Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 | 2:15 p.m.
A hand injury prevented Diego Sanchez from fighting for nearly a year.
It only kept him from training for less than a week, though.
“If one arm is hurt, tie the other one with a belt, wrap it up and grapple with one arm,” Sanchez said. “There’s still a lot of things you can do with one hand.”
Sanchez suffered the injury in sparring three weeks before he was supposed to meet Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in the co-main event of UFC 135 last September.
It was a matchup Sanchez always wanted, but it didn’t take long for the first-ever “The Ultimate Fighter” champion to get over his disappointment. Getting back into the gym immediately kept him positive.
“I know for a fact that there were many times when I was injured that I became a better fighter because I learned how to move differently,” Sanchez explained. “I learned how to fight differently. Sometimes when you work around an injury, it ends up being a blessing in disguise.”
Sanchez hopes the improvement shows Wednesday night, as he faces one of his toughest challenges in recent memory in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 1. Sanchez (23-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) will have to get past the surging Jake Ellenberger (26-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC) to further move his way up the welterweight ranks.
Ellenberger, who has won five in a row, is listed as a -325 (risking $3.25 to win $1) favorite with Sanchez coming back at a +250 underdog price.
“He’s been there and he’s always well-prepared,” Ellenberger said of Sanchez. “But I don’t think he’s prepared for what I bring. He’s got a lot more challenges than I do.”
Pick: Ellenberger by TKO
Check below for a breakdown, betting odds and picks for the rest of the fights on the Omaha, Neb., card. FUEL TV airs the six-fight main card at 5, while four preliminaries are slated for the UFC’s facebook page at 3:20.
Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve (22-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC) vs. Dave Herman (21-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
Line: Struve +120, Herman -150
Matchup: How will Herman deal with Struve’s six-inch height advantage? And will the 6-foot-11 “Skyscraper” make good use of it by keeping Herman at a distance? That should determine how the fight plays out. Herman looked like a bona fide prospect in his octagon debut, earning a second round TKO over John-Olav Einemo at UFC 131.
Pick: Herman by knockout
Middleweight bout: Aaron Simpson (10-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) vs. Ronny Markes (12-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
Line: Simpson -115, Markes -115
Matchup: Simpson looks to move his way back up the 185-pound ranks with a fourth consecutive victory. Markes is the toughest opponent he’s faced since dropping a unanimous decision to Mark Munoz in November 2010. The Brazilian is dropping to his natural weight class after debuting in the UFC at light heavyweight.
Pick: Simpson by decision
Heavyweight bout: Stipe Miocic (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) vs. Philip De Fries (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
Line: Miocic -500, De Fries +350
Matchup: These are two of the most up-and-coming fighters in the heavyweight division. De Fries, from Sunderland, England, is a submission master. He’s submitted seven of his eight opponents. Miocic, from Cleveland, is a former Golden Gloves champion and Major League Baseball prospect.
Pick: Miocic by TKO
Bantamweight bout: T.J. Dillashaw (4-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) vs. Walel Watson (11-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC)
Line: Dillashaw -275, Watson +215
Matchup: The deciding matchup projects to be Dillashaw’s wrestling against Watson’s striking. Dillashaw was the favorite to win “The Ultimate Fighter” 14, but fell victim to a John Dodson knockout at the finale. Watson lost a controversial split decision to Yves Jabouin at UFC 140 when the statistics favored him.
Pick: Dillashaw by decision
Bantamweight bout: Ivan Menjivar (23-8 MMA, 2-1 UFC) vs. John Albert (9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC)
Line: Dillashaw -275, Watson +215
Matchup: The storylines in this bout mirror the ones in the other bantamweight contest on the main card. Menjivar won a controversial split decision over Nick Pace at UFC 133, while Albert was a participant on “The Ultimate Fighter” 14. John Dodson, the eventual champion, knocked Albert out in the second round.
Pick: Menjivar by decision
Featherweight bout: Jonathan Brookins (12-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC) vs. Vagner Rocha (7-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC)
Line: Brookins -225, Rocha +175
Matchup: A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Rocha can submit anyone on the ground. But Brookins has much superior wrestling and has never lost by submission. Rocha tried out for the 12th season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, but didn’t make the cast. It was the season that Brookins went on to win.
Pick: Brookins by decision
Middleweight bout: Buddy Roberts (11-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Sean Loeffler (25-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Line: Roberts -140, Loeffler +110
Matchup: Roberts trains at Greg Jackson’s complex in Albuquerque, N.M. Loeffler is a brawling finisher who has stopped six straight opponents in the first round. His last bout in a major promotion, Bellator, ended in three minutes with a knockout loss to Bryan Baker.
Pick: Roberts by submission
Lightweight bout: Anton Kuivanen (16-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Justin Salas (9-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Line: Kuivanen +110, Salas -140
Matchup: Kuivanen hasn’t lost since 2008, but it’s tough to judge the level of competition he faced in his native Finland. Salas has lost twice since then, but he’s met a few notable opponents on the Midwest fight circuit on his way to the UFC.
Pick: Salas by decision
Lightweight bout: Bernardo Magalhaes (11-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Tim Means (16-3-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Line: Magalhaes -130, Means Even
Matchup: Oddsmakers appear split on this bout. Both fighters are favored at different sports books. Magalhaes hasn’t ventured outside of his home in Australia for a fight before. Nine of his 11 wins are by decision. The heavy-handed Means has knocked out 12 opponents while spending most of his career in California-based promotion King of the Cage.
Pick: Means by knockout