Amidst the never-ending news cycle, discussions of the previous week’s fight card and preparation for the next event, there are times when the announcement of an elite match-up can fall through the cracks and slip into the ether without getting the attention it deserves.
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Such was the case when the UFC announced that welterweight contenders Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger would lock horns in the co-main event of this summer’s UFC on FOX 8 fight card at the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.
Slipped into the news stream between the UFC’s 2013 trip to Sweden and one of the most anticipated Ultimate Fighter Finales in recent memory, the hectic pace of an action-packed April caused reports of the bout pitting the #3- and #4-ranked fighters in the 170-pound weight class against each other to come and go without much fanfare.
On Monday, Ellenberger ignited interest in the contest when a simply question posed on Twitter turned into a back-and-forth in 140 characters or less between the two fierce competitors.
@EllenbergerMMA 4some1 with such a week jaw u sure use it alot 2 talk shit when ur done buildin ur self up ill b there 2send u back 2reality
“I was surprised he responded to me,” Ellenberger admitted with a laugh, speaking with FoxSports.com on Thursday afternoon while in Seattle to promote next month’s event. The two continued bantering over social media, with fans and friends entering the conversation on both sides, “pouring gas on the fire” as Ellenberger’s twin brother Joe said at one point during the discussion.
For Ellenberger, the initial question was nothing more than a way to engage his fans, and express the confidence he feels heading into the fight. Confidence built over 35 professional fights, the last 10 of which have come inside the UFC Octagon.
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The 28-year-old has posted an 8-1 mark since losing a razor-thin split decision to Carlos Condit in his organizational debut. He’s posted wins over Mike Pyle, Jake Shields, Diego Sanchez, and most recently needed just three minutes to dispatch of Nate Marquardt at UFC 158 in March.
Despite his impressive credentials, Ellenberger often seems like the odd man out in discussions of potential welterweight title challengers. While MacDonald has been heralded as the future of the division and currently sits one spot ahead of him in the rankings, Ellenberger is in dogged pursuit of the goal that brought him to the sport in the first place, and plans on using his upcoming fight with “The Next Georges St-Pierre” to bring him one step closer to reaching it.
“I’m in this sport for the same reason since I started this, and that’s to become a world champion,” explained the 29-6 Ellenberger. ”That’s my only goal in the sport. I can move on after that.
“(Rory’s) got a very big cornerstone in his camp as far as training with (Georges St-Pierre), and having a guy like (GSP) put his stamp on a guy like Rory has been nothing but positive for him. The way people perceive Rory, the way media portrays him — those are all good things for me.”
As far as Ellenberger is concerned, the hype surrounding MacDonald exceeds what he’s done in the cage to date, a sentiment he shared earlier this week in a video interview where he suggested the emerging Canadian contender “has been invented by the media.”
“I don’t mean that in any disrespectful way; I just tell it how it is,” said Ellenberger of his earlier comments about his upcoming opponent. “I readily acknowledge that Rory is a talented guy, but we haven’t seen him face top-level competition.
“It’s not frustration; that doesn’t matter to me,” he said of his comments about MacDonald’s rapid climb up the divisional ladder. “I don’t take things personal. I’m not going to sit here and pout. Rankings really mean nothing; you know that as well as I do. I appreciate the hard road I’ve been on a little more by not getting…”
He pauses before finishing his sentence, but it’s seems clear where he’s going.
In three-and-a-half years that he’s been a part of the UFC welterweight division, Ellenberger has seen prospects come and go, contenders rise and fall, all while he’s remained a consistent force in the 170-pound ranks.
Though he’s rarely received as much attention as some of his contemporaries, that perseverance and ability to maintain his place on the fringes of contention over an extended period of time has given the Omaha, Nebraska native an appreciation for what he’s managed to do to date.
“Coming up on four years in this organization, I’m really thankful for everything I’ve got,” said Ellenberger, who now fights out of Lake Forest, California, and splits his time between the Reign Training Center and Kings MMA.
“It’s hard to be consistent in this sport – you have one bad night, you lose your fight, you could lose your job – so for me, just getting that perspective has been huge. You tend to value the things you have and the opportunities you get a lot more.”
Ultimately, the straightforward fighter know as “The Juggernaut” knows that no amount of talk, perspective, or recognition from the fans and media are going to help him reach his goal of becoming a world champion.
Only one thing can do that, and after he squares off with MacDonald next month in Seattle, Ellenberger expects to be one step closer to where he wants to be.
“At the end of the day, anybody can have an opinion on who’s the best and who can beat who, so the hype has never affected me. I see the big picture, and that’s winning the title. It’s not “I deserve this” or “I should get more recognition.” At the end of the day, it comes down to winning fights.
“There are so many intangibles and variables that everybody has to deal with. It’s the hardest sport in the world to be consistent at, and I think after July 27th, I’ll be in that talk of fighting for the title a lot more.”