Photo of UFC 140's John Makdessi via Zuffa LLC
John Makdessi has quickly become one of the most entertaining lightweights prospects on the loaded Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster.
With his breakneck and flashy style of kickboxing combined with his elite training at Tristar Gym, he's ready to take his game ot the next level. "The Bull" scored one of 2011's finest knockouts with his spinning back fist against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 veteran Kyle Watson at UFC 129 this past April.
After suffering a delay with an injury, Makdessi is now ready to return to the Octagon, taking on 67-fight veteran Dennis Hallman at UFC 140 tonight (Dec. 10, 2011) in a 155-pound showdown that should be expected to test his offensive and defensive grappling abilities.
And much, much more.
The undefeated Canadian spoke with MMAmania.com about utilizing his unorthodox attacks, recovering from knee injury and taking the next step in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've spoken quite highly of being mentally trained and that's something that's really important in your preparation. Can you talk to me about how you get mentally prepared for a fight?
John Makdessi: Well, in MMA, when I started doing MMA, it's not like the traditional martial arts that I come from one single discipline, it's pretty much straighforward but now with MMA, it's very complex and you have to cover a lot of things. It's almost impossible to cover everything in one week and physically, you can only do so much. I'm a natural fighter, I eat well, I train well twice a day, six times a week and I realize that physically, I can't do it all so mental training is very important. You'd be surprised how watching videos and watching fights how much you can learn from that. My biggest mentor, Bruce Lee, his philosophy was, "Fighting is 90 percent mental," and I really believe that. I believe that and I've been following it since I was a kid. That's where I get it from.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you said that you've studied yourself constantly while you're working to improve. Is there something that you feel you've really picked up on that you've grown the most because of your self study of your tapes?
John Makdessi: Well, I'm my biggest critic. I'm never happy and I'm always trying to work. It's all about repetition. You've got to do things countless times and keep working on your tactics. No matter how good you think you get, there's always some way to improve and there's a couple holes that I work on in my stand-up, my ground and my wrestling. There's always something to improve and get better. That's the whole point of training.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In the preparation for your last fight, you had a knee injury which forced you to back out from your UFC on Versus 5 bout. I'm wondering what the recovery process was like for you and how long did it take before you were able to train at full speed?
John Makdessi: I was really frustrated, really angry about the injury. It was a bad injury. It wasn't like a sprain. Some fighters pull out of a fight because of a sprain or something minor. I pulled out from a legitimate injury. I tore my ligament completely and it's miraculous that I recovered as fast as I did. I had no surgery, I just kept on believing that my knee was gonna heal as fast as possible and I started doing physio the second week after my injury and I just kept doing physio, kept with my conditioning and made sure my knee was strong enough to get back to training. It was really tough, but I've had three months to get better and train hard for this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Being a fighter that uses such unorthodox kicking attacks, those are some of your primary weapons. Was that difficult at all, getting back into the groove of kicking again with full force after the injury?
John Makdessi: Well, it's more challenging to me to get back to the wrestling and the grappling. I found that wrestling and grappling really works your joints and everything. Kicking, to me, I've always found that kicking is not the issue. It's more the wrestling, the grappling and those activities. I had to be more careful. Usually in wrestling and grappling, that's where you'll get injured because your body gets in weird positions where you're not supposed to be. Grappling and wrestling for me, it's so full of injuries, it's crazy. You have to really be prepared to go through injuries for this sport.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've built this reputation as this terrific striker. I know you're a well-rounded guy, but with having a taekwondo, a karate and a kickboxing background, how have you been able to transition to mixed martial arts so well and use those attacks so effectively where so many others have failed?
John Makdessi: Well, I don't really train my kicks or those martial arts that much anymore. I have so many coaches that I work with. Right now, as we're speaking, I'm about to work my boxing, my Muay Thai and I work my wrestling and grappling. Those are the four main training that I do and I think it's because of that mix, it allows everything else to come out in the fight because I have no fear where the fight goes because I train in everything every day. The kicks are just another tool in the box, it's one thing on my resume and I can use them whenever I want when I move around. One round I can be a boxer, another round I can be a Muay Thai guy and then a wrestler. It doesn't really matter to me. I've got all these disciplines under my belt now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of your Tristar gym, I read that the first time you went to train at Tristar, you left because you didn't feel comfortable. I'm interested in what happened that first time around and what went into your decision process to come back?
John Makdessi: Well, the Tristar gym, for me, like I said before, i come from a traditional martial arts background so when I went to Tristar, it was more all over the place, there wasn't the structure that I was used to because there was so much going on. I didn't really like it at first and I went back to my regular kickboxing gym. My focus was kickboxing at the time and I still wanted to compete in kickboxing. I had started doing MMA a little bit but I wasn't fully satisfied with my kickboxing career yet. I was doing amateur kickboxing but there really was no professional kickboxing.
The amateur was pretty much like professional so I fought the best students in a five round championship and I won that fight, I won the title in my province and in North America, I was doing good in kickboxing. I fought good guys in my area in Ontario and with my coaches at the time, I didn't see myself going any further with kickboxing anymore. At that time, I fully transitioned to MMA and I began training at different places and I realized that Tristar was the only place for me to do everything in that field. Tristar was the biggest gym and the biggest challenge.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, let's talk about your upcoming fight with Dennis Hallman. I know Hallman is tremendously experienced and he's been fighting for over a decade. Do you feel like this is the perfect opportunity for you to take it to the next level?
John Makdessi: Well, I'm 26 now and I believe it's now or never for me. My management asked me if I was ready for a fight and I don't really decide on who I fight, that's up to my coaches and my manger. I'm a fighter and my job is to be prepared and to go in there and fight. He's had a lot of experience and he's had a whole lot of fights and that's the type of people I want to be fighting, guys with a lot of experience and fights so I can prove myself.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It's very unlikely that Dennis Hallman is going to engage you in your striking like Kyle Watson did. Do you view this fight as opportunity to showcase the rest of your skills whether on the ground or your takedown defense?
John Makdessi: Of course. This is the perfect opportunity and hopefully I can answer the critics and let people understand that I stand up not only because I love it, of course I will do what I love but that I can go anywhere, that I'll be ready for wherever the fight goes no matter the situation. I wouldn't be in this sport if I couldn't.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Dennis Hallman has been successfully competing at both welterweight and lightweight recently and he's a very big and strong lightweight so do you have any concerns at all about dealing with his size?
John Makdessi: No, not at all. I spar with Georges St. Pierre. I spar with bigger guys than me all the time so that's not an issue. I'm not worried about that one bit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): My last question, when you're visualizing success in your mental preparation, when you close your eyes and picture victory, what do you see?
John Makdessi: I just see, I keep thinking positive thoughts. That's the only thing I can hope for. Just keep thinking positive and all that hard work and training, all the sacrifice, you'll see it pay off in the Octagon.
John would like to thank Headrush, his management Mitch Mayberger, his head coach Firas Zahabi, the Montreal wrestling team and the bunch of guys that gave him training and helped him out.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Are you "Bull"-ish about Makdessi's chances tonight against Dennis Hallman? Could we see another knockout of the year candidate?