Zach Makovsky (14-2 MMA, 6-0 BFC finally has a chance to defend his crown in Bellator Fighting Championships.
The bantamweight titleholder's first official defense of his belt takes place Friday in Atlantic City at Bellator 65 (8 p.m. ET, MTV2) against Eduardo Dantas (13-2 MMA, 3-0 BFC), winner of last fall's Season 5 135-pound tournament.
Makovsky won two non-title bouts this past year, but he'd rather have everything at stake.
"I'd rather the belt be on the line every time I fight, so I'm glad it is for this one," Makovsky told USA TODAY. "I just don't like non-title fights, I guess. It's just a different kind of situation where if you would have lost one of those non-title fights, I think it would have really looked bad. I wouldn't have been happy still considering myself the champion. I wouldn't have known how to deal with that situation."
Not that title fights ease the pressure in any way. Dantas has a six-fight winning streak that includes tournament wins over formidable names in former EliteXC champion Wilson Reis, previous finalist Ed West — whom Makovsky beat to win Bellator's belt — and Olympic medalist Alexis Vila, who was undefeated in mixed martial arts until the tourney final.
USA TODAY spoke to Makovsky recently about Friday's bout. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q: This will be your first title defense since winning the belt, but you've had two fights in the interim. How well do those non-title bouts satisfy your need to stay busy?
Makovsky: I would say they satisfy my need to stay busy, but I don't like the fact that the title wasn't on the line. I know they didn't necessarily earn title shots, but I feel like there's the same amount of pressure; maybe even more.
If I would have lost one of those fights and kept the belt, it would look, I don't know, not great. What would the belt mean at that point?
I'd rather the belt be on the line every time I fight, so I'm glad it is for this one. Dantas has clearly earned his shot.
I'm OK with the amount of fights. I just don't like non-title fights, I guess.
It's just a different kind of situation where if you would have lost one of those non-title fights, I think it would have really looked bad. I wouldn't have been happy still considering myself the champion. I wouldn't have known how to deal with that situation.
Q: Bellator plans to have more title fights next year when they expand the weekly shows to three hours. How confident are you in Bellator's ability to give you enough title bouts?
Makovsky: I think they're going to try to work on it so they're going to do three. But it's a difficult thing because every person that wins the tournament gets a title shot. That means they're fighting essentially three times for every time you fight once as a champion.
Because they have to go through those three fights through the tournament while you're sitting and waiting. Maybe defend from the last tournament, but that person fought three times to get to you.
So you're kind of fighting not nearly as often as the challengers who are going through the tournament.
Q: What stands out about Dantas as a fighter?
Makovsky: Physically, he's very tall for that weight class. Tall, lanky; I think he's got real long limbs. He uses them very intelligently in his fights. I think that's why his striking is so successful.
I think his striking is good. Everything looks pretty sharp, but it seems like he doesn't do anything fancy. It's pretty fundamental, but he's really good at it.
He's not like a devastating striker or submitting everyone, but he's well-rounded and he's good everywhere. So it's tough in that aspect that no matter where the fight takes place, it's going to be a difficult situation that I'll be in.
Q: Where do you think you'll have the biggest edge?
Makovsky: It's hard to say because he's beaten someone who I consider to be a great jiu-jitsu guy in Wilson Reis. He beat a guy who's a far better wrestler than me in Alexis Vila.
I think I kind of lie in between them two. … I have better wrestling than Wilson and better jiu-jitsu than Vila. I think my ability to be in the middle there is an advantage in this fight. I can keep him off of me in every area.
I think I'm a little bit better at putting everything together than those two guys. Hopefully, me constantly mixing everything together is what's going to win this fight.
I don't think I necessarily have to get him to the ground, but I have to be able to fight him everywhere.
Q: What did you think of Dantas' win in the tournament final against Alexis Vila?
Makovsky: I thought he (Dantas) was going to win that fight. I thought he was the more well-rounded guy, and a little bit more experience, especially in some tougher fights, than Vila.
