Bull on Parade
It’s the glare that strikes his foe first.
A relentless stalk follows, matching steps like a shadow with cruel intentions.
The adversary will engage, move, duck and sprawl with him, but the bull remains one-step ahead in his prowess.
Pat Audinwood…Kyle Watson…Sam Stout…Daron Cruickshank…Renee Forte… Like matadors in an arena, they’re confined to the cage with a cerebral combatant. He advances on his foes, and they fall, sometimes from unadulterated brutality (1).
The bull is on parade and the Octagon is his territory. On February 1 at UFC 169 in Newark, New Jersey, “The Bull” locks his attention on Alan Patrick inside his arena, and he’s looking to run him over.
The Game of Fighting
John “The Bull” Makdessi is a perfectionist and his worst critic. It makes his appetite growl for a legacy and motivates him to be a master of his body in the gym and expand his intellect through the study of combat in books and film. He’s always driven for greater achievement.
“I’m a martial artist. I struggle every day physically and mentally,” Makdessi said.
”I’m always learning and always trying to get better.”
The 28-year-old martial artist, born in Halifax now residing in Montreal, is in pursuit to rise as a fighter. He’s dedicated his life towards MMA, and to reach that next level, he’s realized it’s more of a mental thing than it is physical.
“If my body isn’t training, (then) my mind is,” Makdessi said. “Instead of training harder, (I) train smarter. That’s (what) I started to learn. (I will be) training for performance instead of training for failure.”
One of Makdessi’s key factors in rising to the next stage of his career is he always aims to inflict key damage to opponents and not receive any in return. At 12-2, the truth is in the statistics amongst his 88 per cent defended takedowns of opponents, 76 per cent strike defence, and his finish rate of 67 per cent.
Makdessi notes that the “most challenging thing in MMA is to find a way to fight your fight.”
“If I’m able to go in there and feel very confident and very comfortable, I’m obviously going to show more of my tools,” he said.
But it’s not just a few tools his foes need to be wary of; Makdessi possesses a toolbox of eye-popping firepower. He prides himself on being able to showcase skills that not many people are accustomed to seeing inside of the cage.
“For me it’s all about (having) an edge. If I have that edge then I want to take it,” Makdessi said.
His edge has earned him a three-fight win streak against a battle-tested veteran and two upcoming Lightweights. But it’s his study of the game that is what is separating himself from the pack.
“Every world champion I (have) studied had great mentors and great teachers and that’s something I’m always looking for,” he said.
He’s done a lot of research and in particular, Cus D’Amato is a coach he’s studied and, “no money in the world” could pay for a coach/fighter relationship like what he had with Mike Tyson.
“Cus D’Amato would build a champion, that’s a big difference. It’s very hard to find a coach like that these days, especially in MMA. There’s so many different guys telling you what to do and pulling you in different directions. For many fighters, that alone, is a struggle,” Makdessi said.
His coaches at Tristar are well known for their thorough game plan and opponent research. The formula is the same for Makdessi: the coaches build the game plan and he executes it.
At UFC 169 during the Sportsnet 360 prelims at 8 p.m. EST, Makdessi fights Brazilian and fellow Lightweight, Alan Patrick, 30, who is 11-0. It was a familiar tune for Makdessi recently as he fought in the UFC with a perfect record, but he would rather let his skill speak for itself inside the Octagon.
“At the end of the day, records don’t mean anything to me. It’s all about how you fight and how you perform,” Makdessi said. “I’m going to prepare the best I can for a southpaw and (Patrick’s) style of fighting.”
Taking the Risk
Makdessi joined the professional ranks of mixed martial arts in 2008. A decision he made that was the accumulation sacrificing for a few years to get to that point.
“The Bull” attended Dawson College in Montreal for business administration, worked at his family’s restaurant as a cook and trained mixed martial arts. It was a tight schedule, on top of being very family orientated with his parents, two brothers (2) and sister, and his girlfriend, Jessie, of now eight-years.
“I chose (that) I just wanted to commit to 100 per cent to MMA. I wanted to focus full time on training and see how far I can take it and go professional,” Makdessi said, adding he made the decision to drop out of Dawson to pursue his dream in his early twenties.
“I was just amazed he was taking the risk,” said Jessie, who is engaged to Makdessi (3). “I was like, ‘Go for it’ and I was excited the whole time. I went with the flow with everything.”
The couple met in a kickboxing class and she remembers being so amazed by his persistence in everything he set his mind to.
“He does all the right things. I see how he’s training his mind and studying, if his head isn’t in a book then he’s watching a video, going through notes, his head is there 100 per cent,” Jessie said.
Once Makdessi was ready to join the professional ranks, he stopped working at his family restaurant and committed all of his focus and energy on martial arts. It was just something that clicked for him, he couldn’t predict the future and didn’t know how far he could take it, but the sky was the limit if he focused and was hungry enough for it.
Makdessi was an instant hit on the Canadian circuit (4) winning his first six fights by stoppage, including TKOs over Lindsey Hawkes and Iraj Hadin. He never took a training camp off for any opponent.
