eager for another opportunity to challenge for the UFC title.
Ellenberger, 26, is one of the brightest prospects in the 170-pound class. Anchored at Reign Training Center, the Nebraska native has put together a four-fight winning streak since a closely-contested split decision loss to Carlos Condit in his promotional debut. Having stopped Pyle, John Howard and Sean Pierson in impressive fashion, Ellenberger is now taking the most drastic step up in competition of his career.
"The Juggernaut" possesses significant experience for a fighter his age. Prior to his UFC debut, Ellenberger amassed wins over Jose Landi-Jons, Pat Healy and Brendan Seguin, while dropping bouts to Jay Hieron, Derrick Noble, Delson Heleno and Rick Story.
Constantly evolving his game, it's fair to assume that Ellenberger will show up in top form for the biggest fight of his career.
A former NCAA wrestler himself, Ellenberger's takedowns and ground-and-pound are some of his most dangerous tools, but his heavy hands should be his weapon of choice. Unless Shields puts him on his back, Ellenberger will tee off with violent power punches, which could lead to an upset.
For Shields, arguably the most seasoned submission grappler in the division, successful takedowns will be critical. Once on the ground, Shields will fish for submissions and dominate the positional game. His one-sided domination of Henderson in their April 2010 Strikeforce title bout is proof that Shields has masterful control on the mat.
Ellenberger is a stiff test for Shields as he's on the brink of making his own case for a title shot in 2012, especially with a victory on Saturday night. However, Shields' relentless takedowns will likely be the difference maker as Ellenberger could be forced to fight off his back for three rounds. If Shields can bring this fight into his comfort zone, he will emerge triumphant.
Verdict: Shields via decision
Court McGee (13-1) vs. Dongi Yang (10-1)
In middleweight action, “The Ultimate Fighter 11” winner McGee clashes with the South Korean sensation Yang.
McGee, 26, overcame drug addiction before eventually submitting Kris McCray in the “TUF Finale” to earn a UFC contract.
McGee’s last fight in October 2010 saw him submit Ryan Jensen, but he has since been sidelined with a knee injury. The Victory MMA student has only one professional loss — a December 2007 decision against mixed martial arts pioneer Jeremy Horn.
A well-rounded scrapper with underrated submissions, McGee is looking to build on an impressive seven-fight winning streak.
Yang, 26, is coming off a TKO victory over Rob Kimmons in March. Yang also has only one setback as a professional, dropping a split decision to Chris Camozzi in his UFC debut last October.
Based at Korean Top Team, Yang has a track record for stoppage wins, but he has only two fights on American soil with the majority of his bouts having taken place in his native South Korea.
With the UFC desperately searching for new Asian stars as it prepares for its return to Japan in February 2012, Yang has a vital opportunity to introduce himself to North American fans with a bang by dispatching a familiar fighter in McGee.
However, McGee has plans of his own. The Utah native will look to move forward aggressively and grind on his foe, wearing him down before a late stoppage.
Verdict: McGee via TKO, Round 3
Evan Dunham (11-2) vs. Shamar Bailey (12-3)
In a peculiar lightweight pairing, the top prospect Dunham looks to rebound from back-to-back losses against "The Ultimate Fighter 13" veteran Bailey.
Dunham, 29, shocked most observers with his wins over Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin. But his gutsy performance in a highly controversial split decision loss against Sean Sherk raised his stock significantly before it was sent plummeting down following a first-round TKO loss to Melvin Guillard this past January.
Based in Las Vegas, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt splits his time training at Xtreme Couture and Throwdown Training Center. The southpaw Dunham does indeed represent the new breed of well-rounded mixed martial artists, but he will need to stay off his back against Bailey, a rugged wrestler with suffocating control.
Bailey, 28, was upset by Chris Cope on the most recent season of "The Ultimate Fighter," but he rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Ryan McGillivray in his UFC debut this past June.
A Strikeforce veteran, Bailey has dropped fights against Kurt Kinser, Justin Wilcox and Roger Bowling, while outpointing Matt Delanoit, Waachiim Spiritwolf and John Kolosci.
The Integrated Fighting Academy pupil has improved his striking, but he still relies heavily on a one-dimensional wrestling base. In order to succeed against a dynamic fighter like Dunham, Bailey must be unrelenting with his takedowns. Once on the mat, however, he will need to exhibit sharp submission defense in order to avoid succumbing to the crafty submission specialist.
Dunham's most recent loss raised some questions about his chin, but Bailey is unlikely to threaten too much with his hands. Dunham should set the tempo with his rangy strikes and utilize his speed and sprawling to outwork the Chicago native before putting him away late in the fray.
Verdict: Dunham via TKO, Round 3
Alan Belcher (16-6) vs. Jason MacDonald (25-14)
Belcher finally returns to the octagon for his first bout since May 2010 as he is paired with the Canadian submission specialist MacDonald.
Belcher, 27, is returning from emergency eye surgery and we will soon find out if the extended layoff will impact his performance.
A product of Roufusport, Belcher is a seasoned muay thai practitioner with a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The Arkansas native has amassed recent wins over Patrick Cote, Wilson Gouveia, Denis Kang and Ed Herman.
MacDonald, 36, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, is a staple of the Canadian mixed martial arts scene. Since his UFC debut in 2006, the Edmonton native has earned notable wins over Herman, Chris Leben, Joe Doerksen and Matt Horwich. Most recently, MacDonald submitted Ryan Jensen at UFC 129 in April.
Though inconsistency has plagued MacDonald throughout his career, he’s a slick grappler with four “Submission of the Night” bonuses to his name.
Belcher’s striking will likely be the difference-maker, however, he'll pick MacDonald apart with a cavalcade of kicks before finishing him off with a heavy dose of ground-and-pound.
Verdict: Belcher via TKO, Round 2