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When Cal Ellenor revealed he had been forced to pull out of his main event bout with James Gallagher at Bellator Europe 4 in Dublin in September, things couldn’t have looked much worse for the Sunderland man’s future MMA prospects.
Ellenor (8-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) had made an impressive start to life as a Bellator fighter by defeating former Cage Warriors flyweight champion Nathan Greyson via first-round submission at Bellator Europe 1 in February. But ahead of the biggest fight of his career, he was handed crushing news. His brain scans were flagged as a concern and sent for assessment by a neurologist, who diagnosed early-onset brain damage.
“He looked at my scans and told me I had a gap in my frontal lobe that wasn’t there previously, and that I also had three black spots of damage on the right side of my brain,” he said in an emotional Instagram post explaining his situation.
“He basically told me it was the start of brain illness, and it wasn’t a case of what could happen, but it was a case of what will happen. His advice was he doesn’t want me to ever take another shot again. He doesn’t think it’s a wise move to even continue training at all, never mind fight … He left me there telling me I have to retire.”
It looked as if the Englishman’s career was over, and fans and colleagues from inside MMA expressed their sympathies with the talented bantamweight, who appeared to only just be coming into his prime.
But with such a final verdict delivered by the neurologist, Ellenor sought a second opinion, but any chance of success required his previous brain scans taken before a fight for South African promotion EFC back in 2017. Getting his hands on those was arguably the biggest and most important fight in his career. Thankfully, a friend based in South Africa was able to track them down.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve got Alistair Bishop,” he told MMA Junkie during Bellator Europe 6 media day in London. “He’s a friend for life. He lives in South Africa and I was trying to get the images from the original scans and I could never get them. EFC wouldn’t give us them. I couldn’t get them. And Alistair went and he pestered the lab for me and he was there all the time and he actually went there and he got them. He got sent around all these different places, to different people, and eventually he got them. That was the light at the end of the tunnel, just getting the images.”
Those images were crucial to Ellenor being cleared to fight again, as they showed that, in fact, there had been no changes in his brain from his 2017 scan, when he had been cleared to fight, and 2019, some five fights later.
“Even though the neurologist said the doctor wouldn’t be wrong on the sheet, when I got the images they were wrong on the sheet,” he said. “They said all this stuff in 2017 when I fought, they said wasn’t on my brain scans. But when the images came, all the stuff was already was there. So they’re saying I’m not at any further risk, I’d already been fighting. It’s been five professional fights since I had that scan and nothing has changed at all. So the door was cracked back open then and there was a glimmer of hope.”
Ellenor’s fight for his career was waged during one of the toughest times of his life. With his fighting future hanging in the balance, Ellenor was also grieving the loss of his mother and his best friend. It was the darkest time in his life, but once he had fought to get the medical documents to present to the neurologist in the U.K., he was cleared to fight again, and Bellator Europe matchmaker Jude Samuel immediately rebooked his main event bout with Gallagher, which will take place in the same city (Dublin), and the same venue (3Arena), albeit five months later than originally planned.
“When they said about getting this back on I was absolutely over the moon,” he said. “It was just one of the best things ever. It completely got me through those horrible times, a horrible phase in my life – losing my mother, losing my best friend, and thinking I was losing my career to then now being back here. Honestly, I’m on Cloud 9.”
Now Ellenor looks like a man with a great weight lifted from his shoulders. The pain of losing two of his nearest and dearest is clearly still fresh in his mind, but he now has an outlet for that grief, and he said he has already thrown himself into his training in a bid to honor his mother and best friend with the best performance of his career on Feb. 22. He also said he wants to put on a show for all the fans who reached out to him with words of support after he posted his original Instagram message back in September.
“I’m super fired-up,” he said. “I’m hungry, I’m back in the gym training constantly now and that’s it from now. My Christmas is on hold until after the fight. My camp has started now. It’s 13 weeks on Saturday and I’ll be the best version of myself for this fight.
“I can’t thank anyone enough. The support I got was absolutely crazy. Heartwarming, you know what I mean? So this next fight’s for them. It’s for my mum, obviously, in memory of my mum, this one. I’m dedicating this one to her. I’m literally fighting for them now. I’m going to make them proud.
“I realize how many people back home have got behind us and how many people believe in me, so I just cannot wait to get in there and show them how much I value it. Plus I have a second chance, and I just can’t wait to shine, to go in there, into a hostile environment and win it for them.”
And, with a second chance at the career he always dreamt for himself, Ellenor says a big win over one of the most prominent names on the Bellator roster can open the door for him to fulfill his dreams as a professional fighter.
“I feel if I do beat James the way I believe I will, I feel that will open the doors to the stages I want to be on. I want to fight overseas, I want to headline Newcastle … I’d love to main event anywhere really. I’d love to fight in New York if that was ever an option. So these are the things I dream about, and beating James will get us there. So that’s how my chapter will start, by getting this one out the way.”
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