By: Nick Portella
What’s good fight fans? Today I had the pleasure to sit down with Bellator’s own Zach “The Altar Boy” Freeman. Zach is coming off of a huge win at Bellator NYC defeating Aaron Pico 24 seconds into round one via guillotine choke. He currently holds a 9-2 professional MMA record. Let’s talk with Zach about his career, his most recent win, and what is in the future.
Nick: What does it mean (for you) to be a fighter?
Zach: Personally it’s fulfilling to me. I have an itch in my body that makes me a competitor. It’s something that’s inside of me and pushed me to fight. I didn’t get to finish my wrestling career as a senior. I had 12 surgeries on my leg and almost lost that leg. I would have had a career in college wrestling for sure. I went to a private college that didn’t even have a wrestling team. A couple years later I had a void from missing wrestling and then I started training MMA. Life got a little crazy so I stopped MMA. Finally, I went back and it filled the void.
Nick: At what age did you begin to train martial arts?
Zach: I started training jiu-jitsu at the age of 24. It wasn’t under anyone major or anything like that, but it went from that into other disciplines. I currently train jiu-jitsu (gi and no gi), wrestling, Muay Thai, and boxing.
Nick: With an amateur fight record of 5-0 what made you decide to go to the professional level?
Zach: I was 5-0 with 5 first round finishes. The opportunity came up and I took it.
Nick: How long have you been with St. Charles MMA?
Zach: I have been there since 2011 when I took my very first pro fight.
Nick: What would you say your best attribute is inside the cage?
Zach: I’m a strong starter and finisher. I can be very strong in the beginning of fights and finish them, but I can be equally as strong at the end to get the same result.
Nick: Your nickname is The Altar Boy. Who gave it to you?
Zach: Tony Biondo was a ring announcer around St. Louis. He is a great guy and a friend of mine. I had my first fight back in 2008 and I slugged the guy and won the fight in 40 seconds I think. I had to take a couple of years off due to some trouble and things that got in my way. I was weighing in at my second amateur fight and the name was born.
Nick: June 24 at Bellator NYC you faced what people are calling the greatest prospect ever in MMA in Aaron Pico. What are your thoughts?
Zach: Aaron is the greatest prospect to ever hit MMA. If you really look at his training and credentials there is no doubt. No one has entered MMA better. Downgrading him after the fight is really taking some respect away from me. I need people to remember that Aaron Pico was the greatest prospect to enter MMA and Zach Freeman took him out. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder I don’t care I did what I did, but I got to live that moment. It’s unfortunate for Aaron also because some people will only back you until you lose. I told Aaron after the fight that he will be a champion. Today was just my day.
Nick: I have heard that many big name fighters had turned the fight down with Aaron. Did it ever cross your mind to turn it down also?
Zach: It’s crazy I remember watching videos about Aaron Pico a few years ago. It was amazing that he was so skilled and had a Nike contract. It never crossed my mind that I would be the guy he would debut against at Madison Square Garden on Bellator’s second PPV. It also earned me the fastest submission at Madison Square Garden and the fourth fastest for Bellator. I fight because I love to fight. I never thought to turn it down.
Nick: It seemed very odd that you were the underdog coming into this fight with a record of 8-2 and he was 0-0. Did you think you should have been the favorite?
Zach: No it didn’t. I should have been the underdog. I didn’t have a great showing my last fight. No one knows that I broke my hand in the first round and made it even worse in round two. I fought with a straight face for 29 minutes with 4 minutes rest. I even managed a takedown in the fifth round, but I got beat up that day.
Nick: Besides getting the “upset” win how much more meaningful was it in Madison Square Garden the world’s most famous combat sports venue?
Zach: To me, it was the ultimate fairytale story. I can tell you that it still hasn’t really sunk in. I was so focused on my fight that I didn’t really get to enjoy that moment. The adversity, the hype, everything had me in that laser focused state of mind.
Nick: With Aaron having such a high-level wrestling background did you think you would have any hesitations taking the fight to the ground?
Zach: No at all. I told a lot of people to not be surprised when I take him down. It was part of the plan. If I didn’t throw that uppercut to stun him I was going to take him down. That would have made him panic and embarrassed him and that’s where I would have taken the fight out into the deep water and in my hands. I have that under my belt so it’s time to come back and perform. If they want me to fight Aaron again after he gets a few fights in that would be fine.
Nick: You definitely made a name for yourself with this win. I know it is still very fresh, but do you have any ideas on what may be next for you?
Zach: I hope Bellator brings me back for sure. I present myself well with the media and hope that they want to do more stuff with me. I think that I may also have a future in public speaking. I would like to talk to young men who are having a tough time and fight for Bellator.
Nick: How many fights do you have left with Bellator.
Zach: I have to review my contract but it was either one fight or four fights. I think it was one though. At least this fight set me up to sign again.
Nick: Bellator and the UFC are the major players in the MMA game. Would you consider moving over to the UFC if the opportunity presented itself?
Zach: I can tell you that I am a loyal person. The staff at Bellator have been amazing to me. At the end of the day though I’m a professional athlete. Whoever would want me to be a product of their brand and invest in may would get my attention.
Nick: While you hold a brown belt in jiu-jitsu many fighters say that they don’t worry about the belt and train no gi because in the gi doesn’t really help. Do you train mostly in no gi?
Zach: I have to disagree with that completely. I actually train in the gi a lot. If I can guillotine someone in the guy I can definitely do it to someone with no shirt on. The gi really cuts down space so I think that it makes you way more dangerous.
Nick: Who is your favorite MMA fighter of all time?
Zach: That’s a tough one. I actually have three. They would be Matt Hughes, Dan Henderson, and Fedor Emelianenko.
Nick: If you could have one dream fight with anyone, who would it be, why?
Zach: I have to go with Justin Bieber. I’d pick him because we both would look like we don’t belong. I wouldn’t do corn rows for that fight. He can probably fight a little now since he has been training jiu-jitsu and hanging out with Floyd. He can probably bang now.
Nick: Conor McGregor will be fighting Floyd Mayweather in August. Who do you like in this fight?
Zach: I’ll say McGregor with an outstanding amazing upset TKO. It’s the year of the upset. I’ll go down in history with Conor and anyone else who has an amazing upset.
Nick: Zach have you submitted to the takeover?
Zach would like to thank many people. First, thank you to Mike Chandler for the message sent to me. Autoplex Extended Services, Show Me Credit Solutions, Two Twelve Night Club, Maars Living Walls, Pollock Manufacturing, Working Spaces, Deason Contracting and Installations, Ill Conduct, Nicky Hayden, Tony Sweet Heat Peppers, Angry Beaver STL, SCMMA, Junge and Associates, Cove Logistics, GPO4BIZ, Nutrition Vixen, Vinyl Images, Square Fruit Labs, Zach Costello Fitness, Alyssa Speckhal Fitness, The Foust Family STL, Knuckle Junkies MMA, Trials MMA, and Sugar Fire Smokehouse. All great products and services that I would highly recommend. He couldn’t forget his family, friends, and fans. Thank you for all the love and support through his journey.
Zach is such a great guy to talk with. Coming off of a huge victory and moving forward with his career, he is definitely a guy to keep an eye one. He will also be coming out with his own brand product which is still a secret, but he assured me it would be great. Keep an eye on all of his social media for updates and what he is doing. Signing off for TheMMATakeOver.com this is Nick Portella. @NickPortellaMMA