Opportunities come and go in the life of a fighter and for welterweight power-wrestler Jake Ellenberger, both sides of the coin look familiar. At 25 years old and nearly 30 fights into his career, the Nebraska native is already a veteran of the sport. Over the past six years Ellenberger has made the most of several last minute changes, including a call from the UFC to face former WEC champion Carlos Condit after MMA veteran Chris Lytle was forced out with injury. Ultimately the judges would decide in favor of Condit but Ellenberger made an impression with the UFC as his gritty performance earned him a place on the roster.
Coming off the Condit fight, Ellenberger found victory in his next two appearances. In his most recent showing against the always dangerous John "Doomsday" Howard, Ellenberger neutralized Howard's striking attack and utilized a full scale ground and pound display. Midway through the third round the bout was stopped by the ringside doctor due to the damage Howard's eye had absorbed. Back to back wins has the future looking bright and even after a bout with Jon Fitch came and went, Ellenberger is ready to make his climb. In his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview Ellenberger talked about a future bout with Jon Fitch, his upcoming matchup with Carlos Eduardo Rocha at UFC 126 and took a look back at his recent victory over "Doomsday".
"Howard is a tough guy," Ellenberger stated. "I think I should have made him scramble a little bit more. Rather than focusing on my striking from the guard I could have worked for the pass and attacked his conditioning. I could have taken his back and not necessarily to go for the submission but used the position to wear him down. Howard is a tough and he's not going to be an easy night for anybody."
After earning the win over Howard the UFC came to call with an offer to face perennial contender Jon Fitch. With the opportunity Ellenberger saw his chance to stake his claim towards the top of the division. Weeks later the UFC replaced Ellenberger with two-divisional threat B.J. Penn and it was once again time to adapt and keep it moving.
"I was excited," Ellenberger replied. "It was the kind of fight that I have been waiting for. He has obviously fixed himself at the top of the division and it is a big opportunity for me. I think I can come out on top because I think I have the style to beat Jon Fitch. I'm not worried about the matchup change because it's a fight that I'm going to get in the future anyways."
Ellenberger continued, "I was fortunate enough to remain on the card so that was my only concern. The UFC kept me on and it wasn't something they had to do, so I'm definitely excited to be on the card for UFC 126. I am still on the main card for one of the biggest events of the year. It's a big weekend and I'm going to make the most of it. As I said, between Jon Fitch and I this is just postponing the inevitable. I'm still going to fight him I just don't know when that will be."
Since stepping up to face Condit on short notice, Ellenberger has seen his fair share of ups and downs. In addition to the recent activity with Jon Fitch, Ellenberger also saw a previously scheduled bout with Ben Saunders tossed on the scrap pile after Thiago Alves went out with a brain injury. Now Ellenberger is preparing to face the undefeated Carlos Eduardo Roca and is looking forward to getting into a regular pattern.
"For me it's focusing on one fight at a time but everything has gone great leading up to the fight with Rocha," Ellenberger stated. "For this training cycle I went down to St. Louis to train with my head jiu-jitsu instructor Rodrigo Vaghi. We covered a lot of strategy, a lot of drilling and there is nothing Rocha is going to throw at me that I haven't seen before. I've been focusing a lot on my striking and conditioning but overall everything has been going great. It's just a matter of staying focused. I've been healthy and injury-free so that's been a blessing for sure and coming in at 100% makes it all that much better."
When comparing Ellenberger and Rocha on paper, one indicator jumps off of the page. Despite being 4 years the junior, the Nebraska native has collected nearly three times the professional experience as his Brazilian counterpart, and Ellenberger believes this will provide a large advantage when they square off at UFC 126.
"I think my experience will be a big factor," Ellenberger stated. "We haven't seen a lot of this guy Rocha so we haven't seen how well he deals with pressure. I've been there. I'm used to competing at this level and I definitely think the edge swings in my favor for this fight."
Carlos Eduardo Rocha has compiled nine wins in his professional career with each victory coming by way of submission. Rocha's only UFC appearance came against TUF alum Kris McCray and staying true to form, Rocha submitted McCray midway through the first round.
"I'm sure he's going to be fighting hard to get it to the ground," Ellenberger answered when asked what he is expecting to see from Rocha. "I'm ready for whatever he brings and my game plan is pretty simple. I'm going to hit him a lot, apply a bunch of pressure and force him to wrestle me. I think I'm well-rounded and experienced enough to deal with his jiu-jitsu. I'm just looking to finish the fight."
Ellenberger will be carrying the momentum of back to back wins into the octagon in Las Vegas and a he is hoping a victory over Rocha will allow him to continue his path towards the top of the division.
"My goal by the end of this year is to be the number one contender," Ellenberger finished. "Obviously winning is going to keep me moving and keeping the ball rolling and my plan this year is to put two or three wins together and get to that contender status.
Ellenberger believes his wrestling will provide the key to beating Rocha at UFC 126. While Jake has shown skills in other aspects of his game he has never strayed far from the talents that have brought him to where he is.
"Wrestling has definitely grown," Ellenberger answered when asked to share his thoughts on wrestling in mixed martial arts. "Wrestlers don't have a lot of options once their done competing and I think MMA has helped them earn a living and remain in the competitive field. There are so many great wrestlers right now in the UFC and I think it just makes it that much more exciting. Guys like Mark Munoz for example. I've been training out here at Reign and the dude's wrestling is unreal. He's probably one of the best in the sport."
In addition to his training in St. Louis, Ellenberger also spends time training with Munoz and company at Reign in Lake Forest California. In a recent interview with Munoz we talked about how wrestling will contribute to the evolution of the sport and Ellenberger supported Munoz's prediction.
"I completely agree transitions are the next step," Jake stated. "Winning transitions is a big focus that is going on out here "In the future it is going to be winning the transitions that will win you the fights. Nowadays you can't just come into the sport as a striker or a jiu-jitsu guy because you're not going to last."