Q&A: Eric Ellington
Eric "Big Dogg" Ellington is one of the hottest MMA prospects coming out of St. Louis. Ellington was named 2016 STL MMA Amateur of the Year and has made an unblemished transition to the pro ranks so far in 2017. In just his third pro match, Ellington (2-0), will be featured at Shamrock FC: 298 in Kansas City on Saturday against a cagey veteran, Johnnie Rhoades. Ellington is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered young man. He has a calm confidence, not coming from those around him, but as a by-product of his upbringing, his struggles, his failures, and his success. Meeting with Ellington face-to-face, it was clear why everyone sees this young man as a top prospect. He has overcome so much in his life. He has persevered, and he isn't fixated on how others have climbed to the top he's just busy being himself. Yes, he's clearly a great athlete, but he's a more impressive young man, a positive role model, and definitely someone worth cheering for.
How did you get into MMA?
It started, I guess, from the sport of wrestling. Again, when I first got into the sport, people didn't think I was going to amount to anything. For me, going to state in high school, was a big accomplishment.
Then getting a full scholarship to Rend Lake College finishing second and third in the nation, then I transferred to St. Cloud University, where I was ranked eighth in the nation. We took third the first year and second in the nation my second year, as a team.
I think the main thing was, in college, I was ranked eighth in the nation and didn't finish in the top eight at the US nationals. I just felt like there is still a question mark out there. I didn't accomplish any of the goals I know I could have so, I just think I need to put that focus on something else. I believe I have more to accomplish.
Did you graduate college?
Yes. I graduated with a sports management degree. (laughter) Not using it for nothing, yet.
But that's a major accomplishment, and you can use that to influence other kids, right?
That's true. That's true. I am coaching these high school kids from East St. Louis, and I am trying to tell these kids to at least try college before saying you aren't smart enough, or you don't like it. At least test it out.
Tell me about your training team, preparing for the upcoming fight?
I train at Academy of Courage under Kain Royer. We have a great team. We've had a really great camp.
Since turning pro, what excites you most about fighting, money or fame?
Uh, I guess I would definitely say fame. But it feels like maybe a different word instead of the word "fame" because fame can go any kind of way and can be a negative thing as well, you know?
More than likely it's just fame. Getting my name out there, letting people know who I am, where I came from and showing people you can make something out of nothing. With fame, money will come with it, so I definitely wouldn't put money above the fame part.
Was your father in the military?
Yes. He still is. But my parents got out. Got a divorce. Me and my brother were just raised by a single parent growing up (in East St. Louis). It was tough man. Now after college I am back, coaching full-time at the Jackie Joyner Kersey center.
So, you are working full-time, coaching. Where does your inspiration come from to chase this dream?
This is going to sound crazy, but I think it's not wanting to work for someone else. I get to determine my own destiny in this sport. Me just going out here and doing something I love to do, I don't feel like it's a job. I get to keep myself in good shape. It just doesn't feel like a job. Helping these kids, as a wrestling coach, it just doesn't feel like a job. But it's hard sometimes. Finding time to work full time and then have the motivation to train, it's hard.
If you weren't a fighter, what would you do?
That's a good question. I have pretty much been an athlete my whole entire life since the age of six, playing football, baseball, track, cross-country. All I know is just to be an athlete, and I just feel like my whole life I have been training for a sport like this, so it's a tough question to answer.
Focusing on the upcoming fight, what do you prefer, stand-up or ground?
Right about now, (laughing) it's stand-up.
What? You were a wrestler. You don't want to see this guy on his back? What's your favorite submission?
I really don't even have one. If you check out my fights, I don't submit people. Ground and pound man! If they give me something I'd take it, but I want to finish every fight. I want it to be exciting!
What separates you from all the other fighters in your division?
I think it's just my mindset. A lot of guys like to tell people they are "fighters". But it's a full-time thing. It's not just practice, but it's outside of practice. You have to eat right, you have to want it. I don't know man. I have been grinding for a very long time. I have seen people win and seen people lose and I just know what it takes.
So you think part of that, being brought up with that single mom?
Yeah. It's just the struggle man. I think that's one of my biggest fears. Struggling. Anytime I think about that, it makes me push it even harder.
Who do you see out there and think that's the kind of fighter I want to be or the guy I want to test myself against?
I am definitely not going to say, Conor McGregor. I mean, he's doing a lot to help bring more money into the game, but it just feels like so many people aren't being themselves in front of the media. It's just about selling them tickets and make more money.
Somebody, I think about, kind of imitating how he fights is TJ Dillashaw and what's his name, Cruz. Dominick Cruz.
Let's wrap up with your thoughts about the fight next weekend. You have a tough match. Your opponent has had over 20 pro fights. Have you watched any videos?
I have watched some videos. He's very experienced. You never know what to expect. He jumps of the cage, flying knees and he's very unpredictable.
I will push the pace and make it a fight. Second round TKO.
Tickets to Shamrock FC 298 are available from Ticketmaster.com and will be streamed on Shamrock FC PPV.
Photo courtesy of Shamrock FC and Mike Hume Photography