“I fought (many) guys with a lot of experience so for me just that alone was a great test,” he said. “I just wanted to keep proving myself and fight the guys who were going to make me prove my skills and to give me that extra opportunity for my ultimate goal to be champion.”
After his seventh win in two years, members from the Tristar camp were informing UFC scouts to keep eye on “The Bull”. Eventually, for UFC 124 in Montreal, he got the call.
“I didn’t know (the UFC) would call me,” he said. “It was a great honour and very exciting.”
It just two years after turning pro, “The Bull” had made it to the big show.
Jessie is riding this road with her fiancée and now with his UFC high three-fight win streak, and potential for greater challenges, they’re in no rush to tie the knot.
“His fighting comes first,” she said.
Building a Champion
Growing up in Montreal, Makdessi’s youth was occupied with trouble, street fights and court dates. He was impulsive and always looked to test himself.
“I didn’t direct my energy properly. I got into a lot of trouble with teachers and students. I kind of lost track and I didn’t really have a mentor or guidance,” Makdessi said.
The young bull, who always wanted to prove himself, was a naturally gifted athlete in school and could direct his energy through sports. He excelled in everything he tried, but there was no substitute for how combat sports made his pulse elevate. That was where Makdessi got his first taste of a purpose in life.
“Martial arts, for me, was a savior because I would get attention from my trainer so if I did something well he would tell me and I would be like, ‘wow,’” he said.
Makdessi started Tae Kwon Doe, his first discipline, at six-years-old and quickly began competing, which he continued to for many years. In high school he picked up Shotokan karate, but abandoned it for kickboxing, saying he was, “looking for a full contact sport.”
Throughout his marital arts life, Makdessi’s coaches would come and go. At some points, there was nothing further they could teach Makdessi and it confused him why they were essentially giving up on him. He was still searching for a Tyson/D’Amato relationship with a coach.
“Growing up it was never really consistent for me. It was like a bump in the road with coaches (and myself),” Makdessi. “My trainers couldn’t teach me anymore, I had no more sparring partners.
“I wanted to go professional in kickboxing was my original goal.”
At the time, kickboxing wasn’t as
wasn’t as watched with the North American crowds as its combat counterpart, MMA and the UFC, that were attracting the viewers’ eyes. He watched Mirko Cro Cop, a former kickboxer turned mixed martial artist, have success in Pride FC, which ultimately inspired “The Bull” to start looking into this newer form of combat.
“Everyone was doing MMA at the time,” Makdessi said. “I truly believe that MMA is the hardest, toughest challenge of any sport, considering all the different disciplines. I just decided to pursue that.”
Makdessi decided to make a return to Tristar as its reputation began to come to the forefront after he left the world-renowned gym a few years earlier.
“I left because there was so many things going on and it wasn’t like a traditional school,” Makdessi said. “Growing up I always had the attention on me and now (the first time) going to Tristar where there were so many great talents and no attention for me, it was a little bit hard to deal with that.”
Makdessi returned focused on developing his MMA skills from scratch. Everyday he would be learning something new and build upon the different disciplines through hard work and dedication with the right people.
“My main objective was to find trainers who were smart, good coaches and train smart,” Makdessi said. “(I) found different guys to work with. For me, I have to have chemistry. I feed off my coaches and my coaches feed off me.”
One of his coaches being Firas Zahabi, who has been with Makdessi through his amateur fights.
“He’s a great guy, (but) obviously he can’t focus just on me. I had to find different guys to work with me and do one on one because I knew that’s how I would get better, very fast,” he said.
Zahabi recently awarded Makdessi with a purple belt in jiu-jitsu after five-years. Makdessi said it was a surprise and honour, but at the end of the day his main focus is on MMA.
With a walk around weight of 178 lbs., Makdessi is a natural 55’er. He says it’s not about the size of the fighter; it’s the skill you showcase.
Makdessi’s learned from his two losses and discovered, “it made me better as an individual and a martial artist because I found that in life you have to try and learn from your mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes than you’re going to keep doing the same stuff over and over,” Makdessi said.
He notes that his fight with Dennis Hallman, who missed weight, at UFC 140, felt “like I was drowning. I felt like I was under water.” That fight was a learning experience.
Just before the 2014 New Year, Makdessi took to Twitter and tweeted, “Ever since I was young I knew I was made for something big. I’m gonna keep going for it.”
Jessie reiterated when she said it, not because he’s her fiancée, but she can definitely see a world champion in the man she will marry one day. The Bull.
1. Makdessi brutally knocked out Kyle Watson with a spinning back fist at UFC 129, and KO’d Renee Fortee at UFC 165.
2. Makdessi’s brother, David, founded the Fear The Fighter brand in inspiration of him. The two were brainstorming names and decided Fear The Fighter was the best one.
3. Makdessi and Jessie became engaged in Dec. 2012.
4. Before making the UFC, Makdessi fought exclusively in Canadian promotions such as Ringside MMA, XMMA, Canadian Fighting Championship and Mixed Fight League.