Jake Ellenberger took one step closer to a shot at the welterweight title on Wednesday night, gutting out a unanimous decision win over Diego Sanchez in the main event of UFC on Fuel “Ellenberger vs. Sanchez” at the Omaha Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Neb.

Sanchez and Ellenberger traded relatively evenly to start, but Ellenberger drew first blood toward the end of the opening stanza, landing a hard knee and then a counter jab, hook combination that knocked the original “Ultimate Fighter” winner on his hindquarters.

Sanchez attempted to mix up his attack in the second frame by throwing a variety of kicks, but Ellenberger answered by using a stiff jab to keep ”The Dream” at bay. Though the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative landed a pair of hard right hooks midway through the period, Ellenberger finished the round by executing a perfectly timed double-leg takedown and crisp elbows from Sanchez’s guard.

Ellenberger continued to use an excellent counter attack in the third stanza, pumping a sharp jab into his opponent’s bloodied mug. Sanchez eventually pushed through the attacks, however, landing some clean shots of his own and taking the Nebraskan’s back. Firing with everything he had left in the tank, Sanchez pounded away at the hometown favorite in an effort to finish, but could not force the stoppage as the round expired.

“Diego is known for that, man. He’s the toughest guy I’ve fought. No matter what happens, he’s in there until the end. It’s an honor to fight him,” Ellenberger told UFC commentator Jon Anik in his post-fight interview. “That was a tough position, and I was tired, but I just tried to fight through it. I’ve been there a million times, but you have to stay in there mentally. He’s a warrior.”

Struve Rallies Once Again

Stefan Struve got back on track with another come-from-behind victory in his co-headlining heavyweight attraction, earning a second-round technical knockout over Sengoku veteran Dave Herman.

Herman overcame his distinct reach disadvantage in round one, stepping inside of Struve’s long-range arsenal to deliver crisp shots to the head and body of “Skyscraper.”

“The first round, it wasn’t fireworks like you guys are used to when I fight,” Struve explained after the bout. “I think jet lag caught up with me a bit this week. I slept about four of five hours every night, so my energy was a little low.”

The Dutchman managed to briefly turn the tables in round two however, executing a body-lock takedown and landing in full mount. Though little would come of the position after a slick escape from Herman, Struve began to find his flow in the standup after the exchange.

The Dutchman landed a hard body kick and several moments later connected with a stiff uppercut that buckled the American’s knees. Struve pounced and again transitioned to mount, this time finishing the job with punches at 3:52 of round two.

“I can still get 10 times better. I’m turning 24 [years old] this Saturday,” said Struve. “I hope you guys enjoy watching me fight for years to come. I love you guys.”

Markes Shines in Middleweight Debut

Brazilian middleweight talent Ronny Markes edged former Arizona State University wrestling standout Aaron Simpson in a hard-fought bout, walking away with a split decision victory in his 185-pound debut.

Though Markes was floored by a dynamite right uppercut in the first frame, he rebounded to make the final two rounds competitive, going toe-to-toe in the wrestling department with the American and emerging with the hard-fought win.

“It took a lot of determination to come here and put on a show for you guys,” Markes said. “[UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva, give me the opportunity to fight in Brazil.”

Miocic Remains Undefeated

Heavyweight up-and-comer Stipe Miocic improved his career record to a perfect 8-0 by blasting the formerly unbeaten Philip De Fries in just 43 seconds of the first round.

Though the Brit came out swinging for the fences and stunned Miocic early, the former Golden Gloves champion turned the tide by cracking De Fries with a hard right straight. From there it was academic, as Miocic pursued his wounded prey to the cage wall and dropped him with another right before finishing the job with punches on the floor.

Dillashaw Controls Watson

Top prospect T.J. Dillashaw dominated Walel Watson in their bantamweight confrontation, earning a unanimous decision with scores of 30-25 (twice) and 30-26.

Dillashaw wasted no time in taking it to his lanky foe, firing a “Superman” punch down the tube before dumping “The Gazelle” with a double-leg takedown. The Team Alpha Male product quickly took Watson’s back and repeatedly attempted to finish the fight with a rear-naked choke.

Though Watson survived the disastrous round, Dillashaw repeated his performance in the second frame, popping his rangy opponent with straight right, snapping him down to the canvas with a single-leg takedown and unleashing another unanswered hailstorm of offense. While Watson managed to make the third round more competitive with a flying triangle attempt, Dillashaw ended the bout on top, dropping massive elbows until the final horn.

“It felt good to come out here and show my wrestling to all you Nebraska fans,” Dillashaw said. “I stuck to the plan. He definitely had the reach advantage, so I had to use my wrestling pedigree. I’m sorry I didn’t finish it, but he’s got those long arms to fend off the rear-naked choke. I was trying. He’s a tough guy.”

Menjivar Survives Shaky Start

The Fuel TV broadcast opened with an exciting bantamweight tilt between 11-year veteran Ivan Menjivar and “Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 alumnus John Albert. Though “Prince” appeared to get the better of the striking early, Menjivar quickly countered with a crisp hip toss and landed in Albert’s guard, dropping ground-and-pound as his younger opponent actively threatened with submissions from his back. Though Albert would escape to his feet and flurry, “The Pride of El Salvador” weathered the storm, taking Albert’s back and finishing the fight in 3:45 with a rear-naked choke.

“In my head, I was thinking about [Kazushi] Sakuraba the whole fight. I was thinking, ‘What he would do in this moment?” Menjivar said after the back-and-forth bout. “I know experience is important, but it’s a fight. He’s strong, and he’s in the UFC. He’s at that level, and he’s dangerous.”

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