Based out of Philadelphia, Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky has some of the best training partners a 135 pound fighter could ask for.
On top of occasional visits by four time tournament veteran Wilson Reis, he's got Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez just around the corner and UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar just a hop and skip over the state line in New Jersey.
Makovsky has really come into his own since signing with Bellator, going undefeated over the past two years including impressive victories against Ed West in the season three tournament final as well as handing Chad Robichaux his first professional loss this past April in his first "superfight" as a champion.
Nicknamed "Fun Size" due to his diminutive 5'5 frame, the former standout Drexel wrestler is bracing for his first title defense, which will take place in early 2012 once this season's loaded bantamweight tournament concludes.
In the meantime, he'll be putting his skills on display in a "superfight" against former UFC lightweight Ryan Roberts this Saturday night (October 15, 2011) in the main event of Bellator 54 in Atlantic City. The champion spoke with MMAmania.com in this two-part exclusive interview about his thoughts on his potential title challengers, what went wrong with Joe Warren and the advances he's made in his skill-set.
Zach Makovsky: I think there were a couple things that surprised me and a couple things I expected. I was surprised by the way the Dantas - Wilson Reis fight went. I really felt Wilson had the style to beat Dantas. I mean, I admittedly haven't seen too much of Dantas but I thought Wilson would have the ability to take him down. I didn't think he'd be able to submit him or anything like that but I thought that he would definitely be able to control the action on the ground. Wilson went for a takedown but didn't really repeatedly try to take him down. It looked like he wanted to strike a little more which I really don't think is his strength especially against a taller, solid striker like Dantas. It didn't work out for him. Dantas looked good. Very long, crisp, clean strikes. He was very composed for his first fight in Bellator and for only being 22 years old so I was impressed with him.
I was obviously impressed with Vila's power. It's hard to judge a guy on a one minute fight but he came at Warren and connected, hurt him earlier and then caught him with that big hook while Warren was kinda reaching out, trying to grab ahold of him. Vila's clearly got some power. He's clearly a guy you do not want to let hit you cleanly but I think it's hard to judge him because we haven't seen too much of him. I think Warren's the first really credentialed fighter that he's fought so I'd really like to see more of Vila but he did look very good.
I thought Ed West looked good too. He definitely played his style of game. I think him and Dantas should be really interesting. Vila should have a good chance to beat Galvao because I think Galvao will have trouble getting it to ground and Vila hits harder in the stand-up. I think whoever wins out of Dantas or West could both give Vila problems in the finals.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Joe Warren was the tournament favorite by a pretty wide margin just due to the fact that he was the featherweight champion. What do you think went wrong for him? I know it was only a one minute fight but did you see anything where he made a big mistake?
Zach Makovsky: I picked Warren to win that fight. I thought he was going to use his size and I know he's got very good conditioning. He's a guy that doesn't get too tired and even when he's tired, he can push through and keep a very high pace for the whole fight. I thought he was gonna kinda clinch, push Vila against the cage, wear him out, beat him up especially in the later rounds. He came out and looked like he kinda, I know he's been working on his striking and I think a lot of people get caught up, especially it seems wrestlers, they come to MMA and they've had a lot of success using their wrestling and doing what they do and then they start to strike a little bit and then they think they've become a striker within, how long has Warren been in MMA, two years maybe?
I started fighting professionally in 2006 and I'm very slowly getting comfortable striking in a real fight. It's coming, but I think I have a lot more to show in that area but I'm not gonna forget what got me to where I am. It's mixed martial arts for a reason. You don't go out there just to kickbox or anything. It looked like to me, he wanted to strike a little bit and he was getting a little wild and leaving his hands away from his face and Vila made him pay for it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your striking. You've slowly been progressing in that department. How good did it feel in that last fight with Chad Robichaux, an incredibly exciting battle, to go out there and score your first technical knockout victory?
Zach Makovsky: It was good. In all honesty, he brought the fight to me in a pretty big way. He wanted to pressure me and come at me and try to strike with me and maybe get a takedown. It's potentially a good strategy but it leaves you open a lot coming in and not just coming in but coming in kinda recklessly and really aggressive. He left a lot of holes and I landed some decent strikes and he presented a lot of takedown opportunities. He's not a joke on on the ground. He's a Gracie Barra black belt and I felt like I really controlled him on the ground and got to dominant positions, almost got a couple submissions. I think if I was more patient with my arm triangle I think I could have got that but I let it go a little early. I got mount, took his back and got the TKO from there anyways so I think it was a sign that I'm doing the right things, I'm progressing, becoming more dangerous everywhere and more complete as a mixed martial artist.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since that fight, you stepped down from your coaching position at Drexel as the strength and conditioning trainer to focus full-time on mixed martial arts. Can you talk about making that committment?
Zach Makovsky: It's something that I've always wanted to do. My main goal when I got into this sport was that, I like coaching a lot but I mean, I think I'm really an athlete at heart and I love competing and to train and compete full time was always the goal for as long as I can be in this sport. With Bellator, I finally got the opportunity financially to make just enough to be able to do that so I took advantage of it and I've definitely been getting a lot more training in. It kind of threw me off at the beginning. I was training a lot more and I kind of pushed it too hard with overtraining a bit, doing too much because I had so much extra time and I kinda had to pull back a little bit. It's been good. Now that I've got my schedule down and know what I can do, it's been great. I've been getting a lot more technical training in, a lot more rest when I need it. I feel good.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of our interview with Zach Makovsky where he discusses how his obsession with MMA caused a negative impact on him, why he'd rather have a clear head than get pumped up before a fight and his upcoming fight this Saturday night with UFC veteran Ryan Roberts.