Jake Ellenberger is pumped up and excited to get back to work.
The stylistic matchup between the welterweight staples will feature two of the division's heaviest hitters as they step in to determine who will take a step forward in the title hunt and who will be reshuffled back into the competitive deck at 170 pounds.
An Omaha native, Ellenberger came to the UFC in 2009 on a mission to get his hands on championship gold and has spent the past five years battling his way up the ladder in what is arguably the most talent-rich division in the organization.
"The Juggernaut" has found success in eight of his 11 showings under the UFC banner and solidified himself as a major player in the welterweight fold in the process.
However, mixed martial arts is a sport in which momentum can be stopped cold, and Ellenberger is no stranger to dealing with pitfalls.
He had a six-fight winning streak snapped by Martin Kampmann back in 2012 in a bout that had the potential to catapult him to the front of the line in the welterweight title hunt.
Ellenberger would rebound in proper fashion, as he collected back-to-back victories over Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt, respectively, before suffering a unanimous-decision loss to Rory MacDonald at UFC on Fox 8 last July.
Nevertheless, the Rafael Cordeiro-trained fighter is determined to turn his title dreams into reality and his upcoming bout with Lawler could very well yield a championship opportunity.
"Ruthless" is coming off a bout against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 back in March that put his stock at an all-time high due to the gritty, nonstop attack he launched at "Bigg Rigg."
While Lawler came out on the losing end of the split decision on the judges' scorecards, his high-powered performance put him in a position where he could potentially be one win away from another title shot.
With Ellenberger having won two of his last three outings and the avenue to the next title shot at 170 wide-open, the showdown between two of the welterweight division's heaviest hitters could be the tilt that produces the next No. 1 contender.
That is what Ellenberger has in his mind heading into the tilt with Lawler, and it has him fired up for their throwdown in Las Vegas.
"I’ve had zero problems with my motivation to fight Robbie Lawler," Ellenberger told Bleacher Report. "When people are saying this could be the No. 1 contender fight and a win will get me a title shot, you don’t need much more motivation than that. When those things are at stake, the path couldn’t be more clear and the work—every hard session in the gym and every moment of preparation—is all going toward that one ultimate goal. It would be impossible not to get motivated for a fight like this.
“It’s kind of funny because Robbie and I were both managed by Monte Cox for many years. We’ve known one another since 2004. We’ve trained together before—granted, it was a long time ago—but we are familiar with one another. He’s a very tough guy and has been on top for awhile. I definitely did not hesitate when the UFC offered me the fight and I know Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] were extremely excited to put it together. Everyone always says how good certain fights look on paper, but I don’t see how this fight can’t be exciting for the fans."
There are other high-profile matchups on the card at UFC 173, but the bout between Ellenberger and Lawler is one fight fans have been locked on since it was announced back in April.
Both men have proven ability to separate an opponent from their consciousness and have done so on multiple occasions with a single strike. When fighters who specialize in putting the opposition away step into the cage to handle business, it is a near-guarantee for excitement—and this fight certainly registers in that category.
While Ellenberger is fully aware of the dangers Lawler will present inside the Octagon, he believes he's ready for anything that may come his way.
The Marine turned mixed martial artist has done everything in his power to prepare for his scrap with the savvy veteran and has every intention of seizing the moment when the cage door closes this Saturday night.
“I’m confident in my skills," Ellenberger said. "Robbie is a dangerous guy, but he knows I’m dangerous as well. If I land a clean punch, his night is over. It works both ways. We’ve been working on a few specific things for this fight I’m very excited about and we’ve been at them every single night in sparring. It’s going to be interesting to see how he addresses those things and how he chooses to engage with me.
“I’ve always looked at myself and thought I was one fight away from the best fight of my life," he added. "You look at a guy like Robbie who just fought for the title and I’m sure he’s getting paid well. Why wouldn’t he want to fight again? He’s going to rely on his power because he always has and look to continue using the weapons he’s had success with in the past. But I know he’s not working as hard as I am. I know he’s not doing the little things that I’ve been doing.
"It really comes down to who wants it more. I have a sign posted on my mirror that says ‘Who wants it more?’ and I see it every morning while I’m brushing my teeth. I start my day looking at that question and it is honestly the only question. Who wants it more? I know I want it more than him and it is going to show on Saturday night."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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