Zach Makovsky (top) will carry a seven-fight winning streak into Bellator 54. | Photo: Dave Mandel
There is nothing fun-sized about Zach Makovsky’s love for mixed martial arts.
The Bellator Fighting Championships bantamweight titleholder will meet UFC veteran Ryan Roberts in a non-title bout at Bellator 54 on Saturday at the Boardwalk Hall Ballroom in Atlantic City, N.J. The Makovsky-Roberts matchup was originally supposed to flank a five-round title fight between Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. However, an injury to Alvarez foiled those plans and thrust Makovsky’s super fight into the spotlight.
The 29-year-old Bethlehem, Pa., native has had to learn to deal with such attention, as his career has humble roots in amateur wrestling.
“I [have] wrestled since I was 6 years old,” Makovsky told Sherdog.com. “I was always watching [MMA]. Even when I was in high school watching the early UFC events, I was always interested.”
Makovsky wrestled collegiately at Drexel University, where a teammate introduced him to MMA training at the Philadelphia Fight Factory in the offseason.
“We started training a little bit. I liked it a lot and started competing in grappling tournaments,” Makovsky said. “I graduated college and decided to give MMA a shot.”
A two-time gold medalist at the FILA Grappling World Championships, the man they call “Fun Size” bolted out of the gates quickly in MMA, as he won his first three fights by decision. EliteXC was on the phone shortly after, and, in his fourth professional outing, he faced Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Wilson Reis and suffered his first defeat in an arm-triangle choke submission. While he was based in wrestling, his first few fights afforded him the opportunity to test out another skill set.
“My first couple fights, I fought four jiu-jitsu black belts in a row,” he said. “Everyone thought I was a striker.”
Makovsky (13-2) -- who has not fought since he stopped Chad Robichaux on third-round punches at Bellator 41 in April -- does not abandon his bread and butter wrestling unless the situation calls for him to do so. An adept submission grappler, he has focused his training on rounding out his MMA game, particularly his standup.
“My submission wrestling style is based in my wrestling style. I’m a top-position player, which is primarily where I am because, usually, I get the takedowns,” he said. “It’s more high-paced and really hard to get a hold of a wrestler in no-gi situations, and [it] makes it very difficult to get caught. I’m always trying to improve everywhere. I’ve wrestled my whole life, but wrestling in MMA is different than regular wrestling. I think you can see that when jiu-jitsu guys are taking down world-class wrestlers.
“I work on everything separately, but, really, once you get in there, it’s about putting everything together,” Makovsky added. “I’m doing well at that. I haven’t shown too much striking, but it really depends on the opponent. I wanted to stand more in my last fight, but he was aggressive coming forward so I used his aggression to take him down.”
As his bout with Roberts approaches, Makovsky keeps an eye on the ongoing Bellator Season 5 bantamweight tournament, which will provide him with his next title contender. The field includes unbeaten 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Alexis Vila, who wiped out Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren in the quarterfinals.
“I think the tournament is stacked,” said Makovsky, who has won seven consecutive fights. “I’m excited just to watch it. I think everyone is really good.”
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s acquisition of Strikeforce and its addition of the featherweight and bantamweight divisions provides 135-pounders like Makovsky with the opportunity for more high-profile fights, more substantial paychecks and global recognition.
“It can only make things better,” he said. “It’s going to bring more recognition to our weight classes.”
Well-versed in the strengths and weaknesses of his peers in the UFC, Makovsky also keeps tabs on the dominance of bantamweight champion and pound-for-pound ace Dominick Cruz, as well as the problems he poses for the rest of the division. MMA is more than just a job for Makovsky; it is his passion.
“I like to watch film on my opponents, but I’m also just a big fan of the sport,” he said. “I don’t feel like if I watch them it’s going to affect my training.”
With the conclusion of the bantamweight tournament on horizon -- in addition to his showdown with Roberts -- Makovsky grows more reflective about what MMA means to him. The desire to compete has proven more of a lure than money and fame.
“This is what I love to do, so I want to make a career of it,” Makovsky said. “If I start worrying about money or what my ranking is, it’s going to diminish how much I like what I do. I want to continue fighting because I love it. I’m trying to focus on being the best fighter I can be and let everything else take care of itself. I’m looking forward to competing against these guys.”