One of the biggest battles a fighter faces throughout their career is to stay in the lane of constant progression. While various setbacks are inevitable, the ability to remain focused on the process and push through adversity can make all the difference.
Jake Ellenberger has been scrapping his way through the most talent-rich division under the UFC banner for the past four years and knows firsthand what it takes to stay on task.
Since making his debut in 2009, "The Juggernaut" has amassed one of the most impressive resumes of any fighter currently competing at 170 pounds. While the 28-year-old Omaha native was edged out in a razor-thin decision by Carlos Condit in his first go inside the Octagon, Ellenberger bounced back with fire.
The Reign Training Facility staple has collected victories in eight of his last nine showings, including a current streak where he's notched back-to-back wins over proven veterans.
His most recent outing resulted in a brutal knockout over former Strikeforce champion and middleweight contender Nate Marquardt at UFC 158 in March. The victory over Marquardt in Montreal solidified Ellenberger's position in the welterweight division's upper tier and kept him ahead of the pack in a heated title race.
While the win created talk of contention, Ellenberger refuses to get caught up in the possibilities of what may come. Instead, the former Marine has locked his focus on the next challenge in his path, and that will come when he steps in to face surging young talent Rory MacDonald at UFC on Fox 8.
The surging contender will look to keep his momentum rolling against the Tri-Star product and continue to display the one thing he believes is the most difficult to achieve in MMA—consistency.
"This is the hardest sport in the world to remain consistent at," Ellenberger told Bleacher Report. "You have a bad night, or you don't find your rhythm, anything can happen, and there is a chance you lose or don't do well. It's not like football or a lot of other sports where you can go home after practice, sit on your couch, eat whatever you want, forget about it and try again tomorrow. Mixed martial arts is a lifestyle.
"You have to live that lifestyle in order to keep on top of your game. Well, you don't have to, but you won't do well. Consistency won't happen if you don't have the discipline to live that lifestyle. It's not the most fun lifestyle—that's for sure—but if you are going to be consistent and stay at the top of the game, then it's something you have to do.
"My work ethic has played a large role in the consistency factor," he added. "Also, my support system and team have been huge. There are a lot of different variables, but your work ethic is going to dictate how consistent you are. I've been continuing to build my mind. I've been more focused on myself than any specific fight. I'm sharpening the blade, so to speak. The focus has remained the same."
For Ellenberger, success inside the cage has come from his ability to build from a strong wrestling foundation into one of the division's heaviest hitters. Five of his eight victories in the Octagon have come as the result of his devastating power, two of which earned the California transplant "Knockout of the Night" honors.
Those results are the fruits of nearly a decade spent refining his craft as a mixed martial artist. While it is easy to stick with what works, Ellenberger refuses to be stagnant. Whether he's tweaking the process of his weight cut or implementing new tools into his skill set, Ellenberger is consistently pushing himself to reach the next level.
"Adjusting is definitely part of the process," Ellenberger said. "You make mistakes and you learn from them—at least most people do. I know when I feel my best and what I have to do to make that happen. But it is definitely a trial-and-error process and a constant battle.
"It's been a pretty smooth transition to keep moving forward with the momentum, but that is something you have to continuously acknowledge. You have to keep adapting and continuing to re-invent yourself. I've been fighting now for almost nine years and you have to consciously be able to keep evolving your skills and mindset. As soon as you stop doing these things, you start making mistakes and start moving in a direction you don't want to go."
The bout with MacDonald will fill the co-main event slot for the UFC's eighth showing on the Fox network. In addition to holding the biggest names on the card, the fight between two of the sport's top welterweights will come at a crucial time for the 170-pound division.
The action has never been hotter in the welterweight ranks. In addition to this fight having an impact on the future title picture, it has also turned into a heated grudge match, with both fighters exchanging barbs via Twitter.
"This is a huge, pivotal fight for the welterweight division," Ellenberger said. "It can set the tone for the division going into the end of the year. It's a huge fight and there is no bigger place than on Fox. Then you factor in that I don't like him, and that should make it fun to watch. I just don't like him and it's something I'm definitely looking forward to.
"I love how much the media has pushed him, and that makes it better for me. They like to embellish this young kid. Rather than base things on his accomplishments, it's more about his potential. I really don't know why, to be honest with you. Rory is as fake as the food he is named after...there is a restaurant in Lincoln, Nebraska named Rory's.
"This is how this fight is going to go," Ellenberger offered in conclusion. "Buffer screams. Rory runs. Jake swings. Rory sleeps. Crowd screams."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.