Jake Ellenberger understands the power of the retweet. And in the run-up to his UFC on Fox 8 tilt with phenom Rory MacDonald, Ellenberger knows exactly what he's doing.
In the UFC's welterweight title picture, MacDonald has fame on his side. If that pendulum is to swing Ellenberger's way, it will of course need to happen in the cage. But you can get the momentum going beforehand.
Over the past few weeks, the 28-year-old Ellenberger has taken a series of Sonnen-esque personal swipes at the 23-year-old MacDonald (14-1) on Twitter:
St. Pierre: I stole your truck. I have the pics of you & Rory. Let's talk— Jake Ellenberger (@EllenbergerMMA) June 8, 2013
McDummy Bad News: Fighting Me Good News: Handicapped Parking— Jake Ellenberger (@EllenbergerMMA) June 15, 2013
MacDonald has responded with his characteristic awkward humorlessness, attempting to respond in kind, but only succeeding in making Ellenberger's japes all the wittier by comparison:
@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— Rory MacDonald (@rory_macdonald) June 17, 2013
But it's more than just tweets. In a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Ellenberger extolled at length his personal problems with his next opponent:
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...Rather than base things on his accomplishments, it's more about his potential...This is how this fight is going to go. Buffer screams. Rory runs. Jake swings. Rory sleeps. Crowd screams.
Despite this explicit detailing of his dislike, Ellenberger will probably claim after the fact that he was simply gaming the system to build interest in the fight. That's fine. It's up to each listener whether to believe that standard line or not.
Either way, hype is an important skill, especially in a post-Sonnen world, where a good-but-not-great middleweight can talk his way upward into two title fights with Anderson Silva and one with light heavyweight champ Jon Jones (not to mention a coaching gig on The Ultimate Fighter and an open chair behind just about any broadcasting desk).
Ellenberger also has a point—to a point—about the media trading on MacDonald's potential. But MacDonald has done some things: In his last four fights, he has plowed through Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle, Che Mills and B.J. Penn. His only professional loss came to Carlos Condit, a fight in which MacDonald was probably winning until Condit pulled a late stoppage out of his hat.
You might also remember MacDonald's pre-fight Twitter feud with Penn, which culminated in MacDonald toying with and embarrassing the diminished ex-champ in an easy decision win.
Now, Ellenberger, here in 2013, is better than Penn. A winner in eight of his last nine, Ellenberger is a wrestler who learned he could knock dudes out with his hands.
But MacDonald is cut from a newer mold, a purebred mixed martial artist raised on every discipline simultaneously. He can take the fight just about anywhere he likes and succeed there. And not only can he succeed, he can humiliate you.
Now that he's letting his mouth go, Ellenberger is proving a capable promoter. But with his personal attacks, he runs the risk of making a sympathetic figure out of a pretty hard-to-humanize fightbot in MacDonald.
Even more risky, however, is waking a sleeping giant and getting an emasculating butt-whipping on national television. Ellenberger seems confident he can handle whatever MacDonald can dish out.
But MacDonald has shown he makes a far tougher grudge match inside the cage than out.