LAS VEGAS – Jake Ellenberger sounds eager to change the subject, and who can blame him?
Ellenberger talked loads of smack prior to his bout last July against Rory MacDonald. And then he went out and did absolutely nothing in arguably the worst main card fight of the year.
Ellenberger fights Robbie Lawler on Saturday on the main card of UFC 173 at the MGM Grand Garden and he wanted to talk about anything other than his performance against MacDonald.
"The performance didn't live up to expectations, but I'm ready to look forward, not back," Ellenberger said.
Better not to remind the boss of that dreadful fight.
Unfortunately for Ellenberger, UFC president Dana White remembers it all too well.
"Oh my God, was that horrendous," White said 10 months later.
Fortunately for Ellenberger, White isn't holding it against him. Ellenberger has been one of the UFC's most exciting fighters during his years with the promotion, and he went into the MacDonald fight on fire.
He'd won eight of his previous nine and had Knockout of the Night wins over Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt, and a Fight of the Night win over Diego Sanchez among them.
And then there was the MacDonald fight, in which both men did painfully little and fought passively and dispassionately.
Ellenberger said MacDonald took him out of his game plan.
"At the end of the day, offense wins fights," Ellenberger said. "Offense and being aggressive. Looking back, I wish it's something I'd done earlier in the fight. But at the same time, it wasn't always just me not doing things right. He did some things right and he did a lot of things which made for a frustrating night for me."
White said the only time he thinks of MacDonald-Ellenberger is when someone mentions it to him.
He said he's looking forward to Ellenberger's fight with Lawler, which will have a significant impact upon the future of the welterweight division, and said the bout pits two men with heavy hands and an offensive style.
"It's not like I was ever unhappy with Jake Ellenberger the fighter," White said. "I didn't like that one particular fight. Ellenberger is a bad dude. He's got great wrestling and great hands. Rory has had a lot of fights like that. Ellenberger doesn't. He has no history of that kind of a fight.
"What Ellenberger should have done is what Lawler did when he fought Rory, because they have the same style: Push, push and try to knock him out. But I've never been disappointed in Ellenberger except for the Rory fight. He's been the kind of guy people want to see his whole time in the UFC, and I think he'll fight that way against Lawler."
Ellenberger is finishing his fifth year in the UFC and has compiled a record of 8-3 while meeting some of the toughest 170-pounders in the world.
But he's convinced he's got a lot more to give than he's shown. He recently signed an eight-fight contract extension and is eager to prove his value.
Lawler is coming off a loss in a welterweight title fight to Johny Hendricks and his stock is at an all-time high. A win over Lawler would be massive for Ellenberger.
He gets it, and knows what he needs to do to win. The key battle is going to be the psychological game and making sure he stays within himself.
"This is the kind of fight that I think can bring the best out of me," Ellenberger said. "This is a huge opportunity for me to fight a guy like Robbie. And the good thing about it is, I know the best is yet to come. I don't think I've gotten to show my full potential yet.
"I've grown a lot and I believe I've sharpened my skills and now is the time to show it. These kinds of opportunities don't come along that often."
White is the consummate salesman and he's always pitching something. But listen to him talk about Ellenberger's fighting style and he comes off almost as a giddy fan boy.
He's long raved about Lawler's style, and now he's beating the drums similarly about Ellenberger.
"As a fight fan – and I'm a fight fan before anything else – it's cool as hell and so exciting to see some of these fights," White said. "You hear the weirdoes on Twitter and on the Internet complain and [expletive] and moan about every stupid [expletive] thing you can imagine, but it's fights like this that make it worthwhile.
"You're going to have two guys who are among the best in the world going in there, trying to knock each others' heads off. As a fight fan, who can't get excited about that?"
It's almost as if he's forgotten about the ugly memories of that MacDonald-Ellenberger fight last year.
Ellenberger is among those hopeful of putting them forever in the rearview mirror on Saturday.
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