Jake Ellenberger has reeled off five straight wins since losing his UFC debut to Carlos Condit, quickly becoming one of the top contenders in the welterweight division. He possesses all of the physical tools to one day hold the belt. A collegiate wrestler, he has adapted his ground game well to MMA. His real weapon, however, has been his immense power.
Ellenberger (26-5) has 17 knockouts but has never been knocked out, and he's been submitted just once. He feels his real strength lies in his desire to one day win the world title.
"You have to want it more than anything else in your life and it's all about sacrifice," he said. "What are you willing to sacrifice to be champion? Whoever wants it more and whoever works the hardest is going to be the champion."
For now, the 26-year-old has earned himself the top spot on the ESPN Insider list of "Future Contenders" in the 170-pound class. The "Future Contenders" series focuses on fighters in every weight class who have the best chance to work their way into a UFC title shot down the road. Eligible fighters are those who:
1. Have not held a UFC belt in the weight class
2. Have not previously fought for a title in the weight class
Fighters need not currently be in the UFC to qualify, but they must be active. Also, holding a title or having fought for a title in another fight league does not disqualify a fighter from "Future Contenders."
Ellenberger has a main event matchup with Diego Sanchez, who has fought for the UFC lightweight title before and thus is not eligible for this list, at UFC on Fuel 1 on Feb. 15 in Ellenberger's hometown of Omaha, Neb. A win there would put Ellenberger squarely in the middle of the cloudy title picture in the welterweight division right now, though he insists there is no rush.
Condit and Nick Diaz are fighting for the interim belt at UFC 143 on Saturday night and a fight against longtime champion Georges St. Pierre is on the horizon for the winner. What happens in the meantime is open for discussion, but Ellenberger feels between injuries, age and his wealth of talent at 170 pounds, St. Pierre won't be able to maintain his stranglehold on the division forever.
"I think his time is coming to an end, I really do," he said. "I can't tell you when, but everyone is beatable."
Ellenberger is happy his name is one that will continue to come up in that conversation, and he knows as long as he keeps winning, his time is not too far down the road.
"The No. 1 priority right now is becoming a world champion," he said. "As far as where I'm at in the division right now, I'm definitely up there. Hopefully it will be my time to fight for the title within the next year."
Ellenberger heads the list of future title challengers at welterweight. Here is the rest of a pretty impressive list of prospects: