Jake Ellenberger Looking to Rise to the Top of Welterweight Division in 2013

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IDecember 2, 2012

Feb 15, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Jake Ellenberger (top) fights with Diego Sanchez in the Main Event during UFC on Fuel TV 1 at Omaha Civic Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Ryerson-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Ryerson-USA TODAY Sports

The best word to describe the current UFC welterweight divisional picture is chaotic.

When reigning king Georges St-Pierre made his return from an extended layoff to unify the welterweight titles at UFC 154, the uncertainty which lingered in his absence was supposed to fade. The road to title contention that became blurred with interim titles and fighters waiting for specific opportunities would return to its traditional grind, and the ladder to the top of the weight class would reestablished.

This of course was before the storm of a potential super-fight moved overhead, sending current contenders scrambling for position. The situation has extended the uncertainty that hovered over the weight class for the past year and a half and once again muddied the waters of the competitive welterweight division.

The road to the top may be obstructed, but it is all part of the climb for Jake Ellenberger. The Omaha native's ultimate goal is to become a UFC champion, and "The Juggernaut" has every intention of making 2013 the most successful of his career.

"Things in this division are crazy and constantly changing," Ellenberger told Bleacher Report. "Just when you think you have an idea what is going on, it gets stirred up all over again, and you have no idea. It's definitely interesting.

"You have to keep adapting to what is going on. I never really know what is going to happen. You win six fights in a row and you think you are up there. Hopefully you are one fight away and then all of a sudden four other guys are in the same spot."

While the matchup between St-Pierre and Silva is nothing more than a talking point at this time, it has created a tense position at the top of the division. Former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion Johny Hendricks earned the No. 1-contender position by knocking out Martin Kampmann, and "Bigg Rigg" is taking a hard stance on the title shot he believes he has earned.

In addition to Hendricks, former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz and his camp have also made their play to get the next opportunity to face St-Pierre. The chaos has been the source of steady debate in the MMA world. While Ellenberger understands the business angles of the situation, he believes traveling down that road has the potential to put the integrity of a world title in jeopardy.

"This an industry and a big part of the promotional side is putting together fights people want to see and making money," Ellenberger said. "That is where the politics and business aspects come in but it is what it is.

"It goes back to the whole entertainment factor. It's funny because everyone always tries to put this kind of structure in rankings and it's hard to do. There should always be a Top 10 but when people try to look at who lost to who or someone who beat a guy this guy lost to, it just gets confusing. Fights are so unpredictable and anything can happen. Things that should happen don't always come to be.

"Look at Nick Diaz for example. A lot of people would love to see Diaz and St-Pierre fight. That is a ticket-seller and a high-profile fight the UFC can sell. Does he deserve the fight? I don't think so. He lost to Condit and getting the title shot wouldn't make sense. But look at Chael Sonnen fighting Jon Jones. It is one of those things were sometimes you have to be outspoken and tell them exactly what you want.

"When you give a fighter a title shot coming off a loss, it makes people question the credibility of not only the division, but the organization as well. Unfortunately these are things fighters don't have a lot of control over."

"If this GSP and Anderson Silva fight does happen, and it certainly could, it will put our division on hold again. If Johny wants to wait to fight GSP then he's going to be waiting until next year. If not, I would definitely like to be that guy, but we'll see.

"I will fight anyone that will get me closer to a title shot. I say that because there are guys in this division who are extremely tough but are never going to be up there again fighting for the title. Josh Koscheck is a good fighter but do I ever think he'll fight for the title again? No way. I don't think so at all. He's solid but I don't think he'll ever make it back up the ladder.

"I would love to fight Hendricks," Ellenberger added. "I think styles make fights and his style I do really well against. I perform well against wrestlers who have good striking. Hendricks has earned it, there is no question in my mind at all, but that is one I would definitely love to have. He is in the place where I want to be and it's a fight I would be excited to take."

While Ellenberger waits for the divisional picture to take form, he will continue to focus on improving his skill set. The 27-year-old is looking to build off the progress made in his last bout against veteran Jay Hieron, and approaching the fight from a different perspective has Ellenberger's education in high gear.

"It's about growing and constantly gaining a new perspective," Ellenberger said. "It is something you have to do. Even as unsettling as the Kampmann fight was, it is a situation I learned from. The more mature I become as a fighter the more respect I have for the process. You find yourself in a situation where you don't need to take as many gambles.

"The Hieron fight specifically was a dangerous one. I've known Jay for a long time and he's a dangerous opponent. In that fight I had a lot to lose and not a lot to gain. I really had to pull myself back, study the situation and be a little more conscious of his threats. You don't get long in this sport and there isn't a large window to get a title.

"Staying disciplined in a fight is the hardest thing to do -- especially when things get fast-paced. It is easy to fight with emotion and it's harder to stay disciplined when it matters the most.

"Even in my last fight with Hieron, I had to stay tight and keep my defense up. I really had to pick and choose when I went for it and find the best opportunities. I've trained with Jay and knew him really well. It all came down to fighting smart. I had to take a step back and assess what risks I was taking and if they were necessary. I'm in this sport for one reason: to win that title."

This past June, Ellenberger was a fight away from getting his long-awaited title shot. He was coming off an impressive victory over the always-scrappy Diego Sanchez and was within striking distance of reaching his goal. Unfortunately for the former Marine, a setback against Kampmann halted his momentum, but Ellenberger is going to put everything on the line to reach the top of the mountain.

"I'm rebuilding and pushing to get back into contention," Ellenberger said. "I'm doing the things I need to do to get better. There are so many talented guys in that Top 10 welterweight mix; I honestly don't care who I fight. Whoever can help me make the biggest gains and get me closest to the title shot is who I want to face. All I'm trying to do is move forward.

"For me, I have to find that middle balance. In the Kampmann fight I got a little reckless, and in my last fight I was more conservative than any other fight I've ever been in. I'm trying to find the middle ground where I can stay aggressive but be more conscious and aware of my strategy. Especially at this level where the talent level is so high. When you are facing highly skilled opponents, the more disciplined you have to stay.

"It sounds like late February is when I'll be back in there. I don't have an opponent yet, but it looks like February right now. I would like to think I'm close to a title shot. Maybe two fights away, but things are always changing in that aspect.

"Diaz retires and doesn't want to fight anymore. Then he's coming back and is pushing for a title fight. The scene is constantly changing. Jon Fitch is back up there and the Rory MacDonald vs. B.J. Penn fight is coming up. It definitely keeps it exciting and you never know what is going to happen. I would definitely like to think two wins would get me to the title.

"I have a new boxing coach and a new outlook and perspective. I'm really focused on a lot of the things I haven't been disciplined with in the past and I'm really looking forward to next year. I have nothing to lose and I'm looking to go out there and give it my all."