Jake Ellenberger, the UFC’s No. 4 ranked contender for the welterweight title, surprised a lot of people, including his next opponent, Rory MacDonald, with some of the answers to his questions at a UFC conference call last week.
Ellenberger (29-6) was asked about some of the comments he’s made at MacDonald’s expense in the weeks leading to the fight.
"I haven’t said anything that wasn’t true," he said about his fight on FOX Saturday night, which takes place at the Key Arena in Seattle. "And my message to Rory is pretty clear, (it’s) for him to start tasting some flavors of baby food and find which ones you like and stock up, because this isn’t the Tears for Fears look alike contest. All I said to him was prepare for some horizontal television time, and I meant it."
Later when asked about the official UFC rankings, where MacDonald is one spot ahead of him, as the No. 3 contender, Ellenberger unleashed another one-liner.
"I am an evidence-based abuser," he said. "I didn’t make him make the stupid decision to fight me, and I’m just going to make him look stupid when I destroy him."
MacDonald (14-1) said he wasn’t even sure what all that meant. Ellenberger said he was just trying to have some fun.
"If you heard everyone else on that conference call talk, I almost fell asleep," he said. "For me, it’s creative and more for laughs. It’s funny. People take this stuff a bit too seriously. If he didn’t like what I said, we can fight. He can try and punch me. But I said it more for laughs."
While he’s made mention in building up the fight about MacDonald being ranked ahead of him, at this point, with days to go, it’s not a concern because Saturday will tell the tale of who deserves to be ahead of who.
"I don’t pay much attention to rankings because they really don’t matter," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to take care of business. It’s what I do well. It’s what I have to do to win this fight."
Right now, everything is tunnel vision leading to Saturday.
"I’m not going to look past this fight at all. There are a lot of great match-ups and a lot of people who are top five or top ten. It’s one of those things you get to when you come across that bridge."
Ellenberger said that he’s changed up aspects of his conditioning after learning from what he believed were mistakes in training last year when he lost to Martin Kampmann.
"The most unsettling thing about that fight is there were a lot of things I can do better," he said. "In competition, sometimes you lose, and sometimes people have better days. What really disappointed me was that there were a lot of things I could control, like weight management. I was focused on strength and conditioning. My weight was high. I worked a lot with weights. I wasn’t skill training. I was so focused on strength and conditioning for five rounds instead of skill building. It left more of a bad taste when there are things you can control, things you can do better in. At the end of the day, competition is competition. One guy is going to win. One guy is going to lose. But there are variables I can control. I definitely had to make some adjustments."
The key aspects he’s changed for this fight is working on head movement and footwork, and to not use a flat-footed wrestler style.
"Having power as a single skill can be easily defended," he noted. "If you don’t have he speed that goes with it, it’s kind of worthless."
He also noted that he woke up the day of weigh-ins at 183.5 pounds for Kampmann. This week, on Wednesday morning, two days before weigh-ins, he woke up at 181, but said even already this close to weight, cutting weight is never fun.
Ellenberger is a former college wrestler whose style has been based on stopping opponents from taking him down, and then delivering powerful punches. That has resulted in him knocking out major names like Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields en route to winning eight of his last nine UFC fights.
But his MMA and wrestling journey was far from the usual, which he noted was the biggest misconception people have about him. Ellenberger noted that most in MMA think he wrestled his entire life, then took up striking later.
He had his first pro fight at the age of 20. He was around wrestling growing up, since it was the sport his twin brother, Joe, who has also fought, excelled at, being a two-time Division II All-American and a state high school champion in Nebraska.
Jake did wrestle at Division II powerhouse University of Nebraska-Omaha, but he never formally wrestled until college, and after he had already started fighting. He competed in college wrestling to improve his MMA game, as opposed to being a wrestler to transferred into MMA, like most.
"I got into wrestling because of MMA," he said. "My twin brother, Joe, he started wrestling at the age of 13. People think I’ve wrestled all my life, but I didn’t even start until I was 21. I’ve watched my brother compete since he was around 14. After high school, I went into the Marine Corps and then I started fighting at 20. It was still more of a hobby, not something I really looked at having a future in. I was going to college. A good friend was wrestling at Nebraska-Omaha. I ended up getting hooked. I trained wrestling for four years at the University.
"Even in UFC, a lot of people don’t understand that I’d been fighting for probably a couple of years before I started wrestling. I knew to get to a high level, you have to learn how to wrestle. I lost a decision to Jay Hieron (in 2006 when both were fighting in the old IFL). I worked out in wrestling here and there, but I didn’t take wrestling seriously until I was 22 years old. I had fantastic coaches. I had the work ethic and a thirst and a hunger to learn. The coaches were fantastic, they really helped me. But all along, the ambition was MMA, not to wrestle in college.
"Joe, Aaron (his friend) and I worked out in the off-season," he remembered. "I was one of those guys who didn’t like to lose, and I was always getting taken down. I learned wrestling, through trial and error, got hooked and ended up wrestling with one of the best teams in the country. We won three or four national (Division II) championships."
Joe Ellenberger started out with an 11-0 record in fighting before being diagnosed with a rare blood disease, Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, at the age of 24. A significant percentage of those who get the disease die within ten years.
"He’s still training," said Jake. "Health-wise, he’s doing great. You know the exact same night we both fought for the first time, August 9, 2005."
Jake was still going to college, and fighting, having compiled a 21-4 record, when UFC came calling in 2009. "My manager called me and an opportunity was presented to me," he said. "I had to make a choice. I’m not someone who can have one foot in. I decided to do it 100 percent."
He lost a split decision to Carlos Condit, who was already one of the best welterweights in the world at the time, in his UFC debut.
"People always talk about UFC jitters, it’s an absolute lie to me. It’s a hoax, it’s a lie, it’s Bigfoot," he said. "If you’re not made to fight in the UFC, you shouldn’t fight in the UFC. It’s competition. You’re going to get nerves anywhere you fight. In my opinion, it’s more of an excuse for why you folded up mentally. UFC jitters are not real. It’s part of mental training, dealing with that adversity."
As for MacDonald, he feels he has the advantage there.
"I did see him break in the Condit fight," he said about MacDonald’s lone pro loss three years ago.
"He’s got a good jab, some good kicks, but I’ve made adjustments. I’ve acknowledged my mistakes and made adjustments. When I’m on, I can beat anyone in the world. I’m focused on myself. I’ve done a lot of intense conditioning and a lot of things I haven’t done before. I’ve got a lot of confidence going into this fight."