Hey Zach, thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. Have you gone back to training right after Bellator 54 or are you taking a break now?
I’m definitely taking it light. I’ve only trained once since then, but I pretty much never stop training. I’m actually in a 5K race at the end of October. It’s a lupus race we do every year.
Will you have another non-title fight before you defend your belt?
I don’t think so. I think the next one should be a title defense against the winner of the tournament. I guess some time in early 2012.
So far in Bellator you’re undefeated, which one of your opponents in Bellator has pushed you the furthest?
I think there are a couple different ones for different reasons. The first round of the tournament I was in against Nick Mamalis was probably the most tired I’ve ever been in a fight. When I went back and watched the fight it didn’t really look like I was that tired, but I was so exhausted. After the first round I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the fight.
We were in a lot of wrestling situations and using a lot of strength. I was attacking for an armbar early in the first round, really trying to break his grip, and I got really fatigued. So that was the most physically grueling fight I’ve been in, but as far as the most dangerous opponent I’ve faced, from a technical stand point, Ed West was the most difficult. He has the ability to finish standing and on the ground.
Not to take anything away from Ryan Roberts, but you didn’t look like you were in trouble at all in that fight. Did you ever feel really pressured during that fight?
Ummm, no, I think I did what I wanted to do in that fight. I wanted to show him that - I knew I’d have an advantage if I put him on his back, but I knew I’d be able to fight with him wherever the fight went, and I wanted to make him feel like he had no where he could win the fight. I wanted him to be frustrated everywhere.
I think I did that. I think he was kind of looking for a big shot, which is kind of how he fights, but I think I’m relatively hard to hit. I move a lot. I try not to stand right in front of people. I was pretty happy with that performance.
Your striking looked really solid against Roberts and in your last fight you won via TKO due to strikes, is striking something you’ve been focusing on more lately?
Yeah. I mean, I try to work on everything. I think there’s no question that striking has been the most difficult thing for me to kind of pick up. Not just pick up, but get comfortable using in a fight. I think I’m slowly becoming more and more comfortable and I think it’s shown and I think it’ll continue to show in future performance.
But I did get to work on that, the striking, more for this fight. I got to quit my job in June, so this is the first fight I had no other job except to train. So I got to get a lot more work in, and a lot more individual sessions with the striking coach at Philadelphia Fight Factory. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.
How hurt do you think you had Roberts after landing that straight left?
I knew it landed pretty good, because I think both of us were kind of coming forward, so I think it landed pretty solid. I know he kind of wobbled and his legs went out from under him a little bit. I knew I had hurt him with the shot. I don’t know how rocked he was, so I tried to keep pressure on him, but he looked like he recovered fairly quickly. I didn’t want to do anything too reckless.
So then going into your next title defense, will you be strictly training with no other jobs?
Yeah, just because Bellator financially has been giving me the opportunity to support myself with just training and fighting, which is really what I’ve wanted since I got involved in the sport. My main goal is just to be able to train and fight for as long as I can. So I’m going to keep that up for as long as I can.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I don’t know. I try not to think about things like that, you know? I just want to continue training and continue improving. I really mean it. I try not to worry about who I’m going to fight or what I’m going to be ranked or how I can move up. I really feel like if I narrow my focus to just focusing on what I love, improving and trying to be the best that I can, everything else will just take care of itself.
Out of the four men left in the bantamweight tournament, who do you think stands the best chance of winning?
It’s tough to say, man. They’re all very talented. I have trouble picking any of the fights, really. For some reason I see – I can’t decide the winner of Dantas and West, but I think whoever wins that fight is going to win the tournament. I think Villa has a good chance of making it to the finals, but I think either of the other guys, because they’re pretty technical strikers, they’re tall and lanky and have very good jui jitsu, I think they can both give Villa a lot of problems.
How do you think you stack up against either of those guys?
I think I match up well with everybody that’s left. I try to be able to be as well rounded as I can and I think I can stand with any of those guys and I think that Villa, honestly will have a wrestling advantage over me, but it’s not wrestling, we’re not in a wrestling match in MMA. If you’re standing straight up and throwing a punch and I’m on your leg, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re getting taken down, you know?
I think I match up well. I think I can beat any one of the guys that are in the tournament.