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PRO MMA exclusive interview: Zak Cummings, TUF 10 tryouts and beyond

Zak Cummings trains out of Springfield Fight Club in Springfield Missouri, and is 9-0 as a professional mixed martial artist. Coming off a big win over UFC veteran Terry Martin this February at XCF: Rumble in Racetown I, fighting eight times in one year, juggling fighting, school, and two jobs, the young fighter is looking to continue to build on his momentum in the fight game.

The undefeated 24 year old fighter is at this time en route to Seattle, Washington to try out for The Ultimate Fighter season 10. He has his mind set on making the house, excelling on the show, and taking his career to the next level as a fighter in the UFC.

Regardless of what happens with The Ultimate Fighter, expect to see Zak Cummings in a major organization in the near future. With a strong wrestling background and an ever expanding well rounded game, Zak has won six of his nine fights by either KO or submission. Zak took some time out of his insanely busy schedule to talk with PRO MMA (promma.info) about The Ultimate Fighter, his career, and his camp:

PRO MMA: Zak, So I understand that you will be flying out soon for a shot at The Ultimate Fighter Season 10…
Zak Cummings: Yeah I’m getting ready to fly out of here Sunday, to see if I can’t get on the show and get a little more exposure out there.

PRO MMA: We’ve all seen multiple seasons of the show by now, and hear from former cast members how difficult and crazy it can be living in that house. How do you think being in the house would be with all those crazy guys?
Zak Cummings: I think it would be fun. I’m one of those that like to have a good time. You’re going to have the characters on there, and I’d probably just sit back and laugh at them, and feed off of them. I don’t really let too much stuff get to me, so you can kind of make fun of me or do what you want, and I’d just give it right back. I don’t really get upset about anything, I think it would be fun actually. I’m sure it could get pretty stressful, away from the outside world for so long, and be in a house with a bunch of testosterone and fighters… I don’t know, I think it would be alright, I’d make the best of it.

PRO MMA: In addition to fighting, you also go to school full time. Tell us a little bit about that.
Zak Cummings: I’m a senior at Missouri State University, majoring in exercise and movement science.

PRO MMA: That’s way over my head but… How is that going to work with your school schedule if you end up in the TUF house?
Zak Cummings: You know I’m not sure yet, exactly on that. I’ve already given the heads up to my professors so far, and I don’t really know when they plan on filming the show. There is only a few more weeks of school left, so hopefully maybe they’ll start filming this summer or after school ends. If not, hopefully I can work with my professors. I’ve given them the heads up, they all know I’m going out there and they have wished me the best of luck. So hopefully they’ll work with me if I do have to take some time from school.

PRO MMA: Do your professors really understand what you do, and do they understand what MMA really is, or do they think it’s just a bunch of guys in a cage beating each other up?
Zak Cummings: It’s a mix… Some do some don’t. But they still respect that I have to be gone for fights or shows, and that I’m very committed. For the most part, since it’s an exercise and movement science type deal, they do understand that it’s a sport, and what it takes. I’ve been very surprised sometimes. I actually last semester, had a psychology statistics course. My professor was a woman, she was actually a black belt in tae kwon do, and absolutely loved watching the UFC and fighting and everything, and wanted to know when my next fight in town was. She knew a lot about it. It wasn’t an exercise type of class or course and she kind of caught me off guard and would ask questions about it.

PRO MMA: So what about any of your friends around campus? Have any of them gotten the bug and wanted to try out MMA or training with you, thinking it’s not as hard as it looks? Now days, walking down the street you really can’t tell who trains or who is a fighter by looks anymore…
Zak Cummings: Yeah, some of my friends have tried, some don’t really care and do their own thing and I do mine, but we still have stuff in common and hang out. You’re right, it’s kind of crazy, you can’t really tell who is who or who knows what. I don’t really have a ripped out physique, and I actually kind of look a little soft, and a lot of people look at me and say “I can not believe you are a fighter”, but I have some cauliflower ear so that kind of gives it away.

