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Rematch With Condit in Sight, Jake Ellenberger Expects 'Best Performance' Against Sanchez

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Jake Ellenberger's moment is so close, he can taste it.

With the title situation in flux, opportunity has never been so readily available in the UFC's suddenly blown-open welterweight division. And the timing could not have been more intriguing. As the old guard fades into gatekeeper status, a new crop of young guns has stormed the ranks, seemingly overnight.

In truth, none personify the collision of eras quite like Ellenberger. Hungry and unheralded despite a trail of victims four opponents deep, "The Juggernaut" somehow talked his way into a squash match against Jake Shields last September. 53 seconds later, the division had seemingly been flipped on its head.

Now Ellenberger readies for pivotal tilt against Diego Sanchez at tonight's UFC on FUEL main event. For all intents and purposes, the winner could receive the next UFC title shot, a fact that is not lost on the young fighter.

"Diego's an extremely tough opponent, but I would like to think so," Ellenberger admitted when asked about receiving the No. 1 contender tag on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "(The decision is) definitely with the UFC, but I haven't thought much past Diego. He's a new challenge."

Of course, a title shot is the ultimate goal, but it would be foolish to think there also aren't ulterior motives at play. Ellenberger's lone UFC loss came in his promotional debut, a controversial split decision against, you guessed it, Carlos Condit.

That Condit has become the interim champion just as Ellenberger perches on the doorstep of title contention is not lost on the Nebraskan.

"It's always been in the back of my head. It really just motivates me even more," he confessed. "Carlos has definitely earned where he's at today. He's definitely won fights and proved that he's one of the best, but yeah, for me, it's just kind of motivating. I was right there."

Had Ellenberger emerged with the judge's decision that night three years ago, he surely would have been fighting for a title by now. But what's past is past, and there's no use dwelling on lost opportunities. Besides, in the back of his mind Ellenberger always knew he would get a second chance, so what's wrong with raising the stakes?

"I knew it was going to be a close fight and a hard fight to call, but I would have liked to rematch Carlos win or lose, regardless," he mused. "It's even better now he has the title, so what better chance to do it?"

But first there's Sanchez, a veteran opponent with one title challenge already under his belt, and who could be priming for his last charge towards UFC gold.

Looking past such a dangerous foe would be imprudent, but at just 26 years old, Ellenberger believes his coming-of-age has prepared him for the task.

"He's got a lot more to worry about than me," Ellenberger declared. "I feel like I've evolved so much in the past year and a half. I'm a lot faster and a lot more skilled and I've fine-tuned some things. I'm ready for whatever he wants to do. He needs to worry about my offense a lot more than I need to worry about his."

Confidence certainly drips off Ellenberger's words, but in some strange way, they never seem overly cocky. After all, Ellenberger's whole life has led up to this moment, so please excuse the fighter if he sounds certain of his fate.

"There's nothing I haven't seen that I haven't prepared for," Ellenberger boldly promised. "This is going be my best performance so far.

"There's absolutely no way I'm going to leave the Octagon without my hand being raised."