Mark Bocek on Trainer Firas Zahabi: “He Could be a Competitive Top Ten Fighter”
By Kelsey Mowatt
Mark Bocek continued to demonstrate at UFC 145 that securing a victory against the lightweight is a rather difficult prospect, when you’re forced to endure the renowned jiu-jitsu competitor’s top game. This time out it was the well traveled and resilient veteran John Alessio, who despite a determined effort, lost by unanimous decision to the 30 year-old BJJ black belt.
“I tried not to be desperate to close in or how I went in for takedowns,” Bocek told FCF, while discussing how his wrestling factored into his victory Saturday. “I tried to use my boxing to get in, as from the research I had done, he seems to get tired from wrestling scrambles or exchanges. Even if I didn’t take him down I wanted to put him against the cage, wear him out, start to make his arms really heavy.”
Although Bocek was able to take Alessio to the ground on several occasions and controlled the majority of the bout for the UD win, the Tristar fighter concedes his performance wasn’t perfect.
“I’m very happy with the first round but I really wish rounds two and three were more like the first,” said Bocek. “I don’t understand how after I got the takedowns in those rounds he was able to get back up. I didn’t control the far side underhook and in the second he came out strong and started to land the jab a little bit. So I was disappointed with that.”
“I was still able to get the takedown in every round and I think I showed a little more versatility in the striking,” Bocek added. “Either way a win’s a win and he’s a tough experienced opponent.”
Unlike other noted jiu-jitsu practitioners like Dustin Hazelett and David Bielkheden, who were promptly submitted by Bocek in their meetings, Alessio was able to survive the ground skills of his fellow Canadian.
“I think people are clearly overlooking it,”Bocek said while discussing whether some observers underestimated the ground skills of Alessio. “You have to understand that this guy fought Pat Miletich 14 years ago; he’s a battle tested veteran. There’s not a lot you can throw at this guy that he hasn’t seen.”
Bocek has recorded two victories now since he lost by unanimous decision to current champ Ben Henderson last April, as in December, the lightweight scored a UD win over veteran Nik Lentz.
“I don’t really know; it’s really hard to say,” said Bocek about who he might fight next. “I could lobby for a few match-ups sure. Say fighting a guy like (Joe) Lauzon or (George) Sotiropoulos. I don’t really know where that would put me, but at this point I’ve only had 15 MMA fights so it doesn’t really need to put me anywhere.”
“I’m still trying to learn and grow as a fighter,” added Bocek, who has gone 8-3 in the Octagon to date. “I never went into this sport to be second best or lose, but when you’re fighting guys like Ben Henderson it’s bound to happen sooner or later. I was thrown in there from the start but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Of course, Bocek’s evolution as a fighter has come via the instruction he’s received through renowned gyms like American Top Team and more recently Montreal’s Tristar camp.
“Firas (Zahabi) has helped me a lot,” Bocek said while praising the highly regarded trainer. “One of the things people don’t understand about Firas is that if he wanted to, he could be a competitive top ten fighter. He’s very dangerous and he’s very skilled in every area. He runs the pro classes and then he’s on the mat training at night.”
“He’s almost like a specialist in every area so he can give you unbiased looks at what you need to work on. He understands not just jiu-jitsu itself but jiu-jitsu for MMA, so he’s good at devising a strategy for me.”