Nearly a year after a disappointing loss to Rory MacDonald, UFC welterweight contender Jake Ellenberger will finally return to the Octagon in what promises to be an action packed fight with Number 1 ranked Robbie Lawler. The last nine months have been filled with fine tuning his training, signing new contracts and coming to the realization that you can still be a serious athlete and enjoy what you do.
MMA Sentinel Radio recently interviewed Jake [one day prior to the announcement of Saffiedine's injury], who discussed the current welterweight landscape, his new podcast with comedian Adam Hunter, training with Edmond Tarverdyan, what he took from the loss to Rory and just how strong Ronda Rousey is. Here's what he had to say:
MMA Sentinel: You just signed a... was it a six fight deal?
Jake Ellenberger: Actually eight, it's an eight fight deal.
MMA Sentinel: That's great, because we love watching you fight, and it looks to me like you might be adding some new stuff to your MMA arsenal. Talk to me about your training with Edmond Tarverdyan.
Jake Ellenberger: Edmond has been awesome. I met him at the Gracie academy with Cesar and Rener Gracie, who I've worked with for a few years now, as has Ronda [Rousey], so that's where I met Edmond. He's a great guy, and he's a really intelligent guy when it comes to combat sports in general, as well as strategy. He gave me a new perspective on some things and we really connected.
I'm always trying to develop. I'm always thinking, ‘What's it going to take for me to get to a world title?' Wherever I can, I make adjustments, and there's always things you can do to make better. Edmond has been a guy who has really been able to specifically sharpen some skills for me, and focus on a few specific things. He's not trying to change me as a fighter like some coaches do; it's been a great relationship with Edmond and I've really enjoyed working with him.
MMA Sentinel: Being out there with Edmond and Ronda, do you incorporate a little judo in there too?
Jake Ellenberger: [Laughs] You know, I'm... familiar with a little bit of judo. I wouldn't say I'm really good at it, but I'm familiar with it. It's something I would need to work on before I attempted to execute it in a real fight.
MMA Sentinel: What's it like working with Ronda? How strong is she?
Jake Ellenberger: She's thrown me on my head a few times. She's great; she has great energy, a great personality and she's fun to be around. She keeps getting better and better, especially with her striking. She's one of those people that works really, really hard. I guess I didn't really realize that until I had spent more time around her in the gym. I could even say she probably works harder than the majority of the people in this sport.
She is freakishly strong. People thought I was crazy when I said she would beat a lot of guys in her weight class, but she really is extremely strong. It's functional strength, too. It's not just a typical kind of strength, there's so much functional strength in her hips from judo. It's not that 'bro/brah' strength from the biceps and triceps you see in So-Cal. You know, those guys that look good but have zero skills. All show, no go.
MMA Sentinel: You've been training with Ryron and Rener Gracie for a while. A few of the older-school Gracies like Cesar and Royce have been giving them a little static about the online schooling system that they have. What's your take on that whole situation?
Jake Ellenberger: I'm impressed by the way they can develop a strategy and structure to teach and test people. As far as knowledge base, I think it's great. I haven't spent a lot of time involved with the online university but there's nothing but good things that I could take away with it. They're spreading the knowledge so people around the world can enjoy the sport and martial art of jiu-jitsu.
At the end of the day, the situation comes down to money. If someone is making money, people are always going to talk and voice their opinion. There's always going to be haters. For me, I've been impressed by how they've developed the whole system to spread knowledge and create awareness for such a great martial art.
MMA Sentinel: It seems like over the past year or so you've become much more relaxed and easy going, which is evident in your podcast with Adam Hunter. What made you loosen the reins a little bit?
Jake Ellenberger: It's been a lot of fun for me. I've really just tried to enjoy the sport more, to enjoy training and just to have fun. So much of what we do is serious. So much of it is, ‘You have to bite down and put the work in,' and because so many hours of my life is serious, when I don't have to be serious I don't want to be. [The show] actually made me enjoy the serious part of my day a lot more. I've gotten more comfortable being on camera and in front of microphones. Those are things I do enjoy doing, but it's just much more comfortable for me now.
