The current climate is such an uncertain one for many sports stars.

The coronavirus crisis has caused a global suspension on almost all sporting events, leaving many a professional athlete in limbo.

Perhaps toughest of all is for those from the world of combat sport. A lonely world at the best of times, lockdown rules have further isolated the individual’s sport, while increasing financial worries for many, with the majority of fighter earning money for fighting alone. They aren’t paid for the countless hours of relentless training they do to cut weight and be in shape for fight night.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Sunderland’s Cal Ellenor.

Signed to Bellator – one of the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion – the virus outbreak resulted in a third rescheduling of his bout with Irish MMA star James Gallagher to be postponed. It’s a fight that could launch the Sunderland fighter on a path towards global stardom.

Initially scheduled for last year, Ellenor was pulled last minute after some adverse findings on a brain scan at his previous promotion. For a short while it looked as though his career was over, only to find that all was well and there’d been an error with the previous scans.

Rescheduled for February, Gallagher was this time forced to withdraw, with Bellator unable to find a new opponent for the 8-2 star. And so, hoping it would be third time lucky, a date in May was pencilled, only for the current pandemic to put a stop to that.

The one shining grace is that Ellenor isn’t worried financially for the time being, as he offered insight into how he’s finding life in lockdown.

“I’m really lucky. I was supposed to fight James Gallagher in February but he pulled out and they couldn’t get a replacement. But they still paid me.

“So that’s been a massive help because It means I’m not so worried about where money is coming from for the time being, so I can just focus on myself and my family, and being ready for when the lockdown is over.

MMA fighter Cal Ellenor (centre) with Sunderland AFC players Luke O'Nien and Lee Burge
MMA fighter Cal Ellenor (centre) with Sunderland AFC players Luke O’Nien and Lee Burge

“Everything is good. I’m just trying to stay fit and keep myself on track by ticking over.

“It is a bit of a nightmare. I can run or get out on the bike, but the main thing I love to do is grapple in the gym. That’s my passion but I haven’t got anyone to drill with.

“But my aim is to just keep fit so that when this is all over I’m in the right shape to get quickly back into the cage.

“Obviously it’s hard because you’re not working towards a specific date. But in my head I’m just thinking ideally it would be good to get at least one fight in before the end of the year, so that’s my motivation to make sure I’m ready for any fight. When lockdown ends I want to be in a position whereby even if there’s a fight there in just a couple of weeks, I’m ready to take it.”

Life in lockdown is giving him a chance to spend more time with his kids, while also catching up on some TV series too. Ozark is his recommendation if you were curious.

But he’s also refusing to take his eye of the ultimate prize of title glory in Bellator’s bantamweight division, using his time to watch fight footage of various potential future opponents.

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He still hopes Gallgher will be one of them, although he admits it’s starting to feel like a bit of a cursed match-up.

He said: “It’s a nightmare. I still hope we do fight one day.

“If that’s the fight they make one day then awesome. If not, I’m not really bothered. I just want to fight.

“I feel like we will fight eventually. I don’t see a way in which he can’t fight me now, especially if I win again against someone else. There’s no way he couldn’t fight me then.

“But regardless who I fight next, I feel I’m heading the same way anyway. I just want a good name next if it’s not James because I feel I deserve a good fight.

“I always wanted to fight James, even before we got matched up. I always thought in my own head that he would never want to fight me because of the way I fight.

James Gallagher
James Gallagher

“He can say what he likes about my skill set, but I believe stylistically I’m a very hard fight for him. And I’m a risk for sure because I’ve got the capability to beat him in a number of ways.

“I felt like it was low reward for him to take the fight against me initially.

“It’s different now because of the way Bellator have pushed me, and more know who I am now.

“It does feel a bit cursed now, but hopefully it’s one that does eventually happen because I do believe it’s a good fight for the division and beating him would push me towards the fights I want.”

And what if Gallagher isn’t next?

“If James isn’t next, I’d love to fight in the States,” he said. “That’s a big ambition of mine; fighting in America.

“It’s always been one of my goals and I know Bellator are keen on that.

“They’d said after the fight with James I’d be fighting in America anyway.

“So it might now mean I’ve jumped that and go straight to fighting in America, or if I’ll still fight James next? Nothing’s really been said yet, but either way I’m happy.

Cal Ellenor kitted out by sponsors Master Debonair
Cal Ellenor kitted out by sponsors Master Debonair

“I just want to be active though. I’m bothered about who or where, I just want to show Bellator my worth and show people I’m somebody who can potentially fight for the belt one day.”

Times are tough, or at least frustrating, for many a professional fighter right now. Ellenor can be included in that.

But at the same time, after recently coming so close to having his career ended prematurely, there’s an air of gratitude and patience in his thinking also.

“That was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said of the brain-scan incident. “It just showed me how much I want to be, and how much I love being a professional fighter.

“It’s not a life for everyone, but being told I couldn’t anymore just reinforced for me how much I want it and how much I love competing.

“It motivated me even more to work harder and try to be better than I already was.

“I’m buzzing to have another chance. It’s been my whole life and it’s all I’ve known. I’m determined to succeed.”

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