Here’s a for instance - let’s say you show up to work as scheduled, the boss pulls you to the side and says you don’t have to work today, but here’s your check. Go enjoy yourself in the greatest city in the world, which is only 30 minutes away, come back, and then watch some fights on Saturday night.
Pretty cool, eh?
“No, not exactly,” chuckles UFC welterweight prospect Jake Ellenberger, who lived that scenario in March when his UFC 111 bout with Ben Saunders in Newark, New Jersey was scrapped on fight week when Saunders filled in for Thiago Alves against Jon Fitch. And the reaction is what you expect it to be coming from a competitor like the Omaha native.
“I was looking forward to fighting Ben Saunders mainly for the fact of it putting me in the top ten and at least putting me in the mix,” he said. “It was obviously nice getting paid, but I’m not fighting to make money; I’m fighting to become a world champ.”
Not surprisingly, Ellenberger wanted back in the Octagon as soon as possible to keep the momentum going after his UFC 108 knockout of Mike Pyle in January, but with cards already set, the first opening was on this Sunday’s UFC on Versus card in San Diego against John ‘Doomsday’ Howard.
“I was in shape, I was ready, so I was hoping to get back in there soon, in a couple a weeks, a month even, but this is the soonest they could get me in, and I’m in absolutely the best shape I’ve been in,” said Ellenberger, who hasn’t exactly been sitting around getting fat in his down time. Instead, he packed his bags and, along with a couple coaches from back home, made the trip to California early to train with members of the Reign Training Center, including Mark Munoz and King Mo Lawal.
“I felt like this would be the best place for me as far as training partners would go, and with so many high-level guys where I’m at right now, and by adding my coaches, it was the best fit, especially preparing for a guy like Howard, who’s kinda hard to prepare for,” said Ellenberger. “He’s unpredictable, but I’ve been training with Mark Munoz and King Mo, and they’re a lot better than this guy is, I know that, so it’s given me a lot of confidence.”
If there’s one buzzword for the 25-year old leading up to his showdown with Boston’s Howard, it is ‘confidence’, and Ellenberger is bursting at the seams with it as he looks to build on his 22-5 pro record.
“He’s a perfect opponent for me to get back and prove myself as being a top ten fighter in the division,” said Ellenberger. “Howard is coming off four wins in the UFC and seven in a row, so he’s a perfect guy for me to test my skills against. I’ve seen all his fights and really was not impressed, and I think he’s kinda skated by.”
“He (Howard) has got a couple split decisions and a couple knockouts, and he’s not a guy you can sleep on, but I know I’m a better fighter than he is,” he explains. “I think I’m gonna pose a lot more problems for me than he’s gonna pose for me, and he gets away with things that are not gonna work against me. I could care less about what he’s gonna do or what he thinks he’s gonna do; I’m gonna go in there and do what I trained for and beat him in every position that I can.”
But while Howard has had to dig deep to earn close wins over Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory and a come from behind knockout victory over Dennis Hallman (along with a KO over Daniel Roberts), the one common denominator in all those bouts is that he knows how to find a way to win, even if it’s in the final minute. So how does Ellenberger prepare for a guy dangerous from the opening bell to the final one?
“For me, it’s being mentally and physically prepared to fight 15 minutes,” he said. “And it’s really just staying focused. I know it’s easier said than done, but you have to stay focused mentally and not make any mistakes.”
As for Howard’s proclamations that Sunday’s bout will be the card’s Fight of the Night, Ellenberger doesn’t necessarily agree, but he does have a prediction.
“I don’t think it’s gonna be Fight of the Night,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be a quick fight, to be honest. If it is (Fight of the Night), great, but all I know is that I’m gonna leave with my hand raised.”