Zach Makovsky: Opportunity Knocked

It’s 10 days before fight night.

John Dodson, the tumbling, frenetic ball of flyweight energy, has suffered a knee injury and has to withdraw from his upcoming bout with Scott Jorgensen, the former bantamweight title challenger and perennial contender who is eager to make his debut in the 125-pound ranks.

It was supposed to come against Ian McCall, but five weeks after the bout was announced, “Uncle Creepy” fell out. Dodson stepped up to the plate, but now “The Magician” has been forced out as well.

Options are limited.

There’s short notice and then there is 10 days, and the situation doesn’t get any easier given the circumstances.

While every fighter covets the opportunity to compete inside the Octagon, taking a fight with no time to prepare is tough sledding in and of itself, but doing so against a durable veteran with an established name and a point to prove ratchets the degree of difficulty up to 11.

As much as helping out the UFC in a moment of need is always a good thing, stepping up to get beaten down in your first appearance on the big stage can make a fighter think twice about saying yes when the organization calls to inquire about your services.

Though a no-notice fight with Jorgensen may not have been the dream scenario many fighters envisioned when thinking about their UFC debut, Zach Makovsky knew it was too good to pass up.

“That was the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for since I started my career,” admits the 31-year-old Makovsky, who stepped up to face “Young Guns” on the December 14 UFC on FOX event in Sacramento. “Even though the circumstances weren’t ideal, of course I was going to jump on it and take advantage of whatever opportunity I could.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

In an entertaining back-and-forth battle, Makovsky took home a unanimous decision win, sweeping the scorecards with a mix of solid left hands, slick takedowns and timely reversals as the two grappled for position on the ground. Where many would have been hesitant to step into the cage with such an accomplished opponent, the victorious UFC newcomer saw it as the perfect chance to make a strong first impression.

“It was definitely too good to pass up,” reiterates Makovsky, who pushed his record to 17-4 with the win. “It was only 10 days’ notice, but under those circumstances, I had some pretty good things going for me - I had just fought three weeks previously, a five-round fight, and had no injuries. I think as far as their stand-up was concerned, Scott and (Matt) Manzanares had some similar tendencies, favoring boxing without many kicks. I think it kind of worked out at the perfect time and I got to take advantage of it.

“Fighting a guy like Jorgensen, who has been a top contender in the WEC and in the UFC, coming down to flyweight, I knew that it was not only a great opportunity to be in the UFC, but also to really see where what I got against a guy like that.

“I’m obviously in the sport to be successful in my career, but I’m also in this sport to test myself and fight the best guys I can. My goal was to get to the UFC, but not just settle for getting there - I want to be successful and make a run at the title.”

Collecting a solid win over a proven commodity in his UFC debut definitely put Makovsky further ahead than most first-time winners, and competing in the flyweight division doesn’t hurt matters either.

While it is quickly becoming one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC, there isn’t a ton of depth in the 125-pound ranks just yet. With champion Demetrious Johnson dispatching a different challenger every four-to-six months, there is a genuine need for new contenders to emerge, and with his debut victory over Jorgensen, Makovsky has already elevated himself to the periphery of the title picture.

“Being able to fight a guy like Scott and get that win that catapults me a little further ahead is great. I think there is a lot of talent in the flyweight division, but I don’t think there is anyone outside of maybe the Top 3 that stands out in the Top 15. I feel like everyone is kind of on the same page, so I’ve just got to keep climbing.”

Already ranked in the Top 10 in the UFC Fighter Rankings, “Fun Size” gets the opportunity to take another step up the divisional ladder at UFC 170 when he takes on fellow UFC sophomore Josh Sampo. Should he emerge with a second consecutive win, the potential is there for Makovsky to vault into the title conversation.

“If that’s the way it works out, I’ll be thrilled, but I’m definitely not looking past Sampo,” admits the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania native who wrestled collegiately at Drexel University. “He’s a very talented guy, and, honestly, I think he’s the most similar guy to myself that I’ve ever fought, skill-wise.”

The 29-year-old Sampo earned a win in his UFC debut two weeks ahead of Makovsky, submitting Ryan Benoit in the second round of their showdown on The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale card. The bout took home Fight of the Night honors and extended “The Gremlin’s” winning streak to five heading into UFC 170.

“It’s interesting because we’re both going to have similar ideas about where we want the fight to go,” Makovsky admits of preparing for someone with a comparable skill set and approach to his own. “It’s going to be a clash in every area. I think it should be a really good fight. Skill-wise, we match up really well, and it’s going to be a really competitive fight no matter where it takes place.”

Three fights into his flyweight career and already on the fringes of contention in the UFC, Makovsky couldn’t be happier with how 2013 turned out, and now that he’s settled into his new surroundings, it’s time for the modest new arrival-turned-instant contender to start 2014 with a second consecutive UFC win.

Hopefully.

“I never wanted to drop down to ’25,” laughs Makovsky, who began his career by posting a 14-4 mark competing in the bantamweight division. “The last three guys that I fought at 135, I was starting to feel like I was significantly smaller than them. I talk to these guys and they all walk around at 165 and over, and I walk around at 145, so (the size difference was) starting to become pretty significant.

“But as the opportunities open up, I feel like the sport is continuing to evolve, and if you want to keep competing at the highest level, you have to evolve with the times or get left behind. I knew it was the right move for me, and I feel great at ’25.

“I think it’s going to be very competitive in every area,” he says in closing of his impending showdown with Sampo. “I have to control the fight, and that can mean a variety of different things. I have to keep him off balance throughout the fight, and overall, I think I have more advantages than him, and hopefully my speed and movement will be a big factor in controlling the fight.

“But we’ll see.”

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