Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 | 1 p.m.
Access to better coaching, more training partners and nicer weather convinced UFC welterweight Jake Ellenberger to move to Orange County, Calif., from Omaha, Neb., nine months ago.
The 1,500-mile relocation to the West resulted in few negatives for the rising contender. Other than leaving his family, the 26-year old Ellenberger could only think of one thing he missed about life in Omaha.
“The traffic,” Ellenberger said. “That’s better in Nebraska.”
Ellenberger can enjoy getting around quickly all he wants this week, as he headlines the UFC’s trip to Omaha Wednesday night.
Ellenberger (26-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC) meets Diego Sanchez (23-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) in the main event of the UFC’s inaugural fight card on FUEL TV. The 10-fight event begins at 3:20 from the Omaha Civic Auditorium with a facebook stream before switching to FUEL at 5.
“This is definitely a big opportunity to be able to compete here in front of my friends and family,” Ellenberger said. “It was kind of surprising. (UFC) has been doing a whole lot of traveling around the world, so coming back to the Midwest was cool.”
Ellenberger estimated that half of the arena would be full of people supporting him. Despite a decade-long run in professional mixed martial arts, Sanchez said he could never remember fighting in front of an opponent’s home crowd.
It’s not a challenge that intimidates Sanchez, though.
“I’m sure he feels good fighting at home, having the comfort of his house, his brother’s house or wherever he’s staying” Sanchez said. “He has the comfort of having a car to get him around. He has all the necessities to make it a little easier on him. But it doesn’t matter. I’m a hungry lion going in there to go to war.”
Ellenberger first discovered MMA when he went to a local show in Omaha to watch a friend. It piqued his interest, so he enrolled in kickboxing classes for the next couple years.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Ellenberger followed his brother Joe into the wrestling world and competed at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“A lot of people think I grew up as a wrestler, but I didn’t start wrestling until I was 21,” Ellenberger said. “I was in kickboxing before I ever wrestled, so that’s wrong. But it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Ellenberger has showed off his striking pedigree recently in the octagon. He’s on a five-fight win streak, knocking out all but one of those opponents.
Ellenberger registered the most significant victory of his career five months ago when a knee knocked out Jake Shields 53 seconds into their main event bout at UFC Fight Night 25.
“He has great knockout skills and great power,” Sanchez said. “I got into this sport to fight guys like Jake. I want to fight guys who are a challenge.”
With interim 170-pound champion Carlos Condit waiting for the return of Georges St. Pierre, the welterweight division is in a standstill. But a victory would secure Ellenberger’s place as the next fighter behind St. Pierre and Condit.
It’s no surprise to Ellenberger that he’s entering the peak of his career.
“It’s not so much the wins as it is the coaches and guys around me,” Ellenberger said. “I’ve learned so much in the last year through sparring and training.”
Ellenberger has progressed at a rate quicker than he felt was possible if he would have stayed home. He said he couldn’t be happier with the choices he’s made.
“But it’s definitely exciting to be back here,” Ellenberger said. “It’s been kind of crazy, a lot of strings being pulled every way. It’s part of the game.”