After stumbling briefly in 2009 with back-to-back losses, Colorado lightweight Justin Salas has been on a tear, winning five straight including taking the VCF 155-pound title this past Friday night against Joe Ellenberger.
Salas credits recent success to joining the Grudge Training Center, home of UFC alums Nate Marquardt, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, and Eliot Marshall.
“The biggest thing is I’ve got a great camp behind me with really good coaches that push me,” said Salas. “I’m not doing this on my own; I’ve got a good support system. I’m not just wandering around training here and training there.
“Every day we’re structuring game plans and setting goals. I think that’s been the key to my success the last couple of years is that atmosphere.”
The coaching that Salas has been receiving paid off well as he dominated his previously undefeated opponent for the belt.
“I’m real happy with my performance,” Salas told MMAWeekly.com. “Ellenberger’s a tough kid and is a very talented top-level wrestler, but I out-wrestled him. A lot of people didn’t think that was going to happen. I had a good game plan and I feel like I executed it the best I could.
“My footwork was good and I kept good angles, got the takedowns and controlled the fight. I can’t really ask for much more than that.”
Salas was able to keep the pressure on Ellenberger for the fight’s final four rounds after a mixed first round. Salas feels that was ultimately the determining factor in his victory.
“I went five rounds and I was still good to go,” he said. “I was grinding the whole time and never stopped. It felt really good to know that I could do that. My conditioning was a big factor, and I’m real pleased with it.”
With the win, many feel that Salas could take the next step up in his career. It’s a step Salas feels is well-deserved.
“I always want to think one step at a time, but I’m definitely looking at the next level,” he said. “I feel like I belong there. I train with a lot of people who are at the next level, and I have the confidence and the professionalism to be there (with them).
“I’m really pushing for it and I’m hoping we can put it together because I want to fight the best fighters in the world and prove I belong on that stage.”
With so many formidable young fighters not only coming out of the Colorado area, but the entire country, Salas feels he has what it takes to make him stand out amongst the rest.
“I’d like to say my performance speaks for me, but what I really want to do to stand out is really act like a professional, be a class act, and show up for every fight in the 100-percent best shape I can physically and mentally,” he said.
“I want to represent MMA in a real positive way and be the kind of person that when people see my name on the card, they’re going to want to come watch it. I want them to know they’re going to see a quality fighter, and no matter who I’m fighting, I’m going to put on a good performance.”
With success comes the confidence that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. And if recent performances are any indication of what he’s capable of, Salas’ time might not be far off.
“I was fortunate enough to go through a really grueling, hard five-rounder and come out with just some regular bumps, bruises, and a couple stiches, so I will take a week to heal up, but other than that, I’m going to be right back on the horse,” he concluded.
“We’ll see what’s next, but if something comes up, I’ll be right in there. I want to keep going and get the most out of my career.”