Jake Ellenberger sports 13 first-round finishes on his resume. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Jake Ellenberger was within earshot of a crack at Ultimate Fighting Championship gold a little more than two years ago. Times have changed.
Ellenberger will get back behind the wheel when he takes on Stephen Thompson in “The Ultimate Fighter 21” Finale main event on Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The 30-year-old Nebraskan halted a three-fight losing streak at UFC 184, where he followed consecutive defeats to Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler and Kelvin Gastelum with a second-round north-south choke submission that left Josh Koscheck foaming at the mouth. Can “The Juggernaut” maintain his newfound momentum?
Thompson poses a unique threat. The once-beaten karateka will carry a four-fight winning streak into the match. “Wonderboy” last appeared at UFC 178 in September, when he captured a three-round unanimous decision from Patrick Cote. Thompson, 32, sports six finishes among his 10 professional victories and enjoyed a decorated kickboxing career prior to transitioning to MMA. He has spent time training at a number of high-profile camps in the past, including the Tristar Gym in Montreal.
Ellenberger has long leaned on his heavy hands, with 18 knockouts across 29 pro wins. Victories over former Strikeforce champions Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez and onetime International Fight League titleholder Jay Hieron anchor his resume. However, Ellenberger has stubbed his toe at inopportune times since arriving in the UFC, from setbacks against Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann to the aforementioned three-fight losing streak. Cardio remains a sore spot.
With the Ellenberger-Thompson showdown on the marquee, here is what to watch for at “The Ultimate Fighter 21” Finale:
’BRED FOR BATTLE
Jorge Masvidal has evidently grown tired of swimming in the shark tank that is the UFC’s 155-pound weight class.
The American Top Team mainstay will return to the welterweight division for the first time in nearly five years when he tackles Cezar Ferreira in a featured attraction at 170 pounds. Masvidal has compiled a 5-2 record since touching down in the UFC in 2013, but a contentious split decision loss to Al Iaquinta at a UFC Fight Night event on April 4 resulted in the move. With 37 pro bouts under his belt, “Gamebred” remains one of the organization’s most seasoned and well-rounded fighters, regardless of weight.
Ferreira has yet to establish a foothold inside the Octagon, as knockout losses to C.B. Dollaway and Sam Alvey -- those two fights lasted a little more than four minutes combined -- have curbed some of the enthusiasm surrounding him.
“The Karate Hottie” has a new address.
Former Invicta Fighting Championships atomweight titleholder Michelle Waterson will make her promotional debut against Angela Magana, as she shifts gears from 105 to 115 pounds. The Jackson-Wink MMA export surrendered her Invicta championship in a submission loss to Herica Tiburcio in December, the Brazilian upstart’s third-round guillotine choke snapping her career-best six-fight winning streak. Waterson has secured 10 of her 12 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
A graduate of Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Magana will step inside the Octagon on the heels of consecutive defeats to Tecia Torres, Stephanie Eggink and Jessica Eye.
Dan Miller thinks he has one more run left in him.
The former IFL champion will fight for the first time in more than two years when he confronts Strikeforce vet Trevor Smith in an intriguing middleweight clash. Wins have been hard to come by for the 34-year-old Miller, as he has gone just 3-6 since he started his UFC career with three straight victories over Jake Rosholt, Matt Horwich and Rob Kimmons. The notoriously durable New Jersey native has been finished only once, by Jordan Mein at UFC 158, in 21 professional appearances.
Smith finds himself in dire need of a win, having lost five of his past eight bouts. “Hot Sauce” last competed at a UFC Fight Night event on Nov. 8, when he was felled by a Caio Magalhaes knee strike and follow-up punches in Brazil.
Consider it a regional MMA reunion.
Former Tachi Palace Fights champions and onetime training partners Darrell Montague and Willie Gates will lock horns in a high-stakes flyweight scrap. Neither man can afford a setback in a division that remains largely in flux behind longstanding titleholder and pound-for-pound ace Demetrious Johnson. Millennia MMA’s Montague will enter the cage in the wake of back-to-back losses to John Dodson and Kyoji Horiguchi, searching for his first victory since May 2013.
Gates made his Octagon debut on short notice at UFC on Fox 13 in December, when he succumbed to a third-round rear-naked choke from John Moraga. The defeat halted a five-fight winning streak for the 28-year-old Los Angeles native.