SpitballingPod Interviews Zak Cummings
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing UFC Welterweight Contender Zak Cummings. Zak is fresh off the back of an impressive first round victory against Nate Coy and it was great to hear about his career so far, and plans for the future. You can hear the interview in full below, or read the transcript beneath the player. Enjoy.
Rory: Hi Zak, its Rory from the SpitballingPod. Thanks for taking some time out to speak to us today.
Zak: No problem.
Rory: Just to kick us off, I wondered how you got into MMA and what the driving factor was to get you into the sport?
Zak: I’ve played sports my whole life, I’ve always had that drive for competition. I played football in College for a bit, but I had a really bad knee injury. So I was trying to find something to fill that void in my life, I was out of shape and I felt worthless while I was still working and going to school. I did some muay-thai that summerand I started doing some striking, before moving into some jiu-jitsu and this was all just to train, I really had no desire to fight. But after a few months, I took my first fight and from there I never really looked back.
Rory: If I could take you back to your time on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’- how was that, and how was it to have Chael as your coach? We’ve all seen his interviews etc, but what’s he like off camera?
Zak: I couldn’t imagine a better coach for that show. I’ve been around, I’ve had multiple teammates on the show, I’ve been on as an assistant coach and as a guest a few times, it was a really cool experience; Chael was amazing as a coach, he was absolutely selfless, he really didn’t care about himself and he really just wanted everyone there to get the best opportunities that they could. I was really impressed with the way he went about everything – he didn’t try to be the start of the show or anything. Jon Jones was the opposite as the other coach, he was just there to enjoy his time in Vegas and to enjoy the moment. I really don’t think he cared much about the team. The experience for me was pretty amazing, for me this was always just a hobby, so this was the first time that I could just train every day and really focus on nothing but training and seeing how much I could learn in that short amount of time. It really proved to me that if I started going full time with martial arts, then I could really succeed.
Rory: Just how hard is that competition? We hear a lot of past competitors saying that it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. What’s it like living in the house, when you know that you could potentially be fighting the person that sleeps in the bed next to yours?
Zak: Yeah, it’s really tough. Everything is out of the ordinary, it just completely takes you out of your comfort zone. Just little things like no music, no tv, just little things that annoy you and take you out of your comfort zone. Then you’re living with these guys that you’re potentially fighting – it could be a guy that’s always pissing you off and getting on your nerves, or it could be one of the nicest guys in the house. I ended up having to fight Dylan Andrews and he was one of the most chilled, laid back dudes that I’ve met in my entire life. Not only is that stuff hard, but you’re there with such high quality opponents and you have multiple fights. For me it was weird because I had a seven second knockout to get into the house and then by the time I fought, my body was just completely beat up. We were sparring every single day, my knee was hurting, I had a torn MCL, my hand was all jacked, just all these little things that kept on adding up and I hadn’t even had a real fight yet. There are so many things together that just make it such a unique situation and a very tough tournament.
Rory: You’ve obviously got your BJJ Black Belt and when you look at the range of submissions on your record, from an Americana to a rear naked choke and even a neck crank; How important would you say your ground game is in the UFC, and to your fighting style?
Zak: It’s extremely important. When I started fighting, I was already a wrestler and so I always wanted to get the fight to the ground. Then the jiu-jitsu side of things gave me another way to finish the fights after I’ve got it to the ground. As my style has progressed, I feel now I have the size and power in my kickboxing that makes people want to go to the ground with me. It’s really important to be well rounded in this game now; You can’t get away with just being a striker, or just being good at submissions.
Rory: Do you feel that you don’t get the respect you deserve for being as well rounded as you are?
Zak: I feel that I do deserve more respect, but then I also know that I’ve had a couple of stupid little things that happened where I’ve done pretty well… like I was doing pretty well against Gunnar Nelson and then I had a weird freak accident with my orbital and that changed the way of the fight. After that I won two more fights and had a really close loss to Ponzinibbio when I just needed to get over that third hump. I still think I’m 6-2 in the UFC and 21-5 professionally, fighters know that I’m a dangerous opponent but one day I’m co-main event fighting Gunnar and then next I’m the first fight of the night – I just don’t understand how it all works, I wish I was given a bit more promotion considering the time I’ve spent with the company, but if I keep winning fights and keep finish them, then they can’t deny me much longer.
Rory: You just touched on the losses to Nelson and Ponzinibbio, what do you feel you learnt from those two fights?
Zak: The Gunnar one was weird because I knew he had a lot behind him, he was highly ranked, and it wasn’t crazy short notice but I had a shorter camp than normal and I learned that I do definitely belong with the top guys in the world, but as soon as you veer off a game plan, these things can happen. With Ponzinibbio, I didn’t necessarily overlook him, but I didn’t watch a lot of film on him, I saw some of his older fights and just assumed I could take him down easy. I felt like it was a very close decision, and I took a couple of dumb shots which probably looked bad, and with a bit more research I could have figured out the puzzle more.
Rory: With those two guys having just competed in a main event, are they rematches that you’d be interested in?
Zak: I did say that I wanted someone next in the top 15, and they both are still in that mix so I’m not against the rematch one bit. I really want someone ranked higher than me, and both of those guys are, and I feel that I can beat both of them. They beat me on that night, but I don’t feel that they outclassed me. If that’s what the UFC want to see, then I’m ok with it. If not, anybody in that top 15, I’m down to fight.
Rory: Do you pay much attention to the rankings? Is it something you’ve constantly got your eyes on or is it just whatever comes next for you?
Zak: it’s more of just a goal, a personal goal to get in the UFC and then not only to win but to break into the top 15, and then the top 10 and so on. I’ve got the ultimate goal, but I have these micro goals beneath it that I try to accomplish. It’s just a way to know where I’m at.
Rory: Is there a particular name that stands out for you, or just someone who’s ranked?
Zak: I’ve taken a few months off, but I’d really like to go against Ellenberger or Mike Perry. Matt Brown would be another entertaining fight for me. There’s multiple guys out there that put on an entertaining fight every time, and that’s the guys I want.
Rory: Would stepping up in weight be anything that you consider? You’ve fought as high as Light Heavyweight previously
Zak: Sure, I mean when the Jon Jones incident happened at UFC 200, I was training in Vegas and I threw my name straight in the hat to fight DC, despite not being ranked. If it makes sense, then I’d do it. I think about going back to Middleweight almost every single day, the weight cut to 170 is really hard on me. Eventually, I know I won’t be able to keep cutting down so much, so I may have to go up. But then I know I’ve got a future at 170 and I’m on the way up.
Rory: How satisfying was it for you to get a win last time out, in a place so close to you?
Zak: I love travelling, it’s been a really great experience, but going in my own backyard with all the fans chanting the loudest for me was just a really insane experience. So it was confusing to be the second fight of the night, but I was blown away by how many people turned up early to make sure they saw my fight, and the place was very loud for that early. Fighting in Dublin was the most insane experience of my life, it was so loud.
Rory: Just finally, what’s your ultimate goal in the UFC?
Zak: The ultimate goal is to be the Champion of the world. I feel I have the ability to defeat anyone in the division, but the hard part is just getting to that fight, showing up multiple fights in a row and making sure everything is on point, building up to the spot, and then taking the champ out. Champion of the world is always the goal, but I’m just loving having the career in the UFC and living my life in the sport of MMA.
Rory: Thanks very much for taking some time out to speak to us today, it’s been a real privilege. We really appreciate it.
Zak: No problem, thanks a lot.