PRO MMA: Tell us about your camp/home gym and about your trainers and partners.
Zak Cummings: I train at Springfield Fight Club, in Springfield Missouri. Our head trainer is Rick Wymer, he’s a brown belt in Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu. He started training under Daniel “Montanha” De Lima. We also have a very good purple belt, Gabe Wouk, also trained under “Montanha”. We got Muay Thai striking and are a big MMA based school with a strong jiu jitsu background. We also have women’s combat fitness class that a lot of fighters go to for great circuit training, and we also have kids’ classes. We’re a small local gym, but I think that once some of our fighters get more exposure, it’s going to kind of explode I think. You got Greg Jackson’s camp blowing up, you got CB Dolloway that was on The Ultimate Fighter, and now you got Arizona Combat Sports exploding. You don’t know about the gym until you get a couple of fighters in the UFC and getting known, then all of a sudden that’s the place to be. I really think that I’m in a gym that has that type of potential. It’s a newer gym, like five years old, but once some of us get a little more exposure, I think a lot more people will realize what Springfield, Missouri has to offer.

PRO MMA: You mentioned earlier that you bounce at a club part time in addition to training and going to school…
Zak Cummings: I actually work part time in a hospital too… I’ve been pretty busy!

PRO MMA: I’d say so! Didn’t you have eight fights in just one year?
Zak Cummings: I made my pro debut a week after Thanksgiving and had my eighth professional fight the night before Thanksgiving the next year. So I had eight fights in almost exactly one year.

PRO MMA: That’s almost unheard of… how do you balance that kind of pace with two jobs, full time school work, and a fight career?
Zak Cummings: I’m in school right now, and I love that gym, they are like my family, so anytime we’re at fights and just hanging out, that’s good enough of a personal life for me. I mean I like to go out and have a good time as well. It was a real quick pace, but I liked it. It kept my weight down, it gave me a good reason to keep working out and not get lazy. We took a lot of fights on short notice, like if my 205′er got hurt, I’d just step up a weight above to help the team. I know that MMA is a personal sport, it’s one on one, and a lot of fighters go to one place for boxing, and go to another to train with others. We don’t really do that, we try to feed off each other. We have a lot of good wrestlers, we have our guys with a jiu jitsu background. We have Clyde Hicks. He’s been boxing and coaching for years, and he comes in whenever he can and helps us out with our striking. We have a muay thai coach, and we pretty much have everything we need at our gym. You call me in a week and I’m going to be in shape to fight. That’s the easy part. Training is the hard part and fighting is the easy part, if you ask me. That’s when you get the extra rewards, you get the recognition, get the extra money. It’s the perfect college job, you get to travel; when you do have some down time, you can try to read and study when you can.

PRO MMA: You mentioned that you pretty much train at your gym, without traveling around much to train other disciplines at other gyms. Do you think it would be a big adjustment for you to adapt to the TUF coaches and trainers?
Zak Cummings: I don’t think it would be a problem at all. I’ve played sports my whole life, played baseball, football, and basketball, wrestled for years. I got in high school, and played football, baseball and wrestled. I’m a very coachable person, you show me one thing and I can pretty much pick it up. I have new coaches all the time, we have people that come in the gym that have something to offer and you just learn from them. I’m not one of those people that think I know everything, because I’m still very new to the sport. I think it would be a pretty easy transition for me. I think that if they pick a coach, they will be very well respected so I’m looking forward to it. I’m real excited about it.

PRO MMA: One of your biggest wins in your career so far has to be Terry Martin. Do you consider him to be your biggest win?
Zak Cummings: I definitely consider that my biggest win. I’m in the Midwest and had to travel down to Florida, and everybody, or a lot MMA fans knew who Terry Martin was, multiple time in the UFC, he’s won in the UFC, and even the fights he lost, he was winning from my point of view. He was definitely a game opponent and I was pretty stoked whenever I heard I had a chance to fight him. I felt very confident. He was a really tough opponent for me because I’ve got a decent wrestling background, I wrestled for a junior college and was a 2 time national qualifier. There are definitely better wrestlers out there than me, and he wrestled D1, and is a good wrestler, so I got to put myself up against a good wrestler to see how I performed. I wanted to see how I’ve evolved from my wrestling game. I’d like to say I’ve evolved pretty quickly and I’ve had fights were I refused to take people down to make my stand up better. So yeah, he’s definitely the toughest fight I’ve had, both name wise and exposure wise.

