In just four minutes and 48 seconds, Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky stole much of buzz that had been building around the loaded season five bantamweight tournament.
He showcased his striking, he showcased his wrestling and to cap it all off, he finished UFC veteran Ryan Roberts with a north-south choke to force the tap on the main card of Bellator 54 in a non-title affair while he waits for his first challenger to emerge from the tournament field.
With the victory, Makovsky moved to 2-0 in Bellator "superfights" and moved his current winning streak to eight straight.
The titleholder spoke with MMAmania.com about his recent victory, his confidence and he wasn't afraid to share his opinion on the necessary evil of the Bellator "superfight" system.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You looked really comfortable standing in the fight with Roberts. You stumbled him with a leg kick, you stumbled him with a combination. Can you talk about the progression of your striking?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, I feel it's really coming together. I've been working on my stand-up for a while now. I've found it hard to showcase at time. Look at Ed West, he's 5'9, he's got five inches on me and it can get difficult to get in range and throw combos effectively. Against Robichaux, the fight before this, I wanted to actually trade a lot more standing but he kinda came at me recklessly and presented me with a lot of opportunities to take him down. I've been working on it pretty diligently and it's come together. I feel good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Watching the fight, you never let him get comfortable in there. I think the first kick he threw, you caught it and took him down. When you got back to stand-up later, you got in his face and when he tried to fire back with another strike of his own, you took him down again and then finished the fight there. Was that part of your plan coming in, to make him doubt everything?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, in a couple different interviews I mentioned I wanted to make him feel uncomfortable everywhere, make him feel like he had no options left, that I could beat him to the punch with everything he tried. I did that pretty well. My movement and footwork and combinations were solid. I took him down on both kicks he threw. I definitely wanted to keep him off balance in all areas and I feel I was effective in doing that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It almost looked instinctual, you were able to flow between striking and takedowns very well.
Zach Makovsky: I think that's a huge part of being successful in MMA. I think the guys who have the most success are the ones that constantly put everything together. That's the kind of fighter I want to be. I don't want to be a guy who strikes for a while and then randomly goes for a takedown. I want to use everything together, my striking, my takedowns and constantly having options available. I think that's where you'll have the most success.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about the finish of that fight. You pulled off a north-south choke. That's a pretty uncommon choke in my opinion, especially for the smaller fighters. You normally would see it from the bigger guys because they can use their weight a bit better. You mentioned that you had worked on it in practice, is that a submission you look for now because you found yourself in that position while grappling?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, especially in MMA. I'm always looking for new attacks and stuff like that. I've been working on the north-south choke for a while. I think most people know it, it's a well-known choke but not many people attack with it like you said. I kinda always found myself in that position. I was always there and people a lot of times are defending their arm because when you're in side control or north-south, you're probably looking for arm locks and stuff like that and they kinda leave their necks exposed. I started practicing a lot on the north-south choke, really adjusting my position and the finer details of how to finish it. I was really hitting it a ton in my training camp, I was submitting a lot of people and I got it in the fight. Roberts told me he was about to go out after the fight so I knew I had good pressure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk taking the things you work on in practice and bringing them into the cage? There are a lot of guys that practice new things all the time and then they go back to being their old self.
Zach Makovsky: That's the reason you train, to improve. My coach, my head trainer Steve Hague came up to me after the fight and said, "It feels good when the fight looks like you do in practice and training. The whole fight looked exactly like what you practiced to do." That's a great feeling that you're doing the right things. that I have the right kind of ideas and approach to the fight. I think it's also about your mentality when you get in there, speak to the ideas that you've had and not get emotional or flustered by your opponent or crowd or anything like that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's your opinion of the superfights? Bellator tries to walk that fine line of getting a guy that will challenge their champion but they also expect the champion to win every time. Do you feel they are a necessary evil due to the tournament format while you wait for the next title challenger to emerge?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah pretty much. It takes a bit of time to do the tournament and determine who's gonna be able to fight for the belt. We have to take one of these non-title superfights. Like you said, they pick guys that will test you but they're not looking for the champions to lose either. Actually, I felt a lot of pressure in this fight because of that. Everybody's expecting me to win. You're the champion and if you lose one of these fights and the belt doesn't change hands, I don't know, it kinda devalues the title. What does the belt really mean at that point? I kinda do feel a little pressure in that way but at the end of the day, I just remind myself that no matter what that external stuff, in the end, it's just a fight and nothing else matters. I'm not crazy about non-title fights but they are definitely a necessary evil at this point.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is a topic that was thrown around by a couple people as a potential solution to the superfights, would you ever be open to re-entering the tournament, kinda like what Strikeforce tried to do with their Heavyweight Grand Prix and Alistair Overeem?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, I'd definitely be open to that. I would have loved to have competed in this bantamweight tournament that's going on right now but then it goes back to the same idea. If I'm the champion and I compete in the tournament and if I lose before the finals, do I lose my title? Or does the winner of the tournament get a shot at my belt anyways? I don't know, it's still a weird circumstance. I like the tournament format. I like fighting in them. I like that whole idea. I think there's something intriguing about them. Japan had success with tournaments in MMA and people like them. I like seeing one person emerge from a sea of contenders, it's kinda cool.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah and it can completely turn a fighter from someone that people don't know well at all into a recognizable figure, a star before the their eyes.
Zach Makovsky: I kinda feel like that's what happened to me. I was pretty unknown heading into that first Bellator tournament and I'm slowly getting more and more recognition and it's good. I'm very grateful for the opportunity that tournament provided me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): We talked before about how impressive this bantamweight tournament field is. Did your performance against Roberts give you more confidence about facing one of these potential title challengers coming up?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, when you perform in a way you can. I did pretty well. I was happy with that whole fight. I still feel like I have a lot of improving to do. I'm always confident in what I can do against everyone. I'll be ready for whoever wins.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You spend a lot of time at the Philadelphia Fight Factory working alongside some great fighters. Do you feed off of guys like Eddie Alvarez that train there who are also fellow champions?
Zach Makovsky: Oh yes, definitely. I mean, just having him around the gym is very motivating and the fact that you've got a great, physical training partner. His technique, his intensity, his knowledge of the sport, just like when he talks about how much confidence he has, it builds our own confidence in ourselves. It's awesome to have a guy like that to train with who's been at the top of the sport for a while now. It's great to have a guy like that around.
Zach would like to thank his team at Philadelphia Fight Factor, his trainers, his sponsors Yoked Up who created his walkout shirt, Gamma Labs and Keats Karaoke Bar.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Were you impressed by Makovsky's dominance of Ryan Roberts this past Saturday? Do you like his odds against the winner of the upcoming Bellator bantamweight tournament?