"Fighting is fighting. I just needed to be smart, train smart, and understand the game. So far I’ve been blessed. I’ve been fighting guys more experienced than me and I’ve been winning the fights.”
Growing up, John Makdessi didn’t have much use for other people’s advice, opting to figure things out for himself.
“Throughout my childhood, I would never listen,” he chuckles. “If somebody told me to turn right, I would turn left just for curiosity. All my life I learned the hard way because of my stubbornness.”
“But look where it took me.”
On Saturday night, the aptly nicknamed “Bull” will make his UFC debut in his home country of Canada against fellow lightweight prospect Pat Audinwood. He’s come a long way in just a little over two years as a pro mixed martial artist, but if you look a little deeper, this trip to the Octagon has been a lifetime in the making, or more accurately, 19 years.
“I was six when I started in Tae Kwon Do,” said the 25-year old Nova Scotia native. “I started competing at an early age and I just fell in love with the martial arts.”
A talented athlete who also played soccer, Makdessi won a Tae Kwon Do Gold medal in the Junior Olympics, eventually gravitated to Shotokan karate, and after earning his black belt, the next step for him was kickboxing.
“I never really liked the karate stuff because it was a point system,” he said. “I was always more of a full-contact guy, so I went into kickboxing and did some competitions and I changed to a more developed kickboxer.”
By then, Makdessi was in college, but he had his head and heart set on hooks and not books, and he decided that he would take on the career of a professional kickboxer. Needless to say, for his parents, who had relocated from Lebanon to Canada, it wasn’t exactly the career they pictured for their son.
“At the beginning, as parents you’re always worried about your kids, and they were never too happy that I was doing this,” said Makdessi. “It was a very tough road that I chose. But for me, this is the only thing that makes sense to me and I don’t see myself doing anything else.”
And as K-1 was in its heyday, it seemed like the perfect road for “The Bull” to take.
“I was always watching K-1 and I was a big fan,” he said. “I was following Mirko Cro Cop when he was doing K-1 and I fell in love with all those guys – Andy Hug, Ernesto Hoost.”
Then reality set in, and despite a 22-0 record in kickboxing, it was becoming increasingly evident that making a career out of it in Quebec was going to be next to impossible.
“My passion was the striking, but unfortunately it was dying out in North America,” he said. “So my coach told me, for you to do kickboxing as a living, it’s going to be hard, plus the only way you’ll be able to survive is to travel to Europe.”
The stubborn and younger side of Makdessi would have disregarded such advice; but now that he was an adult, he thought out his options and began to take more seriously the little bit of training he was doing on the side.
“I was a big fan of the UFC,” he said, “and a true martial artist should know more than one discipline. I was still doing kickboxing, but on the side, like secretly, I went to the gym in Montreal, and I was learning the ground game and wrestling. I was doing Muay Thai and boxing as well. It was all new to me.”
Meeting up with renowned trainer Firas Zahabi cemented Makdessi’s resolve to become a mixed martial artist, but despite his talent in one area of MMA, learning everything proved to be a struggle at first.
“It was very hard for me mentally,” he said. “I was a black belt in karate and kickboxing, and I had to basically throw that in the garbage and learn from scratch. I had to change my fighting stance completely and everything else changed as well. You have to hit the reset button and start all over again and learn the basics on up.”
Then Makdessi’s stubborn personality meshed with his sensible side, and he pushed forward, doing everything he could to become a true student of the sport.
“I’m always training with guys who are better than me and I believe that will help my game get better faster,” said Makdessi, who also took inspiration from one of his old kickboxing heroes.
“My inspiration was Cro Cop. When I was starting in MMA, I saw Cro Cop fighting in mixed martial arts back in PRIDE. I believe we’re a little similar in the sense that he also was a kickboxer who then went to MMA, and I always looked up to guys like that. At the end of the day, you can’t be perfect in everything, but it just clicked for me, and fighting is fighting. I just needed to be smart, train smart, and understand the game. So far I’ve been blessed. I’ve been fighting guys more experienced than me and I’ve been winning the fights.”
Turning pro in September of 2008, Makdessi has put together a spotless 7-0 record with six knockouts. In his most recent bout against WEC vet Bendy Casimir, Makdessi showed the ability to go three rounds as he pounded out a unanimous decision over a vastly more experienced foe.
Then the call came from the UFC, and he eagerly responded to that call with a yes; he was ready for the Octagon.
“I was very happy when my manager told me the news, but at the same time, I looked at it like ‘this is it,’” he said. “For me, this is do or die. I’m 25 years old now, and in my eyes, this is the perfect age for me to make a name for myself. I can’t pass up this opportunity. Regardless if people think it’s too soon or whatever it is, at the end of the day, I’ve been doing martial arts my entire life and a true martial artist can adapt to any circumstances. If this wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. I truly believe its destiny and that hard work pays off.”
Now it’s time for that stubborn kid from Canada to show the world just what “The Bull” is bringing to the 155-pound weight class. And it’s more than just knockouts.
“I’ve never trained so hard in my life, and I want to prove to the UFC and the world that I belong here and hopefully I’ll be known one day not just as a good fighter but as a good representative for the sport,” he said. “It’s a martial art, and that’s something that people don’t get. We’re not thugs that are fighting in the cage; I try to make them understand that this is a martial art, and for me, it’s just another way to express myself.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live.
The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm
ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.