Dominic Mazzotta Eager To Derail AJ McKee At Bellator 178
Friday, April 21, Mazzotta will face undefeated prospect AJ McKee in a featured bout at Bellator 178. It will mark Mazzotta's promotional debut, signaling his arrival on the big stage.
"It [signing the Bellator contract] was like f*ckin' Christmas, man," Mazzotta told FloCombat. "It felt good, a lot of weight off my shoulders, but at the same time, there's some extra pressure now. I feel good but I feel like I got a lot more work to do."
The road to Bellator was a lengthy one for Mazzotta. Dating back to his amateur debut in October of 2010, Mazzotta was seen as a blue-chip prospect in the deep tri-state MMA scene--and for good reason. A crafty striker with a next-level ground game, Mazzotta blitzed opponents, notching five submission victories in nine fights as an amateur before turning pro. The success then amplified.
Mazzotta kicked off his pro career in style, fighting three times in 2013 and winning them all--two via rear-naked choke and one via devastating knockout.
Then the hype trains collided.
In what is still one of the biggest fights in the history of Pittsburgh MMA, Mazzotta met a young, undefeated buzzsaw named Cody Garbrandt--yes that Cody Garbrandt--in the main event of Gladiators of the Cage: The North Shore's Rise to Power IV in March of 2014. Like Mazzotta, Garbrandt was undefeated but relatively untested as a pro, going 2-0 with two knockouts.
Thirty-two seconds into Round 2 of that encounter, Mazzotta was flattened by a devastating right hand--his first and only defeat in 13 pro fights.
"Unless you were there during the fight, unless you experienced it in the months before, unless you felt it when we stepped into the cage the fight before and went head-to-head, you didn't understand the magnitude of that fight on a regional level," Mazzotta said. "Being able to live in the moment and having big fights early in my career and always being in big fights--either the main event or the co-main event and having a fight of that magnitude that early in your career, I know what that feels like now.
"I remember looking up and down like, 'Damn. There are so many people here. It's so loud.' Now I've experienced that...More than just being in there and fighting, the experience of the emotions, being able to control my emotions and knowing how to handle a big crowd, I think that's what's really going to help me in this fight."
Following his defeat to Garbrandt, Mazzotta returned more focused and motivated than ever. Since that punch, he's gone 9-0--seven coming via submission--emerging as one of the nation's premier prospects at both bantamweight and featherweight (just ask Tapology).
Against McKee, Mazzotta knows he will have to rely on more than just his ground game, and that suits him just fine. To the 29-year-old fighter from the Steel City, this fight is just another chance to show he's belonged under the bright lights all along.
"I don't think I have any weaknesses to be honest with you," Mazzotta said. "I think I have underrated striking, offensively, and I think I've been hit maybe once or twice in my whole career. One of them happened to be Cody Garbrandt's strong right hand that dropped me. I think I can take advantage in many different places in this fight. I can see myself submitting him in the second round. I can see myself knocking him out in the first round. I can see myself grinding him out if I have to grind him out.
"But anybody I go against is going to have a disadvantage against me on the ground. I don't see anybody--definitely not in Bellator or the UFC--having any advantage over me on the ground or being even close to me. That comes from training. When you're training with Division-I national champion wrestlers, Division-II national champion wrestlers and grappling high-level black belts on a daily basis, that gives you a lot of confidence."
And while many expected Mazzotta to one day fight inside the historic UFC Octagon, his immediate future lies with Bellator. Inking a three-fight deal with the MMA powerhouse, Mazzotta says he already feels at home and he loves the direction the promotion is heading into 2017 and beyond.
"With the way the sport's going, with the money that Viacom's putting into Bellator, with the publicity it's been getting lately, I'm perfectly happy if I never make it to the UFC and I stay in Bellator for my whole career and become Bellator champion," Mazzotta said. "In the future, there's going to be future champions coming from the UFC to Bellator. And I'll be happy to welcome them there.
"Viacom's doing a great job, and Scott Coker's doing a great job with taking the promotion to the next level and making it equal to the UFC. I think eventually it will be. It's just a matter of time...They're going to be bringing a lot of people in, and there are people coming up who are just as good as anybody in the UFC--like me. I'm just as good as anybody in the division, and it just so happened I wasn't signed yet. The sport is MMA. The sport isn't UFC. We're not training UFC. We're training MMA."
When the cage door closes Friday night, Mazzotta gets the chance to halt McKee's 7-0 hype train and, in a way, exorcise some demons of that loss to Garbrandt. At the time, Garbrandt was the 22-year-old undefeated mega-prospect, and he got the better of his older foe. Now more experienced, more confident, and more skilled, Mazzotta looks forward to turning the tables and sending McKee packing with his first career defeat.
"I don't think he's on my level," Mazzotta said. "It [taking the fight] was never a question. It wasn't like, 'Oh, let's check this guy out.' No. I get a -year-old kid who's undefeated, who's never really been tested, who they're pushing? Yeah, give me that all day. I would've taken it on two weeks' notice, but thankfully I got five weeks."