Makdessi (10-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) made his debut in the UFC after just seven professional fights. Prior to competing in the world’s premiere fighting organization, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native tore through his local circuit, dispatching six of seven opponents via TKO.
By his eighth fight, he was already basking in the main stage spotlight, fighting Pat Audinwood at UFC 124. Makdessi won a decision on that night and followed it up with highlight-reel spinning backfist knockout of TUF 12 alum Kyle Watson at UFC 129. Unfortunately, after the two initial outings, Makdessi hit a rough patch and suffered back-to-back losses to MMA veteran Dennis Hallman and the flashy Anthony Njokuani, respectively.
Like many young prospects, somewhere along the way, the pressure started building for Makdessi.
It wasn’t the fear or pressure of failure as much as it was the pressure to excel.
“The pressure started before my losses. I turned professional at the age of 23. I always thought guys were more experienced than me,” Makdessi told MMAweekly.com.
“It was my style and skills that, I believe, got me to where I am at now. My first couple of fights I had some exciting wins, and I don’t know, I guess I just let the pressure get to me. I wanted to perform.”
Apparently the problem stemmed from not being able to curtail his desire to learn and absorb as his career skyrocketed.
“I made it (to the UFC). I had no life. It’s all I did. Learning, training – I let it consume me. It’s all I’d think about. Sometimes it’s just a love-hate relationship. I just had to learn how to re-focus and focus on the present.”
As the pressure mounted, Makdessi suffered back-to-back losses in his next two UFC outings. With the current climate of fighter cuts and shaky job security, he sought out a professional to help get his mental game on par with his physical prowess.
“The thing is, I did let the pressure get to me,” he recounted. “I never imagined I’d have to go through talking (to a mental coach). I never imagined I’d be in the UFC. I always believed in my fighting. I always believed in myself. I always believed in my skills, but I just went with the process.
“Now, I’m working with a mental conditioning coach, Brian King, and he’s been great. I love the way he works. He’s been helping me a lot. I remember him saying, and it made a lot of sense, ‘Once you reach a certain level, it’s no longer about your skill level or how hard you work. It then becomes about your mental game.’”
This new mental approach allowed Makdessi to view the fight as it was; a one-on-one contest between two like-minded scrapers.
“At the end of the day, we’re both punching each other – he trains, I train – it then becomes about who did the mental preparation. I truly believe that. Now I’m training my mind more than my body.”
A workhorse in the gym, this Tri-Star product has a laundry list of champions and former champions to question at the famed Montreal sweathouse if he’s ever struggling with the finer nuances of mixed martial arts. Luckily for the proud Canadian, one of those partners just so happens to be UFC welterweight champion and countrymen Georges St-Pierre.
“(St-Pierre) is my inspiration; I look up to the guy. He’s a veteran. He’s been around a long time and he’s the perfect example of a true martial artist,” Makdessi proclaimed. “He’s never satisfied and he’s always trying to get better. I truly believe that’s why he one of the best fighters on the planet – because of his mind state.”
Having a world champion like St-Pierre to impart valuable fight wisdom upon him is something that’s not lost on the young fighter.
“He would always tell me – because I went so hard at practice – ‘save it for the fight, save it for the fight.’
“And I understand that now. It’s not about how hard you train; you have to train smart. You hear about all these fighters getting injured in training and it’s probably because they go so hard in the gym. Don’t get me wrong, I still train hard. I’m a believer in ‘the harder you train, the easier the fight.’ But you have to learn when to save it and I’m doing that now.”
It’s not only St-Pierre’s fight rhetoric that’s rubbing off on Makdessi; the Canadian brethren also share a propensity for walking softly and carrying a big stick.
“I’m not much of a big talker. They say actions speak louder than words, and I’ve always believed in that,” he said. “Some guys have to sell fights, and for some guys, their fighting sells the fight. I’ve already proven in the cage that I’m an exciting fighter and I still haven’t reached my full potential. And that’s a dangerous thing because knowing that I’m still learning every day and there’s still so much I can bring out in the cage, that’s really dangerous.”
In his most recent outing, “The Bull” was able to showcase his expanding talents with a unanimous decision victory over fellow Canadian stand-up wizard Sam Stout at UFC 154. A win, that he says, put to rest any questions he may have had about his place in the sport, and set in motion a wave of confidence heading into his UFC 158 bout this Saturday with TUF: Live alum Daron Cruickshank.
“The Stout win really showed me that I belong,” stated Makdessi. “There are a lot of doubts as a fighter. People don’t understand that professional athletes are some of the most negative people. I don’t know why we have that syndrome, honestly. It’s probably because we’re always wanting to be the best.
“But I found my road. I found my journey. It showed me that I do belong in the big leagues and that I do belong with the best fighters in the world.”
As the newly refocused 27-year-old prepares for his showdown with Cruickshank (12-2 MMA; 2-0 UFC), the tae kwon do expert is treating this fight like all the others before it; like a proverbial nightmare.
“Every opponent I have, I dream about being a monster,” said Makdessi. “That’s what makes me wake up every day and train as hard as I can and be as dominant as I can be. I never underestimate any of my opponents, but at the same time I think I am a pretty dangerous fighter. He’s tough, obviously, but so am I.”
And Makdessi’s toughness leads him to other bigger goals, and Saturday night’s fight is just one step in the process of achieving his goals.
“My goal is to be world champion. I got a picture of the belt at home and I look at it every day. Obviously I’m not focused on the outcome, but it’s a process. It’s something to have as a goal. You never know, I may never become a world champion, but at least I’ll die trying.”