Jake Ellenberger struggled a long way to get to the top of the welterweight division, but things finally started coming together for the aggressive finisher last year.
During 2011, Ellenberger passed a stiff test against Carlos Eduardo Rocha, picked apart Sean Pierson, then shocked the world by completely obliterating Jake Shields, a pound-for-pound standout just coming off a competitive loss against UFC champion Georges St. Pierre.
But much has changed in the time that Canada's favorite son has been sidelined, and Ellenberger is once again looking at the long road back to the title hunt.
So what will it take to get "The Juggernaut" back to the top?
Actually, not much.
If Ellenberger plays his cards right, he'll be back in title contention before the year is out.
One of the good things about GSP's absence is that it's given the welterweight title picture time to get interesting again. In the final stretch of 2011, the only people at the top of the mix were Jon Fitch, recently-imported Strikeforce star Nick Diaz, and Jake Ellenberger.
Now, recent defeats for all three men have pushed fighters like Johny Hendricks, Martin Kampmann, and Rory MacDonald to the top of the heap.
Even better, all three of them are fresh challengers that Ellenberger can target in order to vault back to the front of the line.
Just like Kampmann put all of Ellenberger's win "in his back pocket" at The Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale, Ellenberger can do the same with any of those three men.
(Although the prospect of a Nick Diaz vs. Jake Ellenberger fight could be just as enticing.)
Moreover, recent matchmaking will give Ellenberger a lot of options for title contention if he beats Jay Hieron on Friday night. There's even a chance for some interesting rematches again Kampmann or Rick Story, provided both men win their next matches.
Yes, Jake Ellenberger can get back in the mix at 170 pounds, and he can do it very easily.
No matter what, all he really needs to do is put Jay Hieron away with authority and that trademark vicious tenacity. Then, people will remember why the Reign Training Center star was so feared in the welterweight division.
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