Zak Cummings: Taming the Pitbull
Nobody said the life of a fighter was easy – we were given a stark reminder of this when our own Rory Ford spoke with UFC Welterweight Contender Zak Cummings last week, as he prepares to face Thiago Alves on 14th January in St Louis. Away from the glamour of the lights and the roar of the crowd, plenty goes on behind the scenes to get to the position that the 33 year old finds himself in next week.
‘How was your Christmas?’ Rory asked, to kick off the interview. ‘It was good’ Zak responded, before pausing and adding ‘Well as good as it can be when you’re not able to eat much’. Weight cutting will never be a pleasant process to go through, and some fighters refer to it as ‘the fight before the fight’ while others have labelled it as ‘the hard part’ which should tell you all you need to know, when the diet can be considered worse than the prospect of going hell for leather with another world class fighter for a potential 25 minutes. At Christmas however, an extra burst of sympathy has to go out to Zak, and indeed any other fighters preparing for a bout during the early stages of January. For Zak though, he knew what he signed up for, and accepted this a long while before now – ‘It’s just kinda part of it, I knew when I took the fight that I wouldn’t really get to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years or any of that stuff’.
A positive for Cummings as he enters this fight is that he is in camp at the same time as training and business partner James Krause, who is also preparing to fight on the same card. Both fighters have been on the road frequently during this camp as they most recently cornered Julian Marquez for his UFC debut, and with Tim Elliott for his cancelled bout with Pietro Menga and later rescheduled bout at UFC220 in Las Vegas against Mark De La Rosa. ‘Typically it’s hard to train when you’re travelling, but we’re both there to make sure we push it a little bit and peak at the same time, it definitely helps. We’re business partners too, and sometimes that can be a little hard since we’re both away at the same time, but it’s working out.’ He explained.
Last time we spoke with Zak he was preparing to face Nathan Coy in his hometown of Kansas City; The fight went to plan as Cummings defeated Coy in 4:21 of the first round with a Guillotine choke. Looking back, he still has fond memories of the night – ‘It was awesome! I get sent all over the world – Croatia, Ireland, all kinds of places and so for them to offer me to fight in my back yard in Kansas City, it was a really special moment. I really wanted to soak it all in and enjoy it; it kinda sucked that it was so early in the card. The Kansas City sports fans are so loud, so even early in the day they were still pretty loud and it was just a really cool experience to be able to go out there and put on a dominating performance.’
After such a strong display, the ‘Glory MMA & Fitness’ gym owner was keen to get right back in the octagon and build on the momentum he had just accrued, however things didn’t quite go to plan. ‘I tried to get right back in the octagon, but the timing just wasn’t good, I couldn’t get them to find me an opponent or a fight and then towards the end of the year I had my baby girl, and so I took a bit of time for family stuff’. As for a new fight date, Zak was looking towards returning a bit later, but it seems this opportunity was just too good to turn down; He explained ‘I was thinking maybe February and then they hit me up and said what about January 14th in St. Louis? I told them done deal, I love the matchup with Thiago Alves and it’s also in Missouri – I wrestled in St. Louis, I lived there for a few years, it’s still my home state and it will just be another awesome experience to be able to fight in my home state against a really good opponent that I’ve been a fan of for years. It’s all come together, it was good for me to take that break and now we’ve got another one here.’
Despite the fantastic opportunity that was presented, the drawbacks of being a fighter were again realised as Zak explained the difficulties in being away from his newborn daughter; ‘We had her and then unfortunately I’ve been away a lot throughout camp. I mean she’s only two months old, but I’ve been seeing moments of her life through Facetime and then seeing her a week here, a couple days there etc. It’s hard, but it’ll all be worth it.’
Looking ahead to the task at hand, Cummings knows he has a stern test in front of him as he prepares to face the Brazilian veteran. ‘He’s a very tough opponent and hard to deal with everywhere’, he conceded. Confidence is no issue going into the fight though, when looking ahead, he had a bold prediction, ‘When I look at that fight, I see him moving forward and then me hurting him standing up on the feet, or if it goes to the ground then I think I can get on top and there I’ll be too much, and I can just overwhelm him. I know he’s hard to finish, but that’s one thing that I do very well, whether it’s catching guys or finding submissions, I don’t see this being much different.’.
Although past his best, the former welterweight challenger (he fought GSP at UFC100) will be doing all he can to upset the applecart, and you can’t take lightly a fighter nicknamed ‘Pitbull’. Cummings, who himself has been pro since 2007 will be hoping that a win here places him on the cusp of ranked opponents and bigger names. ‘He’s someone who’s always been around those rankings, but he’s had a little break. I feel like if I go out and do what I feel I’m able to do, then it will really boost the respect for me and prove that I belong with these upper echelon guys. I know I can compete with the best guys in the world, anybody can beat anybody on a given night. I’m very confident in my skillset, it’s just a case of getting the opportunities now to make it happen. I’m ready for this challenge and I hope it opens up the doors to some bigger and better things’ he said.
Of all the divisions, Welterweight seems to be particularly stacked and it seems to be increasingly difficult for unranked fighters to get their hands on anyone within the top 15; an issue that fellow contender Kamaru Usman has previously been very vocal about. ‘It’s definitely tough’ Cummings acknowledged, before adding ‘ For one, all of these guys think they deserve a title shot, so they’re happy to just hang out, and now we’re in the age of Conor and so everyone is talking and trying to be way more vocal and stuff, so after one good performance people are trying to talk their way into a title shot. It’s tough for me because people know they’re in for a pretty dangerous fight when they face me – I’ve never just been blown out of the water in my whole career. I’m probably just someone where guys just don’t want to risk their ranking to fight me. It might be hard, but eventually someone is going to have to and hopefully that’s pretty soon.’
It’s a potentially career defining fight for Cummings in St. Louis and providing he comes through unscathed, then he could have a very exciting year ahead. For now though his goals for the year are simple - Stay healthy, stay active and keep his name present.