Ellenberger (29-6 MMA, 8-2 UFC) currently is No. 3 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA welterweight rankings, while MacDonald (14-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) is the No. 6 fighter behind Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz, both of whom lost recent title shots against UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Next Saturday, they meet in the FOX-televised co-main event of UFC on FOX 8, which takes place July 27 at KeyArena in Seattle. But whether or not either is in line to meet St-Pierre is a question for later, according to the fighters and UFC President Dana White.
"For Jake, a win over Rory is a big fight for him," White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "For Rory, a win over Jake is a big fight for him, too. As you continue to fight the best in the world, you're building your resume and climbing up the ladder and getting that experience.
"There's a lot more that goes into fighting another guy that's the best in the world than just getting your way to GSP."
The winner of the bout would appear to be precariously close to a shot at the dominant French-Canadian, who this fall meets No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks.
"This is a great fight," White said. "Both guys are explosive, dynamic, finishers, and two of the top guys in that division. Obviously, the guy who wins this fight is right up there and close to a title shot."
For Ellenberger, that means the realization of a long push through the 170-pound ranks, and a second chance at gold after a loss to Martin Kampmann halted a six-fight win streak.
"That's obviously the goal at the end of the day, but I'm going out there to perform and win," he said. "Rory doesn't have a choice where this fight goes; this fight goes where I want it to go. He's shown the potential, but he's not faced anybody like me."
For MacDonald, it's a situation that would force him to make some big changes and possibility even switch divisions. The 23-year-old fighter is a friend and longtime training partner of St-Pierre, who's run through eight challengers in his current reign. He's previously said he may go up to middleweight to avoid facing MacDonald.
Yet MacDonald played it cool today during a media teleconference when asked the question of what happens to the winner of next week's co-main event.
"I'm just going to focus on this fight for now," he said. "My whole career has just been going with the flow. Everything changes after each fight. I'll see where I am after this fight, but nothing is out of the question."
Just this past week, the 23-year-old appeared dead-set against fighting St-Pierre, whom he believes will dominate Hendricks.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he then said. "Me and Georges are not going to fight. We're training partners. So I know that much."
White was under the impression that MacDonald has never explicitly said no to fighting his compatriot, but rather "doesn't want to talk about fighting GSP."
"When that day comes, (or) when he gets to that place where it's time for GSP vs. Rory MacDonald, I'm sure that's when Rory will want to talk about fighting GSP," he said.
If there's another thing for sure, it's that the quietly menacing MacDonald isn't going to take the bait of Ellenberger, who's consistently jabbed at him in the buildup to the fight. Asked whether he might take pleasure in hurting his 28-year-old opponent more after a several rounds of trash talk, as he told MMAjunkie.com this past week, he said, "I just get in there and fight my fight. If they suffer, they suffer. I don't really care if they're nice or if they're an a--hole."
The restraint was no deterrent for the feisty Ellenberger, who sidestepped a question of whether his trash talk was motivated by any past enmity toward MacDonald.
"I haven't said anything that wasn't true," he told MMAjunkie.com. "My message to Rory is pretty clear: Pick some flavors of baby food and find one that you like and stock up, because this isn't a 'Tears for Fears' lookalike contest. All I said was, 'Prepare for some horizontal television time,' and I meant it."
MacDonald was at the root of a shakeup that prompted Ellenberger to take a bout with Nate Marquardt instead of a more attractive matchup with Hendricks at March's UFC 158.
But Ellenberger said it's less about the opponent, and more about the offense of agreeing to step into the cage.
"I'm an evidence-based abuser," he said. "I didn't make him make this stupid decision to fight me. I'm just going to make him look stupid when I destroy him."