Cal Ellenor (pictured) fights James Gallagher in the bantamweight main event of Bellator Milan on Saturday | Bellator MMA
Nobody could have predicted the bizarre trajectory that this Bellator matchup between two of Europe’s top bantamweight prospects would take, with the fight—barring any last-minute weirdness—finally landing at Allianz Cloud in Milan, Italy this Saturday. That it has stayed on track for this long gives you some indication of how much potential Bellator’s matchmakers see in this pairing.
The hype train has been behind Ireland’s Gallagher (10-1) for sometime now, but Ellenor (8-2) made his own mark before his successful debut for Bellator in February 2019. The 29-year-old Englishman had previously competed for South Africa’s Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide and Russia’s Absolute Championship Berkut promotions, so when he submitted Cage Warriors standout Nathan Greyson at Bellator Newcastle, it wasn’t too much of a shocker.
That win put Ellenor in position to challenge the streaking Gallagher, but their September 2019 meeting was called off due to Ellenor receiving a health scare that turned out to be a misunderstanding. Gallagher went on to defeat replacement Roman Salazar instead, while Ellenor had to get his medicals sorted out.
“There’s obviously frustration the first time [the fight fell through],” Ellenor told MMA Fighting. “It wasn’t even an injury, it was just a mix-up with medicals that caused me to be out of the first one.
“No, it hasn’t been frustrating at all, it’s just life. It’s just one of them things. If you fight, you fight, you get on with it, and if someone comes up with a win or it doesn’t happen then it’s just not meant to be this time around. Everything’s good, he’s good, I’m good, so I’m gonna get it done.”
Ellenor has reason to be positive as he and his family were relieved when what was thought to be potential deterioration his brain turned out to instead be a miscommunication between his physicians in South Africa and his physicians in England.
“It’s completely fine,” Ellenor said when asked about his brain condition. “The issue was a scan that I did in South Africa, they’d missed things out on the sheet that were on my current brain scan so basically the doctor saw there was a lot of change in my brain and a lot of damage that occurred. I couldn’t get the images from the first scan, so that’s what the issue was because I just had a report and we couldn’t get it.
“When we got the image report and we got the images together, everything was exactly the same so there was no reason why the first fight shouldn’t have happened and no reason why I shouldn’t have been cleared. Everything’s exactly the way it was.”
A second meeting between Ellenor and Gallagher was scheduled for Feb. 2 earlier this year, but this time it was Gallagher who was forced to withdraw due to injury. Ellenor was skeptical about the severity of Gallagher’s injury, but regardless the two had a third booking set for May 16 in London before the coronavirus hit and everything went haywire.
Ellenor savored having the extra time to train, study footage, and spend with his family while Bellator figured out how to get shows running again. The layoff of over 600 days isn’t even the longest of his career as there was a four-year gap between his first and second pro fights.
Asked about the time he took off back then, Ellenor explained that he was simply burnt out. The Sunderland native had been boxing since he was 12, dipped his toes into MMA when he was 18, and took his first pro bout at age 20. It took a few years off for him to figure out that MMA is what he wanted to do as a career.
He hasn’t been spending all this time on peaceful introspection. Prior to their third meeting getting canceled, Ellenor had a tense faceoff with Gallagher at a press conference in New York City in March. After Ellenor went eye-to-eye with Gallagher, he was shoved back and the two engaged in some spirited trash talk.
So what did Ellenor see when he was up-close with his rival?
“It just tells me that he’s really invested in the fight,” Ellenor said. “He obviously wants to get his hands on me and I feel the same about him. I’m excited, for sure. It’s a fun fight. He’s focused on this fight for so long, so that’s probably why the tensions are running a bit high.
“Obviously, getting sick of each other and the things we say to each other, definitely that’s probably what set it off.”
Otherwise, nothing that Gallagher has done in the lead-up to Saturday’s main event is anything new for Ellenor. He recalled there being similar animosity between himself and previous ECF Worldwide opponent Faeez Jacobs. Ellenor went on to defeat Jacobs by first-round submission.
That was business as usual for Ellenor and even though he’s had the better part of the last 12 months to really put coals to the fire, he’s no longer viewing Gallagher as more than just the next man in line.
“Just ‘cause I’m cool, calm and collected,” Ellenor said of his laid-back personality. “I know where I’m at and I know what I can do and I believe in my ability. Just self-confidence. You can say what you want always, but I’ve got thick skin. I’ve dealt with a lot in my life personally as well.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a fight, you know what I mean? I don’t really care about what they say about me. As long as they don’t mention my kids or my family, you can say whatever you want about me. I just want to get in there and show people what I’m all about.”
Bellator Milan begins at 1 p.m. ET with a preliminary card followed by the main card at 5 p.m. ET. Both portions of the show will be available to stream live on Bellator MMA’s YouTube channel: