Photo of Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky via MMA Die Hards
Zach Makovsky is one of the most studious fighters out there.
His ability to digest fights and break down an opponent's style is one of the key reasons behind his tremendous success. That obsession with MMA has even been a detriment at times, but it fuels him to keep getting better.
The results are obvious.
"Fun Size" won the inaugural Bellator bantamweight tournament in 2010 and has finished both opponents in his non-title Bellator bouts while waiting for the first title challenger to emerge.
Now, the Philadelphia Fight Factory product is gearing up for his first title defense. He'll be battling the highly-touted Brazilian Eduardo Dantas this Friday night (April 13, 2012) at Bellator 65 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The Drexel University alumni spoke to MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission this past weekend about preparing for Dantas' explosiveness, the unique Nova Uniao takedown defense and even how feels he matches up with UFC champion Dominick Cruz.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You won the title back in 2010 and you got to have a couple "superfights" but how does it feel to actually be defending this title for the first time?
Zach Makovsky: It feels good. I would prefer the belt was on the line every time I fought. Bellator is a growing company and they're getting more and more tournaments in so hopefully every fight from here on out will be a title defense but yeah, I'd prefer to have the title on the line and have an opponent the caliber of Dantas. It should be good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And it has to be nice that they seem to be putting a good focus on the bantamweight division with all these signings and they've got the next bantamweight tournament already taking place so the next title challenger will be good to go in a few months, probably.
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, well win this one first and then we'll worry about that. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk about your training a little bit. You normally work with the Drexel wrestling team but their season ended so where have you been putting in your time to replace that energy?
Zach Makovsky: I was training with them up until March when they're conference tournament started so I was with them up until then. The last month, and really what I do for most of my camps is I get away from just doing a jiu-jitsu class or just doing a wrestling workout and kind of always putting everything together so it's more specific to what the fight will be like. I always try to incorporate everything and just try to train MMA so I've been doing that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know that you're a guy that has this obsession with mixed martial arts. You study it a ton and it's always on your mind so when you're looking at these Nova Uniao fighters, these terrific athletic Brazilians, they have a unique form of takedown defense. I'm sure you've had a chance to study this a bit but they don't sprawl against wrestlers on a shot, they more dance out of it and twist out of it. I want to know, what do you think about how they're able to stop takedowns from elite wrestlers?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, they kind of are focused on getting their leg free and even if they do get taken down, they have the mindset of, "Okay, you got me down but you're not going to control me and keep me here," and they seem to pop back up. I've seen Dantas and Aldo pop back up on numerous occasions. It's something that we're working on and working on how to control when we get there but it may not. I think if you time a takedown properly in MMA, it's very hard to stop. if they're throwing a punch and I'm shooting, they're pretty much standing straight up and I'm on their legs, I don't think there's too much chance of stopping the initial attack.
Maybe they can get back up and not let me control the takedown but I think it's about timing. I think a lot of these high level wrestlers that kind of get into MMA maybe don't set up their takedowns the same way. I try to make sure that they're throwing a punch at me when I shoot, not like me throwing a punch and then I shoot. Generally when that happens I think they're backing away and when they're backing away from you, it's much harder to get in. I study people like St. Pierre who has no real competitive wrestling background but in my opinion, is the easiest at timing takedowns in MMA.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Was there anything that you could take from Dantas' last tournament fight? I know you're not the same type of fighter as Alexis Vila, but he does have that Olympic background in wrestling. Did you take anything away from what Dantas was able to do against his shot?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, nothing that I didn't already know but Vila got in a lot and was fighting for takedowns. Another thing that's different from wrestling is you don't have a wrestling shoe on so it's real easy to pull your leg out where in wrestling you have that grip and it doesn't happen. Dantas did that to Vila a couple times. If I get in on a takedown where it's costing me a lot of energy where I'm gonna have to scramble and fight more than I really want to, especially when if I get him down he might just pop right back up, I'm gonna probably just let it go. I don't want to be like super not getting off his leg. I think that takes a lot of energy and you've got to be smart about what takedowns you pursue and what takedowns you don't. I'm gonna have to make the right decision.
Gerry Rodriguez: I had a question about the other bantamweights, Nakamura and Travis Marx, were you impressed with them? A lot of the opinions of the fans were they weren't the most exciting fights but they got the wins and advanced. What are your thoughts on them?
Zach Makovsky: I thought they both looked pretty good, they both looked tough. Ueda has had some big wins in his career, he had a decision win over Dantas. I kind of had a suspicion that I wasn't sure. I've seen a lot of his fights in Japan and I know he's a good wrestler and has good submission attacks from the ground but I was kind of suspicious that his style wouldn't translate to the American MMA way especially against a guy like Marx who's a big, strong American wrestler who could take away his biggest strength. I thought the Nakamura fight was very close. I thought Lima was attacking a lot from bottom and it could have gone either way. He was controlled and beat up a bit. Both were caught in submissions and they toughed it out. It was my first time seeing either of them so I'll look to see more from them in their next fight.
Gerry Rodriguez: The champion of the UFC, Dominick Cruz, is a pretty big dude. How do you think you would match up with him?
Zach Makovsky: I don't know. It's hard to say. He's obviously I think the best guy out there right now. He's been beating everyone and beating everyone pretty handily. He continues to improve in all areas. His fight against Demetrious Johnson was different in that he had to focus more on his ground game which looked very good. There's really not many holes in his game. I think someone who can take him down and control him there is gonna give him problems but it seems every time he's taken down, he pops up pretty quick. I don't know how I'd do. I think I have a skillset where if I take him down and keep him there, I'd have a pretty good chance.
Ben Thapa: You talked about putting it all together earlier. I'm wondering how exactly you do that in this day and age where you've got a boxing class and wrestling class and a jiu-jitsu class. When and where do you exactly put it all together? Is it just like inside your home and in your head a bit?
Zach Makovsky: Well, yeah, it's something you definitely think about. When I train, we have three days a week where we have MMA class and we put everything together and we have one MMA class where it's more focused on the ground about punching and passing and submission attempts as you're striking and all that kind of stuff. The other days are focused more on standing. Those classes are all about putting it all together and we work on it then but I'm always trying to keep that in mind. Even when I go to like a muay thai class, I'm not thinking about muay thai for muay thai, I'm always thinking about muay thai for MMA. Especially when you get in there, people get into a mode where they're like, "I'm gonna strike because we're starting standing," and then someone initiates a clinch and then they're wrestling and then they're on the ground and doing jiu-jitsu but they don't necessarily put it all together. That's something I try to do and I think since I've been becoming better at putting everything together, I've been having more success in MMA.
Ben Thapa: When you did train with Eddie Alvarez and so on, is there something you noticed that they're particularly good at that you need to catch up to or were you almost there and they were just more established?
Zach Makovsky: There's definitely things that Frankie Edgar and Eddie are better than me at but it plays into their style too. If they're good at some things, that's more how they fight and how they approach their fight. Like Eddie is much better than me at stepping in and landing solid shots in combinations but he also gets hit more than me so it's kind of a trade-off where I'm trying to pick up stuff from them but not like steal it outright. I want to figure out how to work it into my style. I really think Frankie's movements and takedowns are awesome and when Eddie steps in to hit you, that's good too but I'm trying to figure out how to work that in from my style. I'm always trying to learn from everybody I see.
Ben Thapa: When did you realize that you were pretty decent at mixed martial arts and you could hang with the best? Was it a specific moment or was it more of a gradual process?
Zach Makovsky: It definitely wasn't a specific moment. It's just kinda like you take it as it comes. I wrestled in college and even in college I was training in no-gi grappling and no-gi jiu-jitsu and competing in grappling tournaments and I gradually decided to take a fight and I liked it and I won so I took another one. You don't necessarily feel like, "I'm ready for the big stage!" it just kind of happens one fight at a time and I think that's the way it needs to be. If you start looking to far ahead, you lose focus on where you're at right now. I'm just trying to keep my mind on training, getting better and the fight that's right in front of me.
Ben Thapa: During the down time in in a fight in the corner when the corners come out to talk to you, is it a bit of a weird adjustment to go from fighting to trying to listen and evaluating what your round was like? Is that something you're trying to do in your own head? What's the process of sitting down, taking the advice of a corner and going back out there?
Zach Makovsky: Yeah, it's unique. A lot of times, really, for me when I fight and go back to my corner, whatever happened in the round is kind of a big blur. I don't really know what happened and if something happens I'll remember it but it's more like a flash. I don't think about it much and I'm always asking questions like, "Did I win that round?" and they usually just tell me to shut up and listen to them and what they have to say. I never know what the fight looks like until I watch it on video afterwards. It's kind of a weird sense. Most of the time I'm just trying to relax and getting my breathing under control and get ready for the next round.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Eduardo Dantas, he's incredibly explosive. What I want to know is, it is just a case of circling and not moving straight backwards like Wilson Reis did? How do you deal with a fighter who can just explode forward with a flying knee like that and cover such a long distance so quickly?
Zach Makovsky: You have to be ready for it. I've been working and had a lot of guys throw knees at me but I know when I get in there it's gonna be different with his own speed and his own range so I'm working on definitely circling away from his power side especially if I can catch him while he's throwing a kick or a knee moving that way. The biggest thing for me is I know it's coming at some point so I have to be ready for it and not really get caught flat-footed. If I'm standing there right in front of him not moving, that's the time for him to throw it. I don't want to stop and get settled in front of him in any position really. Just move and stay bouncy and use a lot of angles. For the most part, he really likes to move forward and backwards. He doesn't use a lot of angles so hopefully that's something I can take advantage of. Until you get in there and I can see it coming for the first time, that's when I'll know whether I can time it and avoid it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you close your eyes and picture victory against Dantas, what do you see?
Zach Makovsky: I see a tough fight especially in the first two rounds. I think I'm gonna slowly wear him out and control the fight. I think he's gonna be really hard to finish. If I had to guess, maybe a unanimous decision but I think maybe a late finish with a submission in the fourth round.
Zach would like to thank his sponsors Gamma Labs, Baby Fight Gear, Future Legend. He'd also like to thank everyone that helped him train, the Philadelphia Fight Factor and the Drexel wrestling team. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachFunSize.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Makovsky continue his reign of terror in Bellator? Or does Dantas possess the perfect style to dethrone the champion?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview with Zach Makovsky, click here (Begins at 9:00 mark).