Luke Zachrich is no stranger to the big stage in mixed martial arts. He’s been a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter 7 and once fought for Bellator in the promotion’s second-season middleweight tournament.
The fight for Bellator, in April 2010, was the last time fans saw him in action, but as he tells The MMA Corner, he hasn’t missed a step. Zachrich will be headlining Ultimate Victory Challenge 20 “Clash at the Coliseum” in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, on Aug. 4 for the promotion’s first-ever middleweight title. Zachrich tells us what the fight means to him, as well as talking about his training opportunities and where he and his goals are at now.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Zachrich. “For me, it’s not as much about the title as it is being able to actually fight in a town that I have a ton of family and friends in. That’s never really been an option for me. I’ve travelled a ton for a lot of these fights and stuff like that, and never really had a promotion that backed me. So everything that I’ve done, I’ve kinda been the guy brought to other places for the most part. So it means a lot that it’s in my community and everyone can come out and support and watch the fights, support the UVC and be able to put on a show for all these friends, family [and] fans that have backed me for the last eight or nine years.”
Zachrich felt it would be best to give his body time to heal before putting it through another fight. He’s kept active during his cage-fighting absence both personally and professionally, all the while training his skills for an eventual return to MMA.
“Unfortunately, I was plagued with some pretty serious injuries for a couple years,” the Ohio native explained. “I got married. I was injured going into my last fight. Found out it was a lot more serious than I expected it to be, and I had to take some time off. I got married after the fight, went on a honeymoon, came back, opened up another restaurant. So it’s just been one thing after another for me. I haven’t really stepped out of the gym. I’ve trained except for when I was rehabbing the injury. I’ve stayed in the gym the whole entire time and I continued to train. So it’s not really like I feel like I lost a step or anything along those lines, but as far as preparation time for an MMA fight, I never had the time really.”
In October 2011, Zachrich and his partner opened their own gym, The Ronin Training Center, to the public in Grandview Heights, Ohio. For Zachrich, it was about taking the best qualities from the various gyms he’s trained at and then building that at home.
“I was going to a lot of different places for each specific form of martial arts that’s involved in MMA,” he said. “I felt like I was kind of missing the boat because I’m in my car every single day driving from place to place not getting the amount of time of rest, and then you get the personalities involved and everything like that. So when the time came, it was going to be one of those gyms that my partner and I had our feel for what the gym should be like, that’s what we’ve been lucky enough to build.”
Owning a gym has allowed Zachrich to bring some of the best fighters and coaches in the world to him. One of those men is multiple national and world medalist and champion Vitor Oliveira, who Zachrich credits with elevating his game.
“He’s an amazing grappler. He’s one of the most phenomenal grapplers I’ve ever shared a mat with, basically. Yeah, I’ve been around some fantastic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists in my days of fighting. I actually own the Ronin Training Center, the gym that I train at, so when I brought Vitor in, he was just here for a short period of time and the kid’s skills just absolutely shocked me. He’s smaller than me—I have the hardest time in the world with the guy. But you wanna talk about having a great training partner for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you couldn’t really ask for anything better.”
“So where it’s taken my skills, I’m training daily with one of the top grapplers in the world, so I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve pushed my skill set so he gets the most out of me on the mat.”
The only two losses on Zachrich’s 10-2 record come from submissions, and he’s the first to acknowledge that is a part of his game that needs work. His opponent for UVC 20, Nick Kraus, is a college wrestler that holds mostly submission wins, but Zachrich’s training gives him confidence that he will be prepared for whatever Kraus can throw at him.
“The last three years I’ve spent doing nothing but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training, basically” Zachrich confessed. “That was the spot I felt was weakest in my game and I kinda stepped back a little bit this time, I put the gi on, I trained non-stop. Everything I’ve done in my mixed martial arts training, it’s revolved around Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training, basically. So, as far as the plan for Nick, I really didn’t do anything special, you know what I mean? He’s a good college wrestler, so obviously I worked on my takedown defense [and] my offensive wrestling because I feel like if this fight hits the mat, it’s in my favor.”
“It’s weird because I’ve never had this feeling going into a fight before. Everyone has looked at me primarily as a striker with some decent submission skills, but I really lacked that well-rounded game on the ground, basically. Now it’s at a point I don’t really care where the fight goes, you know what I mean? If he wants to come out and take me down, ‘ok, thank you.’ I’m not going to let him take me down, or at least attempt to not let him take me down. I basically don’t care where the fight ends up for the most part.”
That same focus and pragmatic outlook of Zachrich extends beyond his thoughts on the next fight and into the bigger picture. He knows what it takes to compete for the top promotions, and everything he does is to establish himself while moving forward.
“I’m at a position in my life right now, that the money is not what I want,” Zachrich admitted. “It’s the respect, it’s the years I’ve put my body through this and the injuries I’ve done. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have my sights set on the bigger picture, the bigger goal. So yeah, I would absolutely love to get back in the running to get picked up by another big promotion. But it’s kind of on me. This is my first fight in a little over two years. The opponent is not a slouch by any means. Yeah, that’s my ultimate goal—to make it back to the UFC. I’m gonna take the tough road, basically, to get back there.”
On Aug. 4, Zachrich will have the chance to showcase his evolved jiu-jitsu game and remind fans and promotions alike of his presence inside the cage.
Zachrich’s story is one of a fighter that has reached the high summits of MMA and learned from the journey. He never fell from the altitudes he reached, he simply returned home with the knowledge gained from the experience and the clarity of how to come back stronger.
It is fitting Zachrich will make his return to the cage in his hometown and training base of Columbus. He’s travelled all over the United States to train, and he has competed on the biggest stages as a journeyman. Now, opportunity is once again knocking at his door.
Top Photo: Luke Zachrich (white trunks) attempts a submission against Eric Schambari (Bellator Fighting Championships)