Former Drexel wrestler Zach 'Fun Size' Makovsky set for UFC debut
There’s a reason they call it “mixed martial arts.”
Fighters in the UFC and other mixed martial arts leagues come from a variety of backgrounds and use a number of different techniques in the octagon, from kickboxing to jujitsu.
But if you aren’t the guy who is going to deliver the knockout punch, you better find a way to pin your opponent, or else you don’t stand much of a chance. And when it comes to grappling down on the mat, there’s no better weapon to have in your arsenal than a slew of wrestling maneuvers.
Just ask Zach Makovsky, the 31-year-old Philadelphian and former Bellator bantamweight champion, who will be making his UFC debut Saturday night against veteran Scott Jorgensen at UFC on FOX 9.
Some fighters have to learn wrestling moves once making the jump to MMA, but not Makovsky. He’s been wrestling since he was six while living in Bethlehem, Pa.
After graduating from Bethlehem Catholic High School, Makovsky moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University, where spent five years (he redshirted his freshman year) on the wrestling team, serving as captain during his senior year.
“I got invited to walk on the team, but I really developed as a wrestler once I got to college,” says Makovsky, who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“Drexel’s a huge part of my overall athletic development,” he adds, pointing out that he still works out with the team and spent four years there as an assistant strength and condition coach after graduating.
So it’s no surprise that when he steps in the octagon, Makovsky relies heavily on his wrestling background.
“Wrestling is probably what I use most effectively in my fights,” he admits, “and you can’t just stop doing it and expect to be as sharp. You know, so when I get to go in and wrestle with these up-and-coming Division I guys, it’s a great help, technically but also in conditioning.”
So how did Makovsky make the jump from collegiate wrestling to fighting professionally?
Though he never planned on doing so while at Drexel, Makovsky spent time in the offseason learning other disciplines, like jujitsu, because of his general interest in MMA, especially as the sport began to gain popularity.
But it was more than that. Like many other high-level athletes, the former wrestling captain missed competing once his Drexel days were over.
“I was always interested and I thought I would give it a shot. I never planned on making a full career out of it,” says Makovsky.
“When I finished my career wrestling, I really wasn’t satisfied with what I accomplished in college, and I really still had a strong desire to compete and get better.”
Eventually, the people at his gym, Philadelphia Fight Factory, approached him to gauge is interest in taking a fight professionally.
“‘Definitely,’ I said,” he recalls.
So Makovsky took the fight. And won. He was hooked.
Professionally, he boasts a 16-4 record, but this is his first fight in the UFC, the sport’s highest level. In Bellator, Makovsky won the first bantamweight championship, but was released from his contract after losing the next two bouts, including a controversial split decision in his last fight.
He fights at 125 pounds and goes by “Fun Size” in the ring, a nickname given to him by Tara LaRosa, a New Jersey native and competitor on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, while the two were training together at Philadelphia Fight Factory.
On Saturday, he will be replacing injured John Dodson. Being a late addition gave him only 10 days to prepare, but he feels ready, having fought only three weeks ago and beating Matt Manzanares for the Resurrection Fighting Alliance Flyweight Title.
And while Makovsky admits that he gets nervous before each fight, he also says it’s the healthy kind of anxiety.
“It’s really part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed it so much," he says. "Having to face what you’re afraid of makes you a better person. And it’s really about fighting itself, or getting injured or hurt. It’s more like performance anxiety and wanting to do the best I can, knowing how much effort I put into it, how much it means to me. ”
When he steps into the octagon against Jorgensen, however, the pressure will be amplified.
Makovsky is ready for it, though, and expects it to be the highlight of his professional career, despite having already won two championship fights.
“Any time you get to fight for a title, it’s pretty special, but I have no doubt in my mind Saturday is going to be my favorite moment of my career thus far.”