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Jake Ellenberger had been talking all week that he was going to knock out Jake Shields. On paper, that didn’t seem likely, since Shields was a top five welterweight and hadn’t been stopped in a fight since 2000.
But Ellenberger (26-5) emphatically moved himself into serious title contention by stopping the former Elite XC, Strikeforce and Shooto champion in just 53 second in the main event of the final UFC Fight Night show on Spike, "Battle on the Bayou," from New Orleans.
"I’m surprised at how quick it went, but I’ve been training very hard for the fight the past few weeks," Ellenberger said moments after referee Kevin Mulhall stopped the fight. "It’s hard to believe. My coaches are always there for me and they tell me all the time that the sky is the limit. I’m going to continue to work hard."
Most had considered Ellenberger somewhere between No. 10-15 in the world at 170 pounds, but even with the impressive win, due to the names in front of him, his ranking isn’t likely to skyrocket with the victory. It was his fifth in a row and ninth in his past 10 fights.
"I feel unbelievable," Ellenberger said. "Jake Shields is a world champion. I can’t explain how I feel right now. I feels great."
Shields (26-6-1) came into the fight ranked No. 3 in the MMA Weekly.com welterweight rankings behind St. Pierre and Jon Fitch. He was the subject of a human interest story in the buildup of the fight due to the death of his father and business manager, Jack Shields, on Aug. 30 at the age of 67.
Shields spoke often about how his father was so strongly behind his wrestling career from childhood. And after some early misgivings, his father ended up being the biggest supporter of his MMA career, which has taken him all over the world.
Although he said going forward with the bout was an easy decision, Shields came into the fight not looking as powerful as usual. On paper, the fight looked to come down to Ellenberger’s takedown defense, because he had the stronger striking game, while Shields had noted before the fight he had found holes in Ellenberger’s jiu-jitsu game. Ellenberger had been training with former NCAA champion Mark Munoz on the wrestling end, to keep the fight standing.
Ellenberger was the thicker and more muscular of the two fighters. He overpowered and threw Shields down almost immediately after the first lockup, but Shields was right back up. Shields then moved in for a takedown while Ellenberger powered away. But Ellenberger tied Shields up and landed a hard left knee to the body, followed by a devastating right knee to the chin that put Shields down hard. Ellenberger unloaded with about seven rapid punches on the ground before Mulhall jumped in.
Shields continued to battle for a takedown, but did so on Mulhall, who he instinctively thought was Ellenberger, after Ellenberger had already started celebrating.
"I’m just frustrated," said Shields after the fight. "I got hit with a good shot. I wish I could have fought a little more. I don’t want to take anything from Jake Ellenberger but I thought I had a little bit of fight left."
The win puts Ellenberger into a logjam at welterweight. Most of the fighters ahead of him are booked in fights over the next few months, like Fitch, Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves, while Diego Sanchez is out of action with a hand injury. But the win on a national TV broadcast elevates Ellenberger into that company, and in a position where he’ll likely be matched with the top-level fighters and be talked of as a potential title challenger.
The explosive ending followed two lackluster fights featuring former winners of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, who split close fights that went the distance.
Jonathan Brookins (13-4), who won season 12 as a lightweight, moved down to featherweight, and dropped a decision to Erik Koch (13-1). Koch, the roommate of former WEC champion Anthony Pettis, had also worked hard on keeping the fight standing.
Judges scored the fight 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27 for Koch. Yahoo! Sports had it also 30-27, but the fight was closer than those scores would indicate because all three rounds could have gone either way.
Brookins largely controlled the positioning, usually pinning Koch against the fence when he wasn’t able to take him down. Brookins had three takedowns, but only one was significant where Koch didn’t immediately get back up. Koch was the better striker when he had the distance, and did more damage in all three rounds. But Brookins smothered him and rarely gave him the opportunity, and mostly controlled where the fight was fought.
"This is my life," said Koch. "I train four times a day. I get up at 9 a.m. and sometimes don’t get done until midnight. This fight was for me, a pat on the back to get rid of some demons."
A similar close fight saw season 11 winner Court McGee (13-1) take a 30-27, 29-28 and 30-28 decision over Dongi Yang (10-2). This fight was even closer than its predecessor, with Yahoo! Sports having it 29-28 McGee.
The fight was mostly standing and lacked much in the way of action in a close first two rounds, both of which could have been judged either way.
In the third round, Yang landed the best punch of the fight, a left that put McGee down, and followed with a running knee and then a takedown. But the key to the round ended up being conditioning, as Yang got tired shortly after hurting McGee for the first time. McGee on the other hand, was never breathing hard. McGee had been unable to get Yang off his feet up to that point, but threw him twice late in the round. He had Yang down and was throwing elbows before putting on a guillotine just as time expired.
"I felt good, not satisfied," said McGee. "I hurt him late in the first round. I definitely could have pushed and committed more when I hurt him. I found myself waiting to counter what he was doing. He was definitely prepared and very tough."
Alan Belcher (16-5), out 17 months after two major eye operations to repair a torn retina that he believed at one point had ended his career, came back and finished Jason MacDonald (26-15) in 3:48 of the first round.
MacDonald tried a throw but ended up pulling Belcher to the ground, which was where MacDonald wanted the fight. But the move ended up being his undoing. Belcher kept the top position, hurting MacDonald with a flurry early, and then landing another series of hard punches and elbows before MacDonald verbally submitted.
"I couldn’t have dream it to be any better," said Belcher, who had a large cheering contingent on hand since he’s from nearby Biloxi, Miss. "I’ve been out for so long, so it’s great to fight here in New Orleans, so close to home. It feels good to be back. It took a lot of mental training. If your mind isn’t ready to come back, your body isn’t. I started four or five months ago and started to get into the groove. I told myself it was all or nothing. He pulled me down. Being on top on the ground is probably one of my best places."