I thought he looked good. I think Vila kind of controlled him a little bit in the first round. Just got some takedowns and kind of held him against the cage, controlled the action. But when Dantas was in open space, Vila wasn't landing any big shots and he was getting picked apart.
Dantas eventually made him pay off of those takedown attempts, took his back pretty much the whole final round.
You've got to be careful. Like I said, he's good everywhere, so you can't leave those openings for him.
Like I was saying, I think my advantage is I'm kind of more well-rounded than the guys he's fought in the past.
Q: Some folks thought the judges got it wrong when Dantas got the decision victory against Ed West in the semifinal. Who did you think won that one?
Makovsky: I honestly thought every round was close, but I thought Dantas maybe won every round. Definitely I would have given Dantas the decision.
I'm really good friends with Ed. I went out in Arizona and trained with him in February. I didn't really let him know I thought Dantas won the fight necessarily. I just kind of told him I thought the fight was close.
Q: Do you make a point of training with guys that had competitive fights with you?
Makovsky: Apparently I'm starting to – after I fought Wilson back in 2008 in EliteXC and he beat me. He was from the Philadelphia area, and we started to get together and train. I've been training with him for a couple of years now. Not too often, but in spots here and there.
I trained with Ed when we were on one of these little promotional shoots for the last season. I just trained with him a little bit in the hotel. I thought it was a good opportunity; he just fought Dantas, and similar body type.
Similar kind of thing where's he's good at striking, good on the ground. I don't think his stand-up style is similar to Dantas, but he's good in those two areas.
So I went out there and trained, just for like three or four days I was out there. Had a great time.
I have no animosity toward any of these guys I fight. It's just competing in a sport; that's how I look at it.
It's easy to kind of be friends. I'm not trying to be hostile, so if they're friendly back to me, we kind of have a relationship started immediately, just because we're going to fight.
Q: A lot of folks in MMA don't like to fight people with whom they've trained, but Ed West is in the tournament again and could win it to challenge you. How do you put friendship and mutual training aside to fight someone?
Makovsky: I think it's a little different. If I'm training with a guy every day at gym and we're developing and learning together, I probably wouldn't want to fight someone like that. Not that I like them more than I like Ed or anything, it's just – I don't know, I think that's a little bit different situation.
But if I had to fight Ed again, like I said, I view it as a sport where we're just going to see who wins the game. I'd play my friend in football or baseball or basketball or whatever.
Obviously it's a little more violent-oriented. But I don't really identify with it that way.
Q: Your former teammate Eddie Alvarez has said that from here on out, wherever he fights, whether it's Bellator or somewhere else, he wants to make sure he fights big names and maintains a high position in the rankings and reach No. 1 eventually. In your case, how much do you think you can do that in Bellator?
Makovsky: I think Bellator has done a really good job of building their bantamweight division. There's a lot of talented guys there. Dantas is super talented. He's fought in Japan. He's been the Shooto champion in Brazil and stuff. So I think they're bringing in really good people.
I think Eddie is further along in his career than I am. I was unknown before I got to Bellator, where Eddie was already kind of a big name from DREAM. He was a Bodog champion and stuff like that.
It's kind of hard. I don't feel like I'm in that same position. Eddie told me, besides the rematch with Chandler, that he felt kind of the only place he could go in Bellator was down, because he's fighting these guys who are not established yet, yet still very talented and dangerous. It's kind of like a risky situation, like high risk and not much reward. And I completely see his point.
But I just don't feel like I'm that established. I don't know if I just don't care about that as much. I try not to worry about the rankings. I just really want to continue to develop and become the best I can.
I guess I don't feel like I'm there, and I feel like there's going to be plenty of tough fights for me in Bellator. I have a bunch of fights with them left on my contract, so I'll be there for awhile.http://mmajunkie.com/news/28163/bellator-65s-zach-makovsky-happy-to-face-title-challenger-at-last.mma