Flashy kicks have become a John Makdessi hallmark. | Photo: Keith Haist
Once upon a time, it used to be enough for a fighter to say he was in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. However, these days -- with the UFC needing enough fighters to fill dozens of fight cards every year, as well as seeking out regional competitors to bolster its cards in new venues -- more young men than ever are getting the call of their dreams.
Now, just being in the UFC is not enough. One has to make his mark and stand out from the crowd. In two Octagon appearances, Montreal’s John Makdessi has done so.
He wowed his hometown crowd at UFC 124 a year ago when he used an arsenal of seldom-seen kicks to thoroughly confuse Pat Audinwood en route to a unanimous decision. Not often have fans witnessed a man deliver a precision axe kick to the head of an opponent who stands four inches taller. Then, at UFC 129 in Toronto in April, Makdessi mesmerized fans who went into the event expecting to see the “tae kwon do guy” and his crazy kicks. Although Makdessi threw some kicks, his hands won him the fight against Kyle Watson, specifically the spinning back fist that scored the knockout.
Two fights into his UFC career, the unbeaten Makdessi has become a fighter fans want to see, and they will get a chance at UFC 140 on Saturday, when he faces Dennis Hallman at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Quiet intensity involving anything MMA-related has become one of his calling cards.
“I like to keep it inside. I don’t show how I’m feeling too much. I just want to make sure that everything is good: my weight, how my body feels. After the fight, I can tell you how I feel,” Makdessi tells Sherdog.com, with a burst of laughter.
Makdessi claims to be in the best shape of his life. In June, he blew out a knee in training and withdrew from a planned bout against Paul Taylor at UFC Live 5. He views the six months since as blessing, because they gave his body time to rest and recover -- something he admits he does not do as much as he should.
“I tried to stay positive, as hard as it was to be positive when you drop from a fight,” he says.
Makdessi expects to put forth another exciting performance against Hallman, a well-traveled veteran with 50 wins, including a pair of submissions over UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes. Some think Hallman, an excellent submission grappler, could expose Makdessi’s Achilles’ heel -- a ground game he has not yet shown.
“I can’t control that part,” he says. “For me, Hallman’s another obstacle in my way. I don’t have time to worry about that.”
That does not mean Makdessi has failed to prepare for Hallman’s attack. He knew the risks when he accepted the fight.
“Yeah, it’s no secret,” he says. “My grappling and my wrestling, not that they’re weak, it’s just that I don’t have as much experience as he does.”
Makdessi admits taking months off to focus strictly on wrestling would be ideal but not plausible.
“When you’re fighting like the way I am, I can’t take the time off like a lot of guys to just train one discipline,” he says. “I can’t afford to take off months and months to focus on just one discipline. I have to train for fighting.”
A Tristar Gym representative and teammate of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, Makdessi did not want to just go through the motions of wrestling. He wanted to understand it.
“In MMA, there’s so much going on. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘You learn everything, but you understand nothing?’ I didn’t want to be that person,” he says. “I didn’t want to just go and wrestle and not understand what I was doing, so what I did is find a great wrestling team with a coach who broke it down for me step-by-step to make me really understand it.”
Makdessi thinks his wrestling plan worked in concert with the remainder of his training camp.
“I train with a lot of people, and they all give me different aspects. At Tristar, for this camp, a lot of new fighters came down, so that was good for sparring partners,” he says. “There’s a lot of diversity at Tristar. There are actually a lot of grapplers and wrestlers at Tristar -- more than strikers.”
Now that pre-fight work is complete, Makdessi believes his trainers and teammates prepared him well for the challenges he will face against Hallman.
“This training camp for me was the most challenging because I went through a lot of injuries,” he says. “The intensity is very high every day, and I don’t really give my body time to recover. I’m a natural fighter, so I train hard every day, twice a day, and work on my boxing, my wrestling, my grappling. I work on my muay Thai, my tae kwon do, my karate, my kickboxing.”
Makdessi will not know if all the work paid off until he collides with Hallman, but he will carry at least one certainty into the cage with him.
“My ultimate goal as a fighter is to be known as one of the most exciting fighters in the sport,” he says. “I’m going to go out there and do whatever it takes to make people love mixed martial arts. There are a lot of one-dimensional fighters, and I try to be very diverse and throw different types of kicks and punches and movements. Now, I just have to fight the fight. the hard part is finished.”