Joe Ellenberger, not to be confused with his brother Jake who is also a UFC fighter, is ready to make his UFC debut this Saturday at UFC Fight Night 44: Swanson vs. Stephens against James Moontasri, but he didn’t get there without overcoming several obstacles.
Joe suffers from a rare blood disease known as Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria (PNH) which affects the body’s red blood cells, causing them to break down earlier than normal, and at an extremely rapid rate. Only approximately 8,000 people in the USA have been diagnosed with it.
Ellenberger spoke to USA Today to explain what is was like trying to get signed by the UFC and all the testing he had to undergo to make sure he was fit for Octagon combat.
“They did some pretty rigorous testing just to make sure that if I were signed I could pass medicals anywhere they’d need me,” Ellenberger says. “I’d been through it with the Nebraska commission and places like that, but they don’t just fight in one state. They wanted to know that I could fight in Brazil, Canada, Nevada, New Jersey, California — wherever.
“I just made sure that I had all my I’s dotted and my T’s crossed to make sure that when the time came they’d know I could get cleared.”
Joe’s condition was treated with Soliris, a drug that Forbes magazine once dubbed the most expensive drug in the world due to the fact that it cost patients roughly $440,000 annually per year.
And after four of his opponents backed out from fighting him, Ellenberger was matched up with James Moontasri. ‘Excalibur’ also serves on the PNH Research and Support Foundation’s patient committee, offering support to newly diagnosed patients with PNH.
“Joe is an inspiration to other PNH patients, especially the younger ones,” says Judith Paulette, the committee chair and former president of the PNH Research and Support Foundation. “When they get this diagnosis, they are pretty disoriented to begin with. It often comes out of the blue, and what your life plans were seem to be totally in disarray.
“To hear from someone who has navigated that and decided, ‘No, I don’t have to give up what I love to do,’ that’s really exciting for them to see that example.”
“If I can fight in the UFC, it shows that we can overcome a lot of this adversity we’ve been dealt,” Ellenberger says. “We just have to do it the right way and not give up.”