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UFC welterweight Ellenberger rejuvenated in quest to win title

Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight Jake Ellenberger has always had the physical tools to become a champion. It’s been more about putting everything together mentally.

He hopes he has done that now in advance of tonight’s main event bout against Stephen Thompson on “The Ultimate Fighter Finale” card at the MGM Grand Garden.

For a time, Ellenberger was known to storm out of the corner from the opening bell and set a pace that would be impossible to maintain. He worked to find a more manageable way to start fights, but then lost three straight against the division’s elites.

Ellenberger stopped the skid with a second-round submission of Josh Koscheck in February and hopes he has found a happy medium.

“I really just needed to become more uncivilized when I fight, kind of separate ‘The Juggernaut’ (his nickname) and really let it out there,” Ellenberger said Thursday at a news conference. “I have everything it takes to win.”

The win has rejuvenated Ellenberger’s determination to reach the top of the division.

“I’m here for business. I’m extremely focused,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of high-profile fights, I’ve been up here and I’m comfortable, so Sunday, without a question, I’ll get my hand raised. Whatever it takes.”

It won’t be an easy task. Thompson was an undefeated professional kickboxer before turning to mixed martial arts. He claimed five quick wins on the regional circuit before splitting his first two fights in the UFC.

Now he has won four straight fights, combining his striking prowess with enough grappling to be effective.

He has been helped in that regard by UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman.

“It’s a huge confidence-builder to have Chris in your corner for your camp,” Thompson said. “It was a privilege to have him down to South Carolina to train with me, to get ready for Ellenberger. It definitely puts a smile on my face to know the champ has got my back. That’s pretty cool.”

Thompson saw all he needed from Ellenberger in his last fight to know any problems are in his past.

“To be honest with you, I do think he is (back on track),” Thompson said. “His last three losses were to top guys in the division. I don’t take that away from him at all. Koscheck is a good fighter as well. I’m just ready to step in the octagon Sunday and show the UFC, show the fans, I’m ready for that next level of competition.”

The fight headlines a card that includes a welterweight bout between Kamaru Usman and Hayder Hassan to determine the champion of Season 21 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Usman represents the Blackzilians gym. Hassan trains at American Top Team.

The event, which also features the UFC debut of Michelle Waterson, will be televised live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329) at 6 p.m., with the preliminary card airing at 4.

Waterson, known as “The Karate Hottie,” is a former Hooters waitress and bikini model. She earned the atomweight title in Invicta but will move up to the 115-pound strawweight division, the smallest weight class in the UFC.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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