No, not Jake Ellenberger. His brother Joe.
It was the summer of 2009, and Joe Ellenberger was 10-0 as a professional fighter. He had just gotten engaged and was coming off a dominant first-round TKO victory that he was hoping would be impressive enough to catch the eye of the UFC, which had recently signed his twin brother, Jake, to a contract.
Any day now, he thought, the call would come for him.
But then, he’d also been feeling unusually tired lately. He’d felt that way all through his last training camp. He was used to bouncing back relatively quickly in between practices, but now he just didn’t feel right. When the feeling persisted even after his fight, he broke down and went to see a doctor. It’s probably mono, he thought. That made people feel tired, right?
At the doctor’s office, they ran the blood tests. Not mono, they said, but something else was weird. His red blood cell counts weren’t what they should be. His numbers were, he recalled, “all out of whack.” When they finally gave him a diagnosis that October, it sounded like something they were making up on the spot: paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. PNH, for short.
“They told me I could never compete in another contact sport for the rest of my life,” he said. “They told me I’d be on a bunch of crazy drugs forever. They told me if I even got in a car accident or anything, I’d be in bad shape because my blood counts were so low and my blood was so thin. And then I guess the research said that I’d probably die before I was 30 years old.”
He was 24 when he got the news. Two weeks later, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva called to offer him a fight against Mark Bocek that December.
“That was pretty depressing,” Ellenberger said.
Check out the rest of the article here, which goes through Joe’s treatment via $400,000 medication and his miraculous comeback to the cage. It’s written, of course, by Ben Fowlkes. MMA Junkie was once a cold and unfeeling place staffed by robots that bleep blorped the latest MMA news. They were accurate and informative but alas did not have the capacity to feel. Then they hired Ben, and now we regularly get touching in depth MMA stories that tug at your heartstrings. If there is any justice, he will dethrone Ariel Helwani from his perch as MMA Journalist of the Year at the World MMA Awards. If not, whatever. He’s already #1 in my heart.