Headlining UFC on Fox 18’s preliminary card is a welterweight contest between former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Tarec “The Sponge” Saffiedine and veteran knockout artist Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger. Saffiedine enters the contest on a 15 month layoff after his October 2014 knockout loss to Rory MacDonald, while Ellenberger desperately needs a win after losing four of his last five fights. Tarec Saffiedine (15-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC, -265 favorite) Saffiedine is finally making his return to active competition after a 15 month layoff due to a groin injury. The frequently injured Belgian has only competed twice in the UFC since coming over from Strikeforce at the beginning of 2013. Still, when he has stepped into the cage Saffiedine has been quite impressive. He made his name while competing for Strikeforce, where he eventually became a welterweight champion. Saffiedine compiled a 7-1 record while competing for the promotion, with his only loss coming to current top contender Tyron Woodley. Since coming to the UFC Saffiedine has recorded a five round decision victory over Hyun Gyu Lim and a knockout loss to recent title challenger Rory MacDonald. MacDonald actually received his title shot with his win over “The Sponge”. Saffiedine will look to get back into the win column with a win over Ellenberger on Saturday night. The 29-year old comes from an impressive striking background, as he compiled a 12-1-1 professional kickboxing background in 14 bouts. The Belgian utilizes excellent footwork and movement and switches stances often. Numerous feints and angles are often employed in order to set up his strikes. Saffiedine is perhaps best known for his devastating leg kicks, which can completely debilitate a fighter over the course of a fight. The leg kicks he landed on Lim and Nate Marquardt eventually added up and completely changed the course of the fight. Additionally, Saffiedine has a crisp jab and a hard right hand. While he does not have a grappling or wrestling background, “The Sponge” has very good takedown defense and a competent grappling game. He can adequately defend himself and scramble back to his feet if he does get taken down and he can also hit a takedown every now and then to mix things up. From top position Saffiedine is a decent passer and can hit the occasional submission. As I mentioned, Saffiedine’s biggest issue has been staying healthy, he has not been able to fight regularly the last few years. Jake Ellenberger (30-10 MMA, 9-6 UFC, +225 underdog) Jake Ellenberger was once considered one of the very best welterweights in the world, but he has lost four out of his last five fights and is desperately in need of a win on Saturday night. That is a rough streak after being one win away from a title shot in June of 2012. After beginning his UFC career with a close decision loss to Carlos Condit, Ellenberger ripped off six straight wins, including knockouts over Jake Shields, Mike Pyle, and John Howard. He then won two straight after a knockout loss to Martin Kampmann in a fight he was winning. That, however, is where the problems began for Ellenberger. He proceeded to lose his next three fights to Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler, and Kelvin Gastelum, which is obviously a murderer’s row of opponents. The UFC did not do him any favors with the level of competition, but Ellenberger did not perform very well in those fights. “The Juggernaut” finally got back into the win column with a submission win over Josh Koscheck, which was his first submission victory in the UFC. Ellenberger’s most recent fight was a first round knockout loss to striking sensation Stephen Thompson. Ellenberger, a 15-fight UFC veteran, is a traditional wrestle-boxer with big knockout power and authoritative takedowns. The 30-year old’s game relies on the big power that he possesses in his hands, which has produced 18 knockouts out of his 30 career wins. Most of his power comes from his right hand, though his left hook is also nasty. While his power is substantial, Ellenberger is not the most technical striker and he can struggle to put volume together on the feet. He has struggled against more technical strikers, such as Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler. Ellenberger is at his best when he lets his hands go and mixes in takedowns to keep his opponent guessing. Mental errors have continually cost him, especially in the last five fights. Ellenberger was a decent wrestler for the University of Nebraska, a division two school. He finishes his double-leg with authority and can throw bombs if he is able to posture up from top position. Further, Ellenberger has been steadily working on his submission game, as we saw in his fight with Koscheck. Thoughts This fight features two fighters that have not fared very well in recent years. Ellenberger has struggled getting into the win column, while Saffiedine has struggled with simply getting into the cage. Both fighters come into fight badly needing a win. Ellenberger has the benefit of being the much more active fighter even though he has not performed well in those fights. However, I still feel as if the correct fighter is favored. Saffiedine has the type of game that has given Ellenberger trouble in the past. He is very technical on the feet, has crippling leg kicks, a crisp jab, and can stuff takedowns. If Ellenberger wins it will likely be by knockout, as he has big power in his hands and Saffiedine isn’t the most durable guy in the world. However, as long as Saffiedine shows up in shape and keeps his chin down he should be able to wear down Ellenberger and at least take a decision, if not find a finish along the way. The Prediction: Tarec Saffiedine defeats Jake Ellenberger by unanimous decision.
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