PRO MMA: If the UFC bid doesn’t work out initially, what other organization would you like to fight for?
Zak Cummings: If I don’t get on The Ultimate Fighter coming up, I probably see myself taking a fight for Strikeforce. Terry has been talking to Strikeforce about me, getting my name in with them as well. Personally, I think Strikeforce would be a great promotion to fight for after the UFC, but if I had to go in there, you know they have tough fighters as well, and I have no problem with that as well. I love to fight and I like to entertain people and if that’s the promotion that I could do it for with their big name and fan base, that would be a good promotion for me to fight for as well.

PRO MMA: I know you fight at 185, and a lot of fighters at middleweight walk around a lot bigger than that. What weight do you usually walk around at?
Zak Cummings: Like 210, right after eating I might get up to 213. I usually fluctuate between 206 to 212 pretty much. Sometimes you get a little lazy and get a little bigger, but I like to eat. I like to eat healthy too, but I do love to eat food.

PRO MMA: That being said, what are some of your favorite foods to eat?
Zak Cummings: I love Japanese food, I love sushi, stuff like that. I love chicken, I just like to eat. I work out hard and would love to have my six pack of abs, but it’s not all about looks.

PRO MMA: Everybody likes to talk pound-for-pound. Who do you think is the best P4P fighter in the world right now at this time?
Zak Cummings: I have to give it to Anderson Silva. He’s on a tear right now and just seems like no one can touch him. I have a lot of respect for Fedor as well, and GSP and guys like that, but Anderson Silva is just a whole step ahead of so many people. I was at the Silva vs. Cote fight and he was just toying with him. He was just having a fun time and entertaining the crowd and was never in any danger. I mean Rich Franklin is someone I really look up to. I got the privilege to meet him, he was a special guest at one of my last amateur fights, so I got to meet him and hang out with him at dinner. I’m also a left handed middleweight so I asked him for some advice. It was actually after the second time he fought Silva and he was really cool about the whole loss and everything. I have a lot of respect for him and he’s a great fighter and the way that Silva handled him like he did, I have to respect him too.

PRO MMA: Obviously, to be regarded as a top pound-for-pound guy, being well rounded is very important. With your wrestling background being what it is, how comfortable are you on your feet with your striking at this phase in your career?
Zak Cummings: I’m actually very comfortable. I feel like I’ve come a long way, but understand that I still have a lot to learn. I still make mistakes, and after I watched the video of me vs. Terry Martin and my head and chin was wide open the whole time, and if he had connected it could have been lights out. I’m pretty elusive on my feet and I’m kind of hard to hit, but it’s still a mistake I’m making. I still have a lot of holes in every aspect of my game, but honestly, I think everybody does. I had a fight up in Iowa, maybe my sixth pro fight against Danny Anderson, who had like 19 wins by submission. I felt very good on the ground but why risk it, so it ended up being a decision win, but I stood up the whole fight and punished him on my feet. I didn’t finish it but I punished him and beat him up with kicks, knees, elbows, punches everything. That’s why I really respect my wrestling, because if I want to use my wrestling to not go to the ground and trust my hands, I can. Or if it’s somebody like Terry Martin, I kind of wanted to take it to the ground, even though he has a background in wrestling as well, I can work to get the take down.

PRO MMA: Zak, thanks a lot for spending so much time with us here at PRO MMA (promma.info). Are there any sponsors you would like to thank, or any shout outs you want to send out?
Zak Cummings: I really want to thank my family for standing behind me and supporting me a whole lot. All my team mates, Springfield fight club, my coaches, we just push each other and feed off each other. I have the most exposure at the gym, but I have a lot of great guys there and they’re all just so tough. I want to thank Joe with Nakato’s Steakhouse and Ken from Boyers Tel-com, they’ve really kind of stepped up and helped me, especially helping me get out to Seattle and they’ve been very supportive of my career so far. Sofa Superstore also helps me out with supplements too. MMA Agents, Nathan Brodnax, I have to thank them for getting me all the exposure. I started with those guys right after the Terry Martin fight, and I feel very confidant and feel like good things are going to happen for my career.

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