If the evil forces of cable TV conspired to keep you from seeing the first UFC on FUEL event, sorry, but you missed a good one. Now that it’s all over, time to sift through the rubble for the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Jake Ellenberger
He might have taken his foot off the gas too soon in the third round, but he survived for a big win in front of his home crowd. Before he went from trying to win the fight to just trying to get through it, Ellenberger looked great. His quickness and variety kept Sanchez guessing, and his wrestling skills proved to be a nice escape pod when he needed it. For those first two rounds, he definitely looked like a guy who’d give Carlos Condit a run for his interim title. Then again, it’s not just how you start, but also you finish. Ellenberger did manage to get to his feet under his own power in the final seconds of the fight, but he came uncomfortably close to giving that fight away at several points. If you want to be an elite welterweight in the UFC, you just can’t do that sort of thing. You certainly can’t do it against a fighter like Sanchez, who has more guts than physical tools at this point. Maybe Ellenberger needed to walk right up to the ledge to learn that lesson, but so much in the 170-pound division depends on appearances these days. When they look at you, fans need to feel like they’re looking at someone who could maybe, possibly beat Georges St-Pierre. Spending the last couple minutes of a fight bleeding beneath your opponent probably isn’t the best way to accomplish that.
Biggest Loser: Dave Herman
It’s nice to get noticed. It’s nice to have fans talking about you before your fight. Herman’s hairy hipster routine accomplished both in the days leading up to this event, and he rolled right into fight night with the same sense of humor about the whole thing. He followed that up with a great first round, and everything seemed to be going according to plan. But when Herman’s corner told him that it was time to turn it up, it was Struve who heeded their advice. Herman fought like it was a Saturday afternoon sparring session, while the big Dutchman cranked up the pace and intensity. Maybe that’s just how Herman’s fighting style looks from afar. He doesn’t panic, but maybe he also doesn’t always recognize the urgency of the situation right away. That cost him in this fight, and his pre-fight demeanor seemed to make his boss wonder if he was taking this seriously enough. It reminds me of the time that Akihiro Gono and his cornermen made their entrance in sparkling evening gowns, doing a choreographed dance routine before a fight with Jon Fitch. The crowd ate it up, and then Fitch mauled Gono on the mat for three rounds. Even White was entertained by the pre-fight antics, he admitted, "but when you wear a dress, you’d probably better win." Perhaps the same could be said for a scarf and an all-natural sweater in this case.
Best Mid-Fight Epiphany: Ivan Menjivar asks WWSD?
Perhaps getting kicked and kneed and battered about the head region knocked some brilliance lose in Menjiver’s brain. Right as things were going badly for him, he told Jon Anik in the post-fight interview, he asked himself: What would [Kazushi] Sakuraba do? The fact that he suffered through the beating and pulled out a submission shortly thereafter tells us that he came up with a pretty good answer. As philosophies go, that’s not a bad one for a fighter to live by. It involves less internal struggle than What Would Jean-Paul Sartre Do? and nowhere near as much off-key singing as What Would Brian Boitano Do? It obviously worked for Menjivar, who got the win and a Submission of the Night bonus, which I assume he will spend on a pair of orange trunks, some sake, and a series of masks.
Least Impressive in Victory: Ronny Markes
He survived the early knockdown and came back to turn the rest of the fight into a bit of a monotonous grind. Usually, that’s Aaron Simpson’s job, but this time Markes stole his thunder and stole the victory. I suppose that after getting rocked like that you’ll take a win any way you can get it. Still, it doesn’t do much to increase Markes’ fan base. When the most exciting part of the fight is the part where you’re getting the snot knocked out of you, you might have a problem on your hands.
Most Impressive in Defeat: Diego Sanchez
One way or another, he makes sure you get your money’s worth. From his vampire-fighting entrance to his late resurrection, Sanchez reminded us once again why we like having him around so much. He’s not the best, but he is among the toughest. He doesn’t mind pouring out his soul in interviews and pouring buckets of his own blood onto the mat. Whatever he’s doing -- even when he was partying more than training -- he does it all the way. He’ll probably never be UFC champion no matter what weight class he fights in, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for him in the big show. There’s only one Diego Sanchez, and that’s probably a good thing.
Most Surprising: Stefan Struve
The lanky Dutchman answered some questions about his chin in the first round, then came back strong in the second with power shots of his own. Maybe it’s just because he’s faced so many tough heavyweights already, but it’s easy to forget how young Struve is. He’s just about to turn 24, and yet he’s already been in there with guys like Junior dos Santos, Roy Nelson, and Pat Barry. Sure, he’s taken a couple of knockouts, but maybe that’s just life as a young heavyweight learning the ropes the hard way. If he can stay conscious, Struve has the all-around game to give plenty of guys fits at this level. To make him even more of a more potential nightmare, the 6’11" kickboxer is still filling out and putting on weight. Don’t write him off just yet.
Best Prospects: (tie) T.J. Dillashaw and Stipe Miocic
Both proved their superiority over their respective opponents in different ways and on different timelines. Dillashaw spent three rounds absolutely dominating Walel Watson, while Miocic took just enough punches to get mad at Phil De Fries. Both Dillashaw and Miocic notched wins over opponents they were expected to beat, but also signaled to the UFC brass that they’re ready for a higher level of competition. It’s too soon to know for sure how far either of them could go, but it sure will be fun to find out.
Born for the Broadcast Booth: Brian Stann
How is it possible that a former Marine and current pro fighter could also be a really, really good TV analyst? It almost doesn’t seem fair. Other people spend their entire careers trying to achieve that level of ease and confidence on camera. Stann’s such a natural, it’s hard not to feel like he’s being wasted on pre and post-fight shows. Don’t stick this man on FUEL, where so few people even have the chance to see him. Put him on FOX and make the most of him while you can. With his talent for public speaking and thinking on the fly, it shouldn’t be too long before he abandons this MMA stuff for a run at the U.S. Senate.