In a recent interview with MMA Futures on The Stool, Zak Cummings, former UFC fighter, shared his journey in the world of mixed martial arts, from his early days as a high school athlete to his retirement from professional fighting. This transcript provides insights into Zak’s background, experiences in the UFC, and his post-retirement plans, including coaching, community involvement, and promotion ownership.
Background and Early Years:
Zak Cummings, a multi-sport athlete since childhood, excelled in football, baseball, and wrestling. Growing up in Springfield, Missouri, he had limited access to high-level wrestling during the summers, which led him to explore other disciplines like Muay Thai for cross-training. Zak’s initial introduction to MMA was serendipitous when he met a Muay Thai practitioner who owned a Thai restaurant but had exceptional fighting skills. These chance encounters ignited his passion for MMA.
The Unexpected Journey to Professional MMA:
Zak’s entry into professional MMA was unconventional. During his sophomore year in college, he took part in a “Tough Man” boxing event, facing a seasoned boxer with over 100 fights. Surprisingly, Zak found himself thriving in the fight and enjoyed the experience. His curiosity led him to his first boxing match, a decision made on a whim. Little did he know that this would mark the beginning of a remarkable MMA career.
From Casual Training to a Professional Career:
After a severe knee injury during his wrestling days in college, Zak joined a local gym to regain fitness. He wasn’t initially interested in fighting professionally, merely seeking camaraderie and a sense of purpose. However, fate had different plans for him. A chance meeting with Michael Johnson, a friend from his wrestling days, led to his introduction to MMA training. His competitive spirit soon convinced him to take his first fight, which ended in a quick victory.
The Ultimate Fighter Experience:
Zak described the rigorous audition process for The Ultimate Fighter, sharing that it involved grappling sessions in front of UFC staff and producers, striking pad work, and challenging interviews meant to test one’s personality. Although he attended multiple tryouts and narrowly missed making the show in previous seasons, he eventually got the opportunity on Season 17. He fondly remembered the highly competitive atmosphere of that season, with fighters like Kelvin Gastelum and Uriah Hall.
Navigating Weight Classes and Injuries:
One topic discussed in the interview was Zak’s decision to compete primarily at welterweight (170 pounds) despite experiencing challenging weight cuts. He explained that his commitment to the weight class stemmed from his belief that he needed every advantage to compete with the best fighters in the world. Over time, however, as the cuts became increasingly difficult, and injuries began to affect his performance, he realized the need to move up to middleweight (185 pounds).
Retirement in Front of a Hometown Crowd:
Zak reflected on his retirement fight, which took place in Kansas City in front of his hometown crowd. He expressed gratitude to the UFC for providing him with the opportunity to retire on his terms. The emotional moment included his daughter accompanying him to the cage, making it a special conclusion to his fighting career. He acknowledged the overwhelming support from the local crowd and the unforgettable experience.
Life After Retirement:
Post-retirement, Zak has focused on expanding his gym, coaching MMA and jiu-jitsu, and providing law enforcement training. He co-owns a promotion called Synergy Fighting Championships, offering another platform for aspiring fighters. Zak emphasized his dedication to giving back to the sport that transformed his life and helping guide new generations of fighters toward success.
Zak Cummings’ journey from a multi-sport athlete to a successful UFC fighter, and now as a coach and promoter, highlights his commitment to the sport of MMA. His story serves as an inspiration to aspiring fighters and showcases the opportunities that can arise from embracing one’s passion and following their unique path in the world of mixed martial arts