The win establishes Ellenberger as a top contender in the division, and he is now expected to fight the winner of the Georges St Pierre-Carlos Condit fight for a shot at the welterweight title.
Omaha-born Ellenberger entered into the octagon on Wednesday night in high spirits – he was the heavy favourite to secure victory with the home-town support making their presence felt.
The 26-year-old knew that a win could earn him a shot at the welterweight title, but Sanchez came close to ruining the celebrations in Nebraska.
Ellenberger made a strong start, showcasing his superior striking when he caught Sanchez with a powerful left hook which dropped his opponent to the canvas.
In the second round, Ellenberger displayed his superior wrestling skills when he put Sanchez on his back and came down with some vicious elbows to leave his opponent bloodied and in deep trouble.
But Sanchez, who has proven his courage and determination on many occasions over a career stretching 12 years, refused to contemplate throwing in the towel and the 30-year-old fought back.
He landed a head kick in the third round which cut open Ellenberger, and it was in the final minutes of the last round that Sanchez piled the pressure on, looking to finish his opponent.
The underdog took down Ellenberger, delivered some ground and pound, before applying a rear naked choke, desperate to finish his younger opponent.
What was at first a completely one-sided fight suddenly saw Ellenberger desperate for survival, but he staved off Sanchez’s late revival to win the fight via a unanimous decision, scoring 29-28 on all three judges’ scorecards.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news