It’s a familiar scenario: perennial southpaw underdog from eastern Pennsylvania just can’t seem to get a title shot.
Rocky Balboa rode this exact setup to a crack at Apollo Creed, along with a trio of Academy Awards, in 1976. But for UFC flyweight Zach Makovsky, who squares off against Jussier “Formiga” da Silva at UFC Fight Night 47, his shot at championship gold will have to wait.
For anyone who has missed the diminutive 32 year old Makovsky, during his first two appearances inside the Octagon, the Bethlehem, PA native has technically dismantled his opposition, stringing together a pair of decision victories on account of his dominant wrestling and accurate striking.
Makovsky is yet another flyweight bringing a refined and sophisticated skillset into mixed martial arts’ lightest male division. And regardless if he’s gained significant traction with fans, Makovsky is quickly developing into a viable contender to Demetrious Johnson’s crown. But it’s not clear if everyone sees it that way.
First entering the Octagon as a short-notice replacement against Scott Jorgensen, Makovsky, who is a perfect 4-0 at flyweight after spending the majority of his career at 135 pounds, completely dominated “Young Guns” during their three-round affair, riding his signature single-leg takedown to a unanimous verdict. He then returned to action at UFC 170, delivering an equally technical performance against Josh Sampo.
With two straight wins against formidable competition, Makovsky appeared to be primed for the next step, an unofficial title eliminator against da Silva. But with the cancellation of UFC 176, their match-up was postponed. And in a fit of promotional haste, Chris Cariaso, a fighter with three straight victories—albeit against lesser opponents—was named the division’s next title challenger.
Zach Makovsky takes down Josh Sampo in their flyweight bout during UFC 170.
The Cariaso booking felt like a bit of a snub for Makovsky and da Silva, who was once considered the top flyweight in the world. But overcoming adversity and public perception is nothing new for the man known as “Fun Size,” aware that fighting at 125 pounds is a constant uphill battle.
Let’s not ignore the obvious here. Despite his Division-I wrestling credentials, fluid ground game, and surprising striking, the majority of the world, basically anyone other than diehard MMA fans, has no idea who Zach Makovsky is. But that doesn’t mean he can’t kick some serious ass.
A disciple of Muay Thai legend Phil Nurse (George St-Pierre’s striking coach) and a Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt under multiple time ADCC champion Marcelo Garcia, Makovsky has the goods to deliver exciting and flashy fights. He mixes superman punches and spinning back fists into a solid repertoire of suffocating groundwork and diverse striking tactics.
And then there’s his phenomenal fight IQ…
Makovsky—a veteran of 22 professional mixed martial arts’ contests—knows a thing or two about going into the deep waters. With eleven of his 18 career victories coming by way of decision, he’s proven an adept ability to dominate opponents and convince judges of his superiority, including his Octagon debut against Jorgensen.
Clearly outpacing Jorgensen in the first round, even wobbling him on two occasions with big punches, Makovsky slowed in the second frame, allowing his opponent, another touted wrestler, to get back into the contest. And while Jorgensen was unable to thwart the advances of Makovsky’s tactful single-leg approach, the contest appeared to be evening, as Jorgensen was nearly able to secure a guillotine choke.
Caught with Jorgensen’s forearms clenched around his neck, Makovsky found his resolve, summoning years of experience that previously earned him noteworthy MMA titles, rolling out of the choke, elevating his opponent with a butterfly sweep, and ultimately finding top position. Lesser men—inexperienced men—would have tapped, or at least offered their foe a better hold on the neck, but Makovsky—well, Makovsky found a way to turn a near failure into a dominant stance.
And that’s the thing about Zach Makovsky; he always seems to end up on top.
Photo via Zach Makovsky's Facebook
Up two rounds-to-none on Josh Sampo in his most recent contest, Makovsky found himself pinned against the cage wall mid way through the third stanza, with Sampo repeatedly securing his feet, making a standup nearly impossible. But again, Makovsky utilized years of practical knowledge and experience to cling to an underhook and eventually create enough distance to break free.
These finer points of wrestling may not elicit significant awe and admiration from the mainstream audience, or even the MMA community at large, but Makovsky has mastered these basics and essentials, seamlessly transitioning between striking and grappling, making his game a complete one, without any holes.
However, how will he stack up against da Silva, a fighter with an even lengthier grappling resume? Will Makovsky still elect to go to the mat with a BJJ black belt? Or will he rely on his arsenal of head and inside leg kicks, mixing in the occasional lead uppercut?
The truth is, Makovsky has all of these weapons at his disposal, tools that have already turned many into believers that he is the legit contender to the flyweight title.
But still, like his eastern Pennsylvania counterpart, he waits for his shot at the belt. And for now, all Zach Makovsky can do is go out and fight his fight.
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