I like working with Adam. Being a comedian would be so tough, because you're dealing with all of this constant rejection and failure. You can say 25 things that are hilarious, but then you say one or two things that have critics, and that's all you're going to focus on. It's like having one bad fight. After my fight with Rory I got, ‘Oh Jake sucks, Jake is terrible, he's garbage.' OK, I had an off night, but now it's a new fight and I'm a new guy.
MMA Sentinel: What did you take from that loss with Rory? Was that a factor in training with Edmond to sharpen some things up?
Jake Ellenberger: With Edmond specifically it was very organic, we have a very good relationship. It's really kind of just about supplementing my training in Muay Thai under Rafael Cordeiro. It's been much more skill-specific. Edmond has shown me things that I've never even seen before. I'm like, ‘man, how am I just now learning about this?' It's great, it's an eye opener. I'm trying to be Jake Ellenberger: World Title Contender, so I'm always thinking about what it takes to be that guy.
The first thing is to just be open minded and take in new perspectives. It starts with changing the way you think, and I know I don't know everything. Edmond is a great guy when it comes to strategy as well, and he shows me these small things that would have helped me hugely in my last fight. That's in the past though, I'm a whole new guy now. I'm really excited to show that, because I feel like I've grown more in the last year than I did in the six years before that.
MMA Sentinel: Let's talk a little bit about the welterweight landscape. Give me your thoughts about Rory MacDonald being thrown in there after a win over Demian Maia.
Jake Ellenberger: That fight is a perfect example of how important having a focused strategy is. In the first round it was complete domination. He looked great. In the later rounds he was forcing the takedown too much, and it showed how important set-ups are too, It maybe wasn't the best strategy against Rory. At the end of the day, Rory is a skilled guy; he's a good fighter. I've said some things about Rory before, but at the end of the day, he's a good fighter and he has some great coaches. The division is a mess right now, it's all over the place, and it's an exciting time to be in there.
MMA Sentinel: Do you feel that the UFC have made their own rankings system obsolete? I say this because they went to all this trouble to get a big panel of media members, but the rankings don't even seem to matter. It basically comes down to who had the most exciting fight.
Jake Ellenberger: As an athlete and a fighter, I know the rankings don't mean a lot. They really don't. Is it cool to be in the top 10? Sure, but the way the UFC works and the way Dana White works, it comes down to what fight will sell tickets and make money. It's a business, and everyone understands that. I get that, but at the same time, for a guy in the top 5 or top 10, you should be one or two fights away from a shot at the title. There's guys in there with six wins in a row not even getting talked about. I've had a six fight win streak in my career as well [without getting a title shot].
MMA Sentinel: Is there somebody out there that you feel would expedite the process of getting you into title contention?
Jake Ellenberger: That's a good question... I'm really not sure. I would have said Condit or Rory before this last card in Dallas, but now I don't know. I was scheduled to fight Johny Hendricks at Montreal at UFC 158, but that didn't happen at the last minute. I'm sure, I am 100% sure, that Johny and I will fight as some point. I just have to take care of business and take it from there.
MMA Sentinel: Your brother has made it into the UFC, and he's overcome some serious life struggles to get to where he is. That's got to make you feel wonderful. You guys used to train out of the same camp, do you still work together a lot?
Jake Ellenberger: Not as much as I would like to. He does come out quite often and train here in California, and I get back there pretty often too, so we still train together quite a bit, just not as often as I would like. He's extremely focused and very disciplined. I know when I'm not around that he's still training and putting in the work. He's one of the guys who really showed me how to compete. He's really excited, his whole behaviour has changed since he was signed by the UFC. We're going to be on the same card in the biggest promotion in the world. It's one of those once in a lifetime type things.
You can follow Jake via his Twitter account, @EllenbergerMMA