There has been plenty of chaos for Jake Ellenberger heading into UFC 158.
After Rory MacDonald's injury led to "The Juggernaut's" original opponent Johny Hendricks jumping into the co-main event to face Carlos Condit, the 27-year-old Omaha, Neb. native was forced to deal with a bout change in his final weeks of preparation.
In the aftermath of the shake-up, Ellenberger was vocal about his feelings on the matter. Nevertheless, once the UFC tapped former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt to fill the void opposite the Team Reign staple, the time for talk was over, and Ellenberger locked his focus on a new challenge ahead.
While the opponent standing across from him may be different, the fight at UFC 158 still carries a tremendous amount of importance for Ellenberger. The welterweight division is easily one of the most competitive under the UFC banner. While every fight is crucial in the greater sense, Ellenberger is looking to use his bout against Marquardt to put the divisional upper-tier on notice.
"I'm just staying focuse," Ellenberger told Bleacher Report. "The opponent change hasn't really bothered me in the sense that I just have to take care of business. That's the number one priority. Nate has a different style but I'm staying focused on what I have to accomplish. It's been a good, tough 10 weeks of camp and I'm excited to get in there.
"Competing on the biggest card of the year so far, and in Canada, is a great opportunity. I like that Marquardt comes to fight and he definitely is well rounded. But I'm focused on what I have to do and what I know I can do. I'm definitely excited to.
"Every fight is extremely important," he added. "I have never really thought of one fight or one opponent more important than any other. But I'm really looking forward to making a statement and putting a stamp on the ending of this fight. I'm going to put a stamp on Marquardt's forehead, that's for sure."
Over the past two years, Ellenberger has scrapped his way into the welterweight title picture, winning six of his seven outings during that stretch. The only setback on this run came against fellow contender Martin Kampmann last June at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale in Las Vegas.
Ellenberger would bounce back into the win column in his next showing against Jay Hieron at UFC on FX 5 in October, and the victory over the Xtreme Couture product, put Ellenberger's name back into the title conversation.
That being said, the role of a contender is a blurred picture these days, and the situation can present additional pressures. Rather than focus on what could potentially develop, Ellenberger chooses to put his attention on personal growth, and the decision has helped to eliminate the effects of things beyond his control:
"I don't know if there will be any more pressure than usual," Ellenberger said. "Everyone deals with fear and pressure a little differently. This is the toughest sport in the world. There is no sport that has a higher risk and a higher reward than mixed martial arts. In my mind, MMA is one of the hardest working sports.
"Consistency is an extremely hard thing to do in this sport. It is so much more unpredictable than say a wrestling match where there are only certain ways people way people can win. In a fight there are a lot more variables in MMA. Consistency is a difficult thing to produce and that has been one of my major focuses.
"I'm a very open minded person and I always try to find ways to stay innovative and be unpredictable. Everyone is extremely tough at this level and extremely skilled. You have to find parts about yourself that you can improve on. I've learned a lot about myself over this last year and really discovered ways that allow myself to grow."
In a sport where it is easy to get lost in the hype of what could be, Ellenberger is willing to take his journey one step at a time. He understands the journey through mixed martial arts is a learning process. If the ability to grow and expand your abilities ceases, the exit door comes that much closer.
It is a set of consequences not lost on the heavy-handed welterweight fully, and the reason he's willing to make the sacrifices required to keep chasing down his ultimate goal of becoming a UFC champion:
"I am definitely seeing the best version of myself these days," Ellenberger said. "I don't like to think about the title or when that is going to happen. I put all the focus on my growth. I'm definitely seeing improvements everyday and my coaches and trainers are seeing them more than I do. It's a small part of things but it is definitely motivation for me to move forward. I don't really pay a lot of attention or when that will come. If you keep winning and making statements along the way, it is going to happen.
"It's funny because a lot of people feel they deserve this or that, but you don't really deserve anything. You have to work hard and earn it. In the same sense, you can't ever feel sorry for yourself. Nobody else does, and you can't get stuck feeling sorry for yourself that things didn't work out the way you wanted them to. For some people, that is a hard pill to swallow. I understand what it takes and I have no problem putting in the hard work to get there."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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