For Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky, the pressure is being ratcheted up a notch.
The aptly nicknamed "Fun Size" has a strong history of grappling, having competed at Drexel University. He's fully embraced the submission arts, winning the gold medal at both gi and no-gi in the United States men's grappling world championships in 2009 and 2010.
After winning Bellator's inaugural bantamweight title in late 2010, he's now gearing up for his second consecutive "superfight" showcase while he waits for the next title challenger to emerge from the season five bantamweight tournament.
He'll be squaring off against UFC veteran Ryan Roberts this Saturday night (October 15, 2011) in the main event of Bellator 54 just a hop and skip away from his Philadelphia home in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Makovsky is a very cerebral fighter. He broke down his potential challengers in part one of our interview posted yesterday. Today, he tells MMAmania.com about the mental aspect of fighting, how letting MMA become an obsession impacted him negatively and how he plans to take out Ryan Roberts on Saturday night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you've mentioned in the past that at times, you were almost obsessed with MMA and you let other things slide. Can you tell me about finding that perfect balance between focusing on fighting and training and your personal life?
Zach Makovsky: It's not easy. I still get caught up in it and I'm sure my girlfriend could tell you I get a little obsessive with my training. It's definitely not an easy thing. It's my job but it's also my passion so it's always on my mind. Even when I'm doing other things it's in the back of my mind and you really have to take a step back and it's really in your advantage to kind of get away from it a little bit.
It wears you down mentally a lot if you never let it off your mind. The more you kind of think about it, overall the more pressure you have on yourself to really do well and perform and do specific things, I think when you take that pressure away, you get to have a lot more fun with it. Really, you're probably a little more successful because you don't have that extra pressure on you and I think overall you're a happier person and a happier athlete.
I've found that, even from my days of wrestling in college, I was very one-track minded and wrestling, I was pretty much in school just passing my classes but I was there to wrestle and train. I had a very specific goal. I wanted to qualify for Division I nationals. I put all my focus into that and I put so much pressure on myself that really wore me down and what came down to it, I didn't get to perform the way I thought I could, the way I know I could and I didn't have fun with it. In the end, you have to be content with whatever happens.
Losing is a part of sports. It happens all the time. Everybody loses. I think the overall goal is to focus on doing the best you can, becoming the best you can be and if you're really on that focus, everything else kind of falls into places including your personal life. You have to have a balance where you're not constantly worrying about all this stuff. Trust in the things you're doing and be happy.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So is that one of the reasons you listen to relaxing music and you're just trying to clear your head before a fight instead of getting amped up like other fighters?
Zach Makovsky: I just don't like to bring emotion into it. I think it's more kind of like a tactical, not an emotional thing. I almost view it as a workout. I'm going in there to do what I can and I don't view it so much that there's someone in there that's going to try to hurt me and I've got to fight. It's just kind of a different way of competing and I'm trying to separate the fight piece of it away from it. That works for me. People have a lot of success fighting off of emotions too.
It kind of depends on the person. I always try to go in there understanding that I don't have to be nervous or worried. This is what I love to do. I say to myself, "There's no place I'd rather be right now." I like to always kind of keep that. Even the songs I come out to are songs that evoke positive emotions, upbeat tempo, nothing that's going to evoke anger or aggression or anything like that. When I fought Ed West for the title, I came out to 'It's a Beautiful Day' by U2 and I think that's kind of the typical kind of thing that I'd like to come out to. That's just the mentality of how I approach it and I've found more success when I relax and take some pressure off and enjoy what I'm doing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about that upcoming fight you've got. You have a Bellator bantamweight superfight and you're facing Ryan Roberts, a guy who fought in the UFC at lightweight. He's a huge fighter. He went down to featherweight recently and has had success. I believe he's 6-1-1 in his last eight fights and now he's dropping down to bantamweight for the first time. Can you tell me about stepping in there against a guy that's probably going to be significantly bigger than you.
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, he's got a lot of experience at heavier weights against really good guys. I think this is his first fight 135. I expect him to be strong and physically powerful and from a technical standpoint I think he's good at everything but not great at anything. I think technically I have an advantage in every area, at least in my mind. I think I'll have a speed advantage and I think I'm better at putting everything together.
When I watch his fights, he kind of focuses on one thing at a time like he's trying to strike or trying to takedown, one thing at a time whereas I think to really have success you have to constantly bring everything together. I think that's an advantage that I have. I'm expecting a tough fight. I know he's going to be strong and he's going to come in there and he's been on a pretty good winning streak so he's confident. I'll be ready for it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Most of his losses have come by way of submission and that has really become a strength of yours, at least the wrestling and turn it into a top-control submission game. Does that give you confidence coming into this fight?
Zach Makovsky: I think I have a good chance to submit him. I think I'll be able to get him down when I go for takedowns but I think he's gonna be hard to control once I get there. It's kinda like when you fight someone, you have to let them play the game. If I take someone down and they're like, "Okay, I'm on my back, we're gonna play a jiu-jitsu grappling kind of game now," then I've kinda sucked them into that game where I think he isn't going to be willing to play that game.
If I get him down, he's gonna be looking to not grapple with me but to push me off and get back to his feet immediately. It definitely is a little bit of a different challenge. Again, when you do that, you leave openings especially in submissions and strikes too so I think it might be tough to catch him in a submission if he has that mentality of just trying to get up right away. Like I said, I'm pretty confident I can beat him wherever the fight goes. I'm gonna let him pick his poison and whatever opportunities he presents me, that's what I'm gonna take advantage of.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This fight is going to be taking place in Atlantic City which is pretty close to your hometown of Philadelphia. I think this will be the first time you've fought in Bellator even close to that area. Does that get you a little extra excited to get out there in front of your hometown fans?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah it's nice. I fought a lot in New Jersey and Atlantic City as I was coming up and now that I have a little bit more recognition and a bigger name and have done bigger things, I'm excited to come back and fight around here again. It should be enjoyable. I guess I'm the main event now because Eddie [Alvarez] got hurt so it's just another thing that makes me feel good that I get to headline a Bellator card in Atlantic City close to my hometown. I'm very excited for that opportunity.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you're probably not a prediction guy, but in a perfect world, how would you like this fight with Roberts to play out?
Zach Makovsky: With my hand raised at the end. I really don't care if I win by knockout or submission. I would like to finish the fight. The less time I'm in there the better, but realistically it's hard to finish people. It's not easy and the more you try to build towards that kind of stuff, the more you force it and the less likely I think it is to happen. I would just like to go in there and just control every aspect of the fight.
If he presents the opportunity to knock him out, I'd like to do that. If he presents the opportunity for submission, I'd like to do that. I'd like to control the striking with my movement, with my feints, with my strikes. I'd like to control when he attacks me so I can counter with strikes or takedowns. I just want to control every aspect of the fight and make him not sure of where to go or what to do because I'm in charge of everything. That's what I'd like to do.
Zach would like to thank Philadelphia Fight Factory, his trainers Steve Hague, Ricky Lee, his sponsors Yoked Up and Gamma Labs
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will Makovsky take care of business this Saturday night against the UFC veteran Roberts? What are your thoughts on his mental approach to the fight game?