Written by Titan Fighting Friday, 24 February 2012 11:30
Bittersweet may be the most accurate word to ever be thrown around in sports. It so clearly defines so many events in the histories of so many athletes. For Joe Ellenberger (12-1) bittersweet may be as perfect a word as can be used to summarize his feelings as he watched his twin brother Jake win his main event fight against Diego Sanchez. It wasn’t that fight that caused any confused emotions however, but one earlier in the night.
Justin Salas made his UFC debut on the same card, winning a hard fought decision as the second fight of the night. Salas was coming off a victory in October of 2011 against Joe Ellenberger. The only fight Ellenberger has ever lost.
With that knowledge in his mind and a desire for vindication in his heart, Ellenberger returns to the ring on March 2 when he faces Jesse Zeugin (7-2) at Titan Fighting Championship 21 live on HD Net.
“You can dwell on stuff like that but it is in the past. He had a better night, there is nothing I can change about that no matter how much I want to. It is beyond my control and I look at things that I can control and focus on those,” Ellenberger said in reference to Salas making his UFC debut on the same card Jake would be main eventing.
While Ellenberger may not admit to any new found purpose coming from the loss and perhaps missed opportunities, he readily admits challenges that he has since overcome.
“Nothing has really changed. The game evolves, but all I had to do was refocus. I had not really competed at 155 pounds in a little over three years. Going into that fight I did not manage my weight like I needed to and it cost me in those later rounds. I had to learn that my body is obviously much more different than it was. I’ve since got my weight under control and I’m coming to Titan 21 with my body much more managed,” Ellenberger said.
Titan 21 will be the biggest stage Ellenberger has ever been afforded, but he insists that it doesn’t matter how large the viewing audience is, so long as you enjoy what you are doing.
“Just another day in the office. I get to do what I love to do and I know firsthand what it is like to get that taken away from you. For me, it doesn’t matter if it is the biggest stage in the world or my backyard. I love fighting. ” he said.
His fight career was placed on hold after being diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease in October of 2009. Looking back, fans may wonder if Ellenberger ever thought about simply ending his career to focus full time on the disease. For Ellenberger, it was never even a choice.
“I’ve always been a fighter. I will always be a fighter. I would not be the person I am, with the strength to fight this, without MMA in my life. Anyone who knows me never expected me to hang up the shorts when I got diagnosed,” he said.
The question remains however, has Ellenberger changed as a fighter since staring this disease in the face? The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, yes.
“My last two fights have gone to decision and I only ever had one go to decision before that. I’ve had to work myself back into that killer instinct mode and work on my finishing skills. I’ve had to go back to some basic ideas I had before. I will definitely be pressing the issue in this next fight. It’s a great opportunity and now fans will be able to put a fighting style and a face with my name,” Ellenberger said.
One thing Ellenberger has never been short on is perspective. Pointing out that through it all he has always known that there are people who would trade places with him or his brother, in a heartbeat.
“There are lots of people that would give anything in the world to be in our shoes. That is very special to know and we have to acknowledge that. We have people living through us and we have to represent for them. It goes beyond excitement about a fight though, it goes well beyond that,” Ellenberger said.
The Ellenbergers’ camps overlapped this time as Jake prepared for Diego and Joe prepared for Jesse. A fact that Joe believes plays into his favor.
“It’s been very good to have the camps this close together because we are able to give each other different looks. I am fighting a terrific wrestler with great grappling skills and we have guys in the camp that can emulate his style and Jake is great at that as well. I figure if I can keep Jake at bay, I can out wrestle most guys in my division,” he said.
Perhaps nothing better defines this young fighter than his answer to the following question-If he had the chance to sacrifice all of his future fighting glory to be rid of his disease, would he take it?
“I know that God gave me this because he knows that someone like me can handle it. I wouldn’t want to trade in this and it mean that someone else I love has this disease. I know I am strong enough to face it and carry it. I know a lot of people who would get depressed and want to quit with something like this, just let the disease take them over. For me, I will control it,” Ellenberger said.
Fans looking for a reason to watch Titan 21 need look no further than what may be the feel good story of MMA in 2012.
“If you want to watch someone face adversity and actually win, watch this fight. Our world is in trouble, with the economy being crappy and everyone losing jobs and everyone is feeling depressed. America needs to see something like this, someone fighting back and winning against circumstances,” he said.
Ellenberger wanted to thank his family, his gym Premier Combat Center, Higher Tactics Training Systems, his coaches, his brothers, the fans and his wife. “They stand at my side and endure just as much as I do. It’s always been an easier road for me when I know there are people watching and hitting me up to be the better man,” he said. You can follow Joe Ellenberger on Twitter @JoeEllenberger or check out his website at http://joe.ellenbergermma.com/.
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