Two steps forward, one step back: Jake Ellenberger relearning how to fight

Slowly but surely, Jake Ellenberger is becoming a much better fighter

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There’s an old adage in mixed martial arts that says ‘you’re only as good as your last fight’.  Maybe it’s an unfair assessment, but a top contender can turn into a pretender in a hurry if haunted by a bad performance. Losses result in dozens of questions being asked about why and how it happened.

For top 10-ranked welterweight Jake Ellenberger he’s spent the last year of his life trying to explain what took him from the precipice of a title shot to back-to-back losses as he heads into his bout this weekend at UFC 180.

The easiest change to notice when examining Ellenberger’s career is his switch in training camps where he went from King’s MMA in California working with famed Brazilian, Master Rafael Cordeiro, to his new team just miles up the road where he’s now being trained by Edmond Tarverdyan, best known as Ronda Rousey’s head coach. 

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Tarverdyan over the last couple of years since Rousey came to prominence, and lately he’s attracted fighters like Ellenberger and UFC heavyweight Travis Browne to begin working with him full time. 

So what is it about this trainer that has so many big named UFC fighters just itching to work with him?

I’ve been in the fight game for 10 years now and I’ve never really worked with anybody that has the feeling and understands the concepts like he does

— Jake Ellenberger on coach Edmond Tarverdyan

"I get asked that a lot. First thing what amazes me is how many people he has to turn down, people that want to train with Edmond.  People come from around the country and around the world to train with him. He’s got to like you, he’s got to have a personal relationship with you.  He doesn’t care about the money.  He’s not a guy who is just looking to make money. It’s just a completely different understanding," Ellenberger explained when speaking to FOX Sports.

"I’ve been in the fight game for 10 years now and I’ve never really worked with anybody that has the feeling and understands the concepts like he does.  It takes a special person to be a coach. For him, the more he can understand the way you think, the better he can come up with a strategy and a game plan."

While Ellenberger started working with Tarverdyan a year ago, he had his first fight under the trainer’s tutelage this past May.  The result didn’t go his way as Ellenberger was knocked out by top ranked welterweight Robbie Lawler at UFC 173.

Ellenberger didn’t get the win but he also didn’t get discouraged.  He knew that what he was learning under his new coach would take time to adapt into his style.  He was adding new colors to the palette and just learning for the first time how to paint.

If Robbie Lawler was color by numbers then he expects his next fight against Kelvin Gastelum this weekend at UFC 180 to look a lot more like a Mona Lisa.

"I’ve been with him for about a year and as frustrating as that last fight was with (Robbie) Lawler, there were still a lot of progressive steps moving forward.  It’s one of those "two steps forward, one step back" kind of things," Ellenberger said.  "We didn’t get the result we wanted, but a lot of things were moving in the right direction. 

"The reality is when you’re developing, it takes time.  That’s the thing with Edmond, he’s showing me concepts I’ve never really seen or dealt with before."

Of course the moment he got finished by Lawler the immediate assumption was Tarverdyan’s effect on Ellenberger wasn’t as prolific as he made it out to be. Fighters changing training camps isn’t a new concept in MMA, but when the results don’t follow, coaches and the change of scenery often become the scapegoat.

There are times it’s a legitimate concern.  Other times it’s not. 

Ellenberger falls into the latter category.

"I’ve had so many conversations about that, too.  So much of our society is instant gratification.  I want to see results now," Ellenberger said.  "Everything is about convenience and time.  I would say we’ve been making a lot of progressive steps going forward.  There’s a lot of taken away in the last six or eight months. 

"For me it’s keep moving forward.  I think I’m really going to get to display that with this fight against Kelvin."

Nobody is putting more pressure on Ellenberger to win this weekend than the fighter himself, but he’s confident that work he’s done will pay off against Gastelum.  He knows the former Ultimate Fighter is looking for a signature win and adding Ellenberger’s name to his resume will do the job quite nicely.

Ellenberger just has an entirely different plan in mind.

"Everybody at this level is tough, but tough really doesn’t mean anything.  It really comes down to executing and creating a rhythm," Ellenberger said. "So I wouldn’t say anything about the level of competition (he’s faced), but am I going to expose him?  Absolutely.  He’s going to make a mistake."