Zak Cummings just celebrated his six-year anniversary of signing with the UFC, and two things have been a constant ever since pen went to paper in 2013: he wins fights, and he is one of the most under the radar fighters in the organization. Cummings hopes to change that this Saturday at UFC 242 (watch Cummings on ESPN+, 10:15 a.m. ET).
The 35-year-old Cummings returns to action against Omari Akhmedov at The Arena in Abu Dhabi. The middleweight bout will open up the card on UFC Fight Pass.
With an 8-3 record in his UFC tenure — which includes nine fights in the welterweight division, in addition to being part of season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter — Cummings is one of the more exciting fighters in the organization. The problem is, for whatever reason, Cummings has always been a guy who has flown under the radar. In fact, he may very well be one of the most undervalued fighters on the entire roster.
While Cummings has relished that placement in the organization, and amongst UFC fans, he is ready to make the leap from under to over the radar.
“I definitely think I am (one of the most under the radar fighters in the UFC),” Cummings told The Body Lock. “I think the hardcore fans know who I am and they respect what I do, the fighters… I’m a fighter’s fighter. The fighters know who I am, they know I’m dangerous and that I’m a very game opponent. For some reason, maybe I don’t talk a ton, I don’t have a model girlish figure, 8-pack abs, so maybe the company isn’t always hyping me up with promo videos.
“I don’t know what it is, but the one thing I know I can do in the fight game is, I know I can fight. I can finish fights and I can fight my ass off. It’s an entertainment sport, I get that. I feel like my style, my finishes are entertaining, but the rest of everything, I live my regular life. I spend time with my family, I help coach, I run businesses back home. But I don’t travel around to every UFC event or anything like that.
“Some of that is probably my decision, but one thing that you can’t take away from me is I can definitely fight. I can go out there and put on a performance — even in my losses, they’re extremely close. I don’t mind being under the radar. I just celebrated my six-year anniversary being in the UFC, 8-3 record, I think I’ve earned a little more respect for my name. At this point, I’m enjoying what I do. I get to do something I love every single day, get to train all the time, live in the gym, I don’t have to work a regular job. I get to travel and see lots of different places in the world, different cultures, meet different people. I’m so happy with everything, but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe I go out there and get a nice, nasty finish in this fight and maybe that will skyrocket me a little bit.”
Cummings made the move to the middleweight division after spending his entire career at 170-pounds. The weight cuts were very difficult, even telling The Body Lock that he once had to cut from 242 pounds for a fight. Since moving to 185, Cummings has picked up wins over Trevor Smith and, most recently, a third-round submission win over Trevin Giles at May’s UFC Rochester event.
Akhmedov, like Cummings, also was a former welterweight that made the move up a weight class. The 31-year-old from Dagestan has a win and a draw in his middleweight run and hasn’t suffered a defeat in the Octagon in over three years. There are a lot of similarities between Cummings and Akhmedov, including the under the radar moniker they both seem to share.
“It’s a dangerous matchup. He’s a game opponent, he’s good and a lot of people don’t know who he is,” Cummings explained. “He’s one of those names, I think he’s similar to me, where you hear his name and you’re like, ‘ehhhh, maybe’, and then you see him and you’re like, ‘oh, that guy, OK!’. It was the same way with me. I got the fight offer, which in my defense was spelled a little off when I got it, but I was like, ‘Who is that guy?’, and then I knew exactly who he was when I saw him. I respect him. I respect his skills and ability, very tough guy. He’s going to come push the pace, throws a lot of power. I feel like he’s similar to me in a lot of our styles, but I feel I have a little bit more finishing skills. I’ve got power in my hands, good chin to take a punch, if it goes to the ground, obviously I finish fights like crazy there.”
After his win over Giles, Cummings was hoping to get a top-15 opponent in his next fight. The TUF 17 competitor expects a high-paced fight with a lot of action against an opponent he truly respects. In fact, if Cummings wasn’t going to get a ranked opponent for his next fight, he feels like a matchup with someone like Akhmedov is the next best thing.
“For someone who doesn’t have a number next to their name, he’s definitely one of the most dangerous opponents out there,” Cummings said. “I’m not in this just to say I’m in the UFC and take the easiest fights possible. I want to get up there, especially at middleweight, it’s kind of a new beginning for me, so I want the tough fights. I wanted a ranked guy and didn’t get it and I think Omari is right outside there. A win over him definitely raises my stock and gets me a ranked opponent next. I’m on board for the fight. It should be entertaining. He’s a fun, he’s fast-paced, pressure, action-packed guy. I’m excited for it.”
Of his eight victories in the Octagon, Cummings has finished five of them — four by submission and one knockout. Cummings continues to evolve as a trainer, coach and a fighter as he splits time between his home gym, Glory MMA, and Factory X in Colorado where he gets a lot of different looks from high-level fighters.
In terms of how Cummings plans on the fight ending, he envisions it going down the way the majority of his fights have in the past: with the judges watching along with their pens remaining on the table.
“I see it the same way as every one of my wins,” Cummings stated. “I have a lot of power in my hands and when I start hitting people, they starting second-guessing, shooting for takedowns, grabbing my legs and when that happens, I have a nasty submission game. I catch submissions in scrambles very quick in transitions. I see Omari coming out, pushing the pace, trying to land those power shots on me. I’ve got a solid chin so I’m not worried about getting hit. If I can put my hands on him and force him to wrestle, that’s when I’ll start giving him problems. I see a submission victory, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a knockout either.”
Zak Cummings has always had the respect of his peers and fans alike throughout his career. As he gets ready to step into the cage in a professional capacity for the 30th time on Saturday, Cummings reflects on what that all means to him as he continues to enjoy what he is doing every single day.
“It’s weird, you think about it and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting there already’, and then there’s times where I feel like, ‘Man, this feels like my 600th fight,'” Cummings laughingly said. “I’ve been in contact sports for 30 years. I started playing contact football at 5 (years old). I had that, started wrestling all the way through college, then immediately started fighting. I’ve put my body through the wringer and I can definitely feel it. I’ve put the miles on but, in the grand scheme of things, I feel like I’ve been at it forever.
“It’s a big number to hit and I got into this thinking it would be nice to get into the UFC and win one fight. That was the overall go. Six years ago that happened and all of this is a bonus. I definitely know I can compete with and beat the best guys in the world, now it’s just time to prove it. I’m having fun with it, taking a lot of pressure off of myself and I’m just enjoying every fight I have left. I’m not murdering myself cutting weight and am just having fun with things.”