When you follow the Fight Game long enough, you start to hear a lot of the same words come out of a lot of fighters mouths. Phrases like “I’m in the best shape of my life”, or “I’m finally prepared mentally”, or “this time around, you’re gonna see a whole new [insert fighter name here]” are about as clichéd a soundbite as you can get in MMA today. It is so, so rare to see any of these phrases translate to actual, noticeable changes in the cage, win or lose. Tyron Woodley spouted a good deal of those before stepping in to the cage last night, but he still looked like the same old Tyron Woodley, still throwing at a clip of about a strike a minute, still refusing to use his kicks, still so in love with his right hand he makes Roy Nelson look diverse on the feet. Yes he won, but we didn’t really see anything new (except a resurgence of his positional awareness, which we talked about being maybe the most important step in his path to victory in a previous article).
Jake Ellenberger is another welterweight who fought last night. He also came in telling us we were going to see a whole new Juggernaut this time around, that he was in the best shape of his life, and that he was now mentally ready to “just go have fun out there”. Whats more, Ellenberger picked up a big win over a top 10 welterweight in Matt Brown, and what’s more, he finished ‘The Immortal One’. In snapping a 2 fight losing streak in a 1-5 skid, Ellenberger genuinely showed us that sometimes the talk isn’t just talk. Ellenberger something new in the cage last night, a new wrinkle to his game that has always been missing but which you can now imagine he will take great measures to incorporate in to all his future fights: after dropping Brown with the same jab-jab-overhand right he caught Stephen Thompson with, he finished the notoriously durable Brown with a liver kick.
Ellenberger has always been a tremendous wrestler and a thunderous puncher, but what we very rarely saw from him until this fight was kicks, a normal issue with the wrestler/boxer archetype that seems to congregate around 170 (Woodley, Hendricks, Ellenberger, Koscheck, Pierce…and that’s just at welterweight!).
Ellenberger has recently taken up training at Kings MMA with head coach Rafael Cordeiro, and former champs Rafael dos Anjos and Fabricio Werdum, both of whom favour a southpaw kick to the body. Because this opens the rear leg up to the opponents liver, this kick actually packs more potential damage than a right roundhouse to the body. Even though he fights orthodox, Ellenberger did a fantastic job of circling out against the cage, switching stances, and kicking as Brown circled in to him. This is a great way to generate power by getting your opponent to add their momentum to your strikes and cutting down on the distance the kick needs needed to travel, as your opponent is moving towards you instead of away. Brown has always been susceptible to being hurt by body strikes, so it was good game-planning on behalf of Ellenberger’s coaching staff, but it took Ellenberger himself to make it work.
What’s next for the Juggernaut?
It’s a great win for Ellenberger and one where he displayed the all to rare occurrence in MMA of a fighter who actually adds to their fighting style over time, but where exactly does that put him? He’s still 2-5 in his last 7, and his losses have all come against the top guys, but he just finished the number 9 guy in the world, so I think a step down would be unfair.
I would like to see him fight either Kelvin Gastelum or the winner of Neil Magney and Lorenz Larkin next, although if they booked him against Johnny Hendricks in a battle of two guys who can’t catch a break, I wouldn’t complain!
Woodley obviously deserves his recognition for what he did last night, but I’ve always loved an underdog story, and that is what this was. This fight was the story of a fighter who was down on his luck, hit a rough patch, was briefly cut from the UFC after his last loss, and was generally seen as a guy who was on the down turn of his career. He then went back to the drawing board and comes up with a new trick to battle back from the brink with and pull of a fantastic finish, and in my opinion that is deserving of its moment in the spotlight. Unfortunately what with all the ruckus over Woodley/Thompson and the potential returns of Nick Diaz and GSP, I don’t see him getting it.