February 12, 2015
It all started a few months back when former Drexel University wrestler Zach Makovsky, UFC’s 10th-ranked flyweight fighter, asked Tim Elliott, ranked one spot behind Makovsky, to be his Valentine.
He was of course talking about the fact that the two will face off on February 14 in Broomfield, Colorado, as part of UFC Fight Night. But perhaps even better than Makovsky’s proposal was the way in which Elliott (10-5-1) accepted his challenge.
When the fight was announced in early November, there was no way the two fighters could have ever imagined how much would be on the line come Saturday night. Sure, the business is such that many of the fighters are just hoping each bout won’t be their last with UFC. But for Makovsky (18-5, 2-1 UFC), a decisive win could put him on the fast track for a title shot.
“I was in the talks [for a title fight], especially before my last loss to Formiga,” Makovsky told PhillyVoice, referencing his last fight, a unanimous decision loss* to fifth-ranked Jussier Formiga.
And now, with the weight class in what he calls “a bit of disarray,” Makovsky sees an opportunity.
“I just feel like there’s an opening for someone to step up and make a statement. And any kind of exceptional performance could do that.”
That’s because the recent flyweight bout between top contenders John Lineker and Ian McCall shook up the divisional ranks. Lineker beat McCall, but missed weight for the fourth-straight time, and has since been forced to move up to bantamweight.
Another thing working for Makovsky is the fact that Formiga pulled out of his most recent fight.
“I just feel like there’s an opening for someone to step up and make a statement,” Makovsky said. “And any kind of exceptional performance could do that.”
The title currently belongs to Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, and it’s already been announced that his next title defense will come against eighth-ranked Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC 186 in April. But with a sound victory against Elliott, Makovsky thinks he would be right there to take the next run at the title.
“I think a good win puts me right up there with all of the guys who are vying for a title,” the 31-year-old Philly fighter said.
First, however, Makovsky needs to take care of Elliott, which won't be easy.
"I don't think I've ever fought anyone like Tim," Makovsky said of his opponent. "He's a unique character and he brings a unique style. He's kind of really renowned for his endurance and his ability to push the pace.
"I don't want to have to fight at his speed the whole fight if I don't have to. I want to fight and control as much of it as I can, but if I have in a way that if I have to fight his pace for fifteen minutes, I should be able to do that."
Elliott's style won't be the only unique challenge for Makovsky.
Conditioning could also be a big factor on Saturday night. Not only have all three of his UFC fights gone the distance, but Makovsky didn't waste any time pointing out the fact that the altitude change has taken some getting used to.
Now, thanks to a few extra days to adjust, he says he's ready to go.
"We usually come out on Tuesday and fight Saturday," Makovsky said. "And this time I came out Sunday, just to get a couple of extra days. But because I fought [in Colorado] last year, I kind of felt like it wasn't a big deal. Altitude didn't really have a big effect on me. I did a five-round fight out here last time and it didn't really bother me."
While Makovsky will be able to draw from experience when battling the thin air, this is the first time he's had to prepare for a UFC fight following a loss. Add in the prospect of earning a title shot, and there's plenty of reason for the fighter they call "Fun Size" to feel the heat.
"Maybe there's a little more pressure," Makovsky admitted, adding that he hasn't changed much in the way he prepares for fights. "I want to obviously do well, and reach my goal of getting the title, and of course staying in the UFC so I have a job."
Even while climbing the UFC ranks, Makovsky hasn't lost touch with his Philly roots. He still lives and trains in the city and even works out with the Drexel* wrestling team. Since his graduation in 2005, Makovsky has worked with his former team, helping train the young fighters.
"I've been to a few practices this year, working out with them," he said of his involvement with the Dragons program. "Wrestling practice isn't specific to one fight. But it's grueling, and it's combat training, so it's good training. And anytime I get to work out with those guys and still see how I stack up against the Division I wrestlers they have there, it's good."
"But if I want to make a statement [for a title shot], of course a knockout or a submission would be the way to go."
While some of the guys know who Makovsky is, either through UFC or his history with the program, they still treat him like one of the guys. But every now and then, an unsuspecting freshman steps on the mat with the pro fighter, completely unaware of what he's in for.
"The first time I went to one of the practices this year, I wrestled with one of the incoming freshman, and he just thought I was, like, an alumni that came back to do practice," Makovsky recalled. "I think he was just trying to take it easy on me almost. And then once I started, like, taking him down, he's like 'Who is this guy?' And I think everyone told him."
It's not surprising that Makovsky would go unnoticed. At just 5-foot-4 and 125 pounds, he doesn't scream fighter, but don't let that fool you. He's as tough as they come.
And he hopes to prove that against Elliott on Saturday night, knowing that he may need more than just another unanimous decision -- say, a knockout -- to catch Dana White's attention and earn a title shot later this year.
However, that won't change his approach once he steps inside the octagon.
"Most of my fights go the distance anyway," Makovsky said, admitting that's not the plan at the outset. "Every time I try to set up a clean shot, I'm putting what I have into it hoping that it hurts him or knocks him out. But you can't throw everything in to every shot. You'll telegraph, waste your energy, get tired, so you have to kind of set things up and see how it goes from there.
"I think it's more about, instead of just how long the fight goes, I think it's more about controlling the pace of the fight. More specifically, not letting him control the pace of the fight. But if I want to make a statement, of course a knockout or a submission would be the way to go. But it's not like you just choose to and go, 'Alright, I'm going to submit him now.' It doesn't work like that."
But that doesn't mean he won't try to end the fight early. Makovsky believes Elliott's aggressive style will eventually yield an opening. After all, Elliott's last fight ended in the first round after Joseph Benavidez beat him by submission.
"Because he keeps pressure on and because he pretty much attacks the whole time, there are many openings that I'm, of course, going to try to exploit," he said.
If Makovsky is able to get lucky on Valentines Day by ending his night with Elliot early, he may find himself scheduled for a date with the champ.