joe-ellenberger-vfc-38

(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

It was five years ago this summer that lightweight Joe Ellenberger got his first offer from the UFC.

It was an offer he’d been waiting for since he started his MMA career, and it was also an offer he had to turn down. That’s because, at the time, he wasn’t sure if he’d live long enough to complete it.

“It wasn’t the way I’d envisioned things going,” Ellenberger (14-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) says now with a wry chuckle. “But here I am.”

In the summer of 2009, Ellenberger was diagnosed with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare blood disease with only about 8,000 diagnosed cases in the United States. It usually shows up between the ages of 20 and 40, and when it does, it typically begins destroying the body’s red blood cells at an alarming rate.

Ellenberger was 24 when he got his diagnosis. The research said he’d be lucky to live too far past 30, and doctors told him he’d never participate in contact sports again, much less fight for a living on the biggest stage in MMA.

Yet on Saturday night, Ellenberger, now 29, will take on James Moontasri at UFC Fight Night 44 in San Antonio (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) – assuming, that is, that he’s finally found an opponent who will still be there come fight night.

You see, at first Ellenberger thought the biggest obstacle to a career with the UFC would be his blood disorder. Many promoters would be hesitant to sign a fighter with such a serious medical condition, just as many state athletic commissions might be reluctant to clear him to compete.

But Ellenberger decided early on that he wasn’t going to let his career go down without a fight, and thanks to a drug known as Soliris – at one time the most expensive drug in the world, according to Forbes magazine, costing an estimated $440,000 per patient per year – he was soon back in the cage and back on the UFC’s radar.

But before the UFC would sign him, it wanted to be certain that he could get licensed.

joe-ellenberger-vfc-38“They did some pretty rigorous testing just to make sure that, if I were signed, I could pass medicals anywhere they’d need me,” says Ellenberger. “I’d been through it with the Nebraska commission and places like that, but they don’t just fight in one state. They wanted to know that I could fight in Brazil, Canada, Nevada, New Jersey, California – wherever. I just made sure that I had all my I’s dotted and my T’s crossed to make sure that when the time came, they’d know I could get cleared.”

According to UFC officials, once Ellenberger passed those medical exams, the organization had no concerns about his fitness to compete in the cage. The only problem then was finding him an opponent, as one after another dropped out due to injury or was rescheduled for other fights, only to be replaced by another opponent who would eventually fall prey to the same fate.

All in all, Ellenberger went through five prospective opponents in order to get to Moontasri (7-1, 0-0). It made for something of an emotional roller coaster, he admits, but it’s worth it, and not just for his own sake.

“Joe is an inspiration to other PNH patients, especially the younger ones,” says Judith Paulette, the committee chair and former president of the PNH Research and Support Foundation. “When they get this diagnosis, they are pretty disoriented to begin with. It often comes out of the blue, and what your life plans were seem to be totally in disarray. To hear from someone who has navigated that and decided, no, I don’t have to give up what I love to do, that’s really exciting for them to see that example.”

These days, Ellenberger serves on the foundation’s patient committee, and one of his roles includes calling other young patients to lend support and guidance after a diagnosis. To his fellow PNH sufferers, his fight career is about more than wins and losses.

“It’s a little bit of awe, this feeling like, ‘Yeah, you go,’” says Paulette. “But it’s also a little bit of, ‘Wow, I hope he doesn’t get hurt.’”

Despite her concerns, Paulette and many other foundation members will be watching when Ellenberger finally steps in the UFC cage. As for Ellenberger, he knows he’ll have more than just his coaches in his corner.

“If I can fight in the UFC, it shows that we can overcome a lot of this adversity we’ve been dealt,” Ellenberger says. “We just have to do it the right way, and not give up.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 44, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

view original article >>

Report here if this news is invalid.

Related News

On The Rise: UFC International Fight Week Edition

  • 24 days ago
  • 1 views

Amidst the sea of big names and marquee fights set to take place in Las Vegas stands a quartet of up-and-coming fighters looking to make a name for themselves between Thursday evening and Sunday morn read news >>

The 10: The Best of the Best from the Best Month in UFC History

  • 24 days ago
  • 3 views

Take a look at the 10 best fights from one of the best fight months in UFC history. This is The 10 for July. read news >>

Reasons to watch Fight Night Las Vegas/Ultimate Fighter Finale

  • 21 days ago
  • 4 views

Two title fights before UFC 200 even begins? Yeah, we have a few reasons to watch Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs Alvarez and The Ultimate Fighter Finale featuring the strawweight title fight between Joann read news >>

VIDEO: Ross Pearson Calls Will Brooks a Zero, Wants Fights with Conor McGregor and Rafael dos Anjos

  • 19 days ago
  • 8 views

After his fight with Will Brooks, Ross Pearson would like to move on to bigger and better fights, including the likes of Conor McGregor, Rafael dos Anjos, and Cowboy Cerrone. read news >>

The Ultimate Fighter 23: Ep. 12 Preview

  • 19 days ago
  • 16 views

It all comes down to this, the final two semifinal fights to determine the finalists for this season of The Ultimate Fighter in the light heavyweight and women's strawweight divisions. Don't miss the read news >>

Velasquez drops Browne in 1st Round

  • 16 days ago
  • 4 views

After dealing with injuries that limited him to just five fights since 2012, the old Cain Velasquez showed up at UFC 200, as the former two-time heavyweight champion blasted through Travis Browne in read news >>

UFC 200: The Fights Weren't the Problem, but the Pacing Was

  • 14 days ago
  • 452 views

As we sit here in the afterglow of a week when the UFC flat out bludgeoned its fans into veritable submission with nearly an entire day’s worth of fistfights spread across three consecutive nights, t read news >>

The Downes Side: Fight Night Sioux Falls predictions

  • 13 days ago
  • 4 views

Who will win the biggest fights at UFC Fight Night: McDonald vs Lineker in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on July 13? Former UFC lightweight Dan Downes breaks down key fights and makes his predictions. read news >>

Bleacher Report MMA Rankings for July 2016

  • 8 days ago
  • 58 views

So...crazy month for MMA and the UFC, huh? Big fights happened, big fights didn't happen and a half-dozen big events have come and gone. In the month since the last installment of the Bleacher Report read news >>