Before his last bout, UFC welterweight Jake Ellenberger appeared to be on the way to a title opportunity in the near future. Since that fight the division has changed tremendously and the loss he suffered to Martin Kampmann moved him back down the rankings into an already clogged weight class.
With the return of the champion Georges St-Pierre, contenders are trying to line up behind interim champion Carlos Condit. Next month Kampmann will take on Johny Hendricks to earn the next number one contender slot. If Ellenberger was able to defeat Kampmann back in June that is a slot he would be entered into. Now as he looks to make his way back up to the top there are several obstacles in his way.
On Friday at UFC on FX 5 Ellenberger will take on Jay Hieron who defeated him back in June 2006. The recent loss by Ellenberger put him behind the two contenders fighting for the next title shot and perhaps Nick Diaz as well.
Diaz is the wildcard in the division. He is still serving a suspension for a failed drug test but due to his marketability he may come back into the division right at the top. If he doesn’t receive an instant title shot he will likely face someone to earn the number one contender spot.
If Ellenberger wins Friday night he could be the first opponent for Diaz once he is able to return. If not, then Ellenberger needs another opponent to try and make his way to the top. It is possible he will receive the loser of the Kampamnn-Hendricks fight or someone like Josh Koscheck.
Before his recent loss, Ellenberger was on a six fight win streak. While his last fight was his first loss in two years it shouldn’t knock him too far down the division. His problem is that there are simply too many people who are vying for a title opportunity.
One loss in the welterweight division can damage your chances to face the champion for quite a while. With Condit, Kampmann, Hendricks, Koscheck, Diaz & bright prospect Rory MacDonald all positioning themselves, Ellenberger can not afford another defeat. A win over Hieron will not as impactful as it would have been over Kampmann but yet it is vital to his resurgence. A loss to a fighter not ranked in the top 10 would irrevocably harm his stature.
The return of St-Pierre is a positive shift for the division. The dominant champion is back to take on a new lineup of contenders & will undoubtedly bring the division back to pay-per-view main event status. It also knocked everyone back down a peg & creates another step they have to crawl up. Add a recent loss to the equation and Ellenberger has a lot more work to do. Fighters can not look too far ahead. Their focus has to be on the fight in front of them before they can climb to the next level.
Ellenberger’s first step is a victory over Hieron. Once that is concluded he will have to wait for the rest of the division to shake itself out in 2012. Regardless of who he faces next, Ellenberger’s wrestling and striking poses a threat to every contender in the division.
Navigating yourself through the rankings will take flawless performances & consecutive wins. Ellenberger was on that path ran into a speed bump. Friday night he begins his task to get back on track and line up a fight with another top contender and earn himself a championship bout. The road will not be easy as his fellow 170 lb. fighters are trying to do the same. Ellenberger may not have to find his place in the division but force his will on it if he wants to be the champion.
Written by Mike McPhee
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