Zach tackles pressure, wrestles with success

An elite fighter's job description includes coping with the high stakes of winning or losing. If someday Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky enjoys enough success to join that class, and he's on the right path, he'll have a book recommendation to thank for that.

"For a while, I didn't know how to handle losing and I put a lot of pressure on myself for every fight. I feel like I never performed well when I did that to myself. It was a problem I had in college," said the 29-year-old Drexel University grad. "I almost didn't know any better. Wrestling teaches you winning is everything."

Not long after the last setback of his mixed martial arts career, an opening-round submission loss three years ago to an unheralded Japanese fighter in Tokyo, Makovsky's friend and occasional training partner, Eddie Alvarez, along with his trainer, Stephen Haigh, recommended he read a personal favorite of basketball coaching legend Phil Jackson.

"Thinking Body, Dancing Mind: Taosports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life," said Makovsky, taught him "a lot about what I thought I was doing wrong, and really what competition means to me. I don't think I understood who I was and I was trying to define myself a lot by the results of my competition, which I think is a terrible thing to do. I think the whole process of learning and having fun and getting better is what's important, and not necessarily your record and your results."

It's funny how these things work out.

Not caring about results, if Makovsky is to be believed, led to an eight-fight winning streak and the distinction of dominating Bellator's debut tournament at 135 pounds. This Friday at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., an hour's drive from his hometown of Philadelphia, Makovsky is scheduled to put his belt and mantra on the line for the first time against young and dangerous Brazilian, Eduardo Dantas.

"We're two guys who come from different backgrounds and styles," Makovsky said. "We've both had a lot of success fighting in our respective arenas. We've both gone through these tournaments in Bellator to reach this stage. He's pretty much in the same position I am."

Though Makovsky (14-2) walks into the fight with the belt hanging around his waist, he's right to think of his bout with Dantas, 23, as Bellator's first 135-pound title fight.

"I have the belt but I don't think I did anything more than he did to necessarily earn it," Makovsky said.

Dantas (13-2) is a well regarded fighter, who, like Makovsky, hasn't lost since 2009.

This is where their similarities end. While Makovsky tends to rely on wrestling -- "I don't think there's a question that probably against everyone in the world, the best place for me is to be on the ground on top of them, grounding-and-pounding and looking for submissions," he said -- Dantas is the “most aggressive” and “most talented” opponent the Bellator champion believes he’s faced thus far.

That could mark an advantage for Makovsky, at least that’s how he reads the tricky matchup. Aggressive strikers can get sloppy and leave themselves open to be taken down, and it’s not as if Makovsky needs help in that department.

"I feel like my takedowns are better when people come at me,” he said.

Still, Makovsky is cautious not to think he must plant Dantas on the floor. That sort of attitude is begging for bad things to happen.

"I have to be able and willing to fight Eduardo Dantas everywhere, and I think I'm capable of that,” he said. “I'll mix things together at my own pace and try to be comfortable everywhere.

"No matter what happens, if I win this fight I'm going to be in a much better situation financially, personally, for my whole life to continue the way it is. Really, there's no question that that's true, but it's not something you should think about. In the end I'd fight for free and continue fighting because I love it. It's just a fight. I can't worry about how much money I could lose or what's next. All that is later. I don't need to think about any of that. I just have to focus about the fight. Really, there's just two guys in there. I have to go in, fight smart, fight as hard as I can, and whatever happens happens. I'll deal with the rest later. There's nothing to gain by worrying what's next."

How very Zen of him.