His ring name is ‘Cal “Pacino” Ellenor’, a clever play on words inspired by movie star Al Pacino (Scarface, The Godfather, Donnie Brasco) and he is equally as ‘gangster’ at his trade.
Ellenor has made a name for himself as a skilled mixed martial artist, and has quickly made his way into the top 25 professional bantamweights in the UK at a reasonably young age. The 28-year-old hailing from Sunderland – a city by the North Sea – told SportsByte the personal importance of putting Wearside on the map, in turn revealing his mission statement and long term game plan…to be the best.
The North East has provided the combat sports industry with some phenomenal names over the years. Take fellow MMA fighter Ryan Scope for instance, who last year fought in the main event of Bellator Newcastle in front of a capacity Metro Radio Arena. Lightweight Ross Pearson – who fought out of the Spartan Fighting Arts Academy in Hylton Castle. Pearson went on to perform on arguably the biggest stage of them all when it comes to MMA – The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Last but certainly not least, Olympic bronze medalist Tony Jeffries who took home a podium finish at the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing, China. Jeffries now runs his own gym out in Santa Monica, LA – Box N Burn – where he holds A-list clientele such as Travis Barker (Blink-182), Robbie Williams, and Chris Hemsworth to name a few.
Ellenor wants to surpass the legacies of others from the regions though and “be THE name” to come out of Sunderland.
“It’s cool being amongst a list like that – of people who have done things for Sunderland – but I want to potentially win a world title under Bellator and really, really put Sunderland on the map.
“I want to be the one people talk about in years to come. I want a legacy of being from Sunderland and opening loads of doors for the younger kids coming up and training…that’s what I dream about.”
Ellenor’s next challenge facing him on his road to glory stands at 5 foot 9 and has a reach of 67 inches – they call him James “Strabanimal” Gallagher, on account of his birthplace – Strabane, Northern Ireland.
Despite the Irishman having an arguably better record of 10 wins and one loss (his only defeat coming from Ricky Bandejas in August 2018), Ellenor believes that this isn’t his toughest opponent to date.
“The Gallagher fight is a big one, but as far as toughest fights I feel like Nathan Greyson in February was a much more dangerous opponent in the fact that he’s got a lot more knockouts.
“James is good in certain areas – he’s good if hes on your back, he’s got a nice guillotine – but aside from that I feel like I can shut most of his skill set down quite convincingly.
“I feel like it’s a big fight and its a massive push, and it’s got loads of media behind it and it’ll do loads for my career but I definitely feel like I’ve had a tougher fight in the past.”
Ellenor submitted Greyson – merely breaking a sweat – in the same event that Scope headlined against Pitbull. He secured a rear-naked choke (one of his specialty submissions) late on in the first round and claimed the victory on the night.
This fight against Gallagher hasn’t came without controversy however, and this is the third time that it is been scheduled to take place. Ellenor had to pull out of the initial fixture due to a concerning brain scan that left his future in mixed martial arts on the fence after doctors told him he would “never fight again”.
However, the brain scan turned out to be incorrect and Pacino was given the all clear shortly after the initial mistake. The fight was then rescheduled to take place on Gallagher’s home turf but the Irishman withdrew himself from the competition due to back problems.
Now the headline date is set for May 16th at the SSE Arena in London, but with the COVID-19 pandemic looming, Ellenor fears that it might be pushed back further, but insists that it will happen.
“I think COVID-19 is gonna push the fight back, I think it’s going to postpone it to a different date if I’m going to be perfectly honest. The gyms aren’t even open, I can’t even get anyone round to my house to train. When I’ve got a fight coming up I like to grapple every day – especially with this fight as James is primarily a grappler so it’s not really ideal.
“I do think this fight will happen this year once and for all, there’s a lot of hype behind it so we both want to do it.”
With the media hype that comes with the fight, so does the “trash talk” and Gallagher is no stranger to that part of his job. He likes to get inside the heads of his opponents and has been getting very personal with Ellenor in particular, mocking his brain scan. However, Ellenor insists that his “bully tactics” won’t get under his skin and that handling fight talk is just another job at the office for the fighter.
Granted that UFC goliath Connor McGregor is Gallagher’s mentor and watched his last victory against Roman Salazar from ringside (in which Gallagher submitted Salazar within 35 seconds), it’s only natural that some of McGregors personality has rubbed off on the Strabanimal himself.
“I deal with the pressure of the press conferences and things getting heated just by basically believing in myself and my skill set, there’s nothing James can really say about me that’s going to get under my skin because I’ve dealt with these kinds of people forever.
“They just use bully tactics, that’s what they’re all about. They’re confrontational and it doesn’t really bother me.
“I know what I can do and I know the people I train with and what level we’re training at – I know the system works and I just have full belief in what I’m gonna go there and do to him, so regardless of what he says it’s not taking away from the belief that I’ve got instilled in myself.”
“It just makes me more eager and excited to get the fight done.”
So after this bout, what’s next for Cal Pacino? The Bellator star insists that he has “a few fights in mind” but refuses to call out names until after his current task at hand.
“There’s definitely opponents in mind, not any specific one, I just have them all in mind you know?
“A lot of the bigger name fighters in this weight division, I’ll get an opportunity to fight any one of them really if I beat James it’ll put me right in the mix. I’m not gonna say any one specific one but just anyone above me – one of the top five guys for sure.
“I’d like to have three fights this year, that would be perfect – big name fights.”
It’s no secret that Ellenor is fired up for this bout and there’s a lot of personal problems that he will want to flatten with Gallagher when the time comes. This could well be the continuation of an already budding career for Ellenor, and if things go his way, 2 wins on the bounce could see a title fight come sooner than he realises.
James Gallagher vs Cal Ellenor is scheduled at Bellator London on the 16th of May. It will take place at the SSE Arena in Wembley, London and tickets can be purchased at https://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/bellator-london-london-16-05-2020/event/37005859F13F87DA