LAS VEGAS -- Jake Ellenberger is a genuinely respectful guy, so don’t mistake the following for some form of trash talk. It’s just one man’s opinion.
To dethrone St-Pierre, a UFC welterweight would have had to combine a special effort on a special kind of night. Beating Hendricks? Get Ellenberger a cage, 4-ounce gloves and a referee and he’ll accomplish that one for you before suppertime.
“He’s not like a GSP, where it’s going to take something, you know, some crazy plan to beat him,” Ellenberger told ESPN.com.
“To beat GSP, everything would have to be pinpoint and precise. With Johny, if you can threaten him with your power and dictate the pace, he’s definitely beatable.”
Ellenberger (29-7) would love the opportunity to prove those statements accurate. A win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 173 next month would bring him closer to it.
Last month, Hendricks (16-2) became the first welterweight other than St-Pierre to hold the official UFC title since 2006. St-Pierre (25-2) vacated the title late last year for personal reasons, following nine consecutive defenses.
Ellenberger doesn’t see that kind of run at the top in Hendricks’ future, especially if Ellenberger is able to reach him. The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 158 in March 2013, but Hendricks eventually shifted to a fight against Carlos Condit instead.
That switch never sat well with Ellenberger, and he’s said as much publicly. It’s not a personal thing with Hendricks anymore, but it’s obviously still a fight he wants.
“I’ve been training with a guy who is exactly like Johny, but better, for years,” said Ellenberger, referring to training partner and UFC middleweight Mark Munoz.
“I’m excited for the day that Johny and I meet.”
For that day to come, Ellenberger knows he has to improve on his last performance -- a slow, unanimous decision loss to Rory MacDonald in July.
The fight was largely dictated by MacDonald’s jab, which Ellenberger could not get inside. According to FightMetric, he was outstruck in that bout 46-to-19.
Since the loss, Ellenberger says he’s narrowed his training somewhat, with a focus on learning specific skills as opposed to simply showing up to “wrestling day.”
“I’ve grown more in the last year than I have the last six years,” Ellenberger said. “Every day is like we’re going to work this specific skill set with this angle against a southpaw. My life has been a little more structured.”
Originally scheduled to fight Tarec Saffiedine at UFC 172, Ellenberger says he’s not necessarily more “up” to fight Lawler, but in some ways it’s a better fight for him.
Lawler (22-10) was on the other side of last month’s vacant welterweight title fight, as he lost a unanimous decision to Hendricks at UFC 171. A win over Lawler would mean more in the divisional rankings than one against Saffiedine.
Additionally, Ellenberger believes he’s at his best when there is an element of danger in a fight. It doesn’t get more dangerous than the heavy-hitting Lawler.
“Look at my fight with Nate Marquardt, a guy who was dangerous, and then look at my fight with Rory,” Ellenberger said. “Rory isn’t real threatening. I look at a guy like Rory and think, ‘OK, he’s not going to hurt me.’ Maybe I overlooked him.
“Having that sense of urgency is a motivator to me.”
Fresh off signing a new eight-fight deal with the UFC, Ellenberger, 29, is set to enter potentially the brightest stretch of his career.
As good as Hendricks is, Ellenberger just doesn’t see him holding the belt long term. The division is very much there for the taking in his eyes.
“I don’t see Johny being the champion a year from now,” he said. “There are so many good guys. There are big opportunities for anyone in the top 10. I’m not putting a lot of thought into it because I’m focused on this fight, but it’s an exciting time.”