Among the MMA fight teams quickly gaining renown among fighters and fans alike is Milwaukee’s Roufusport squad. The team has become best known for producing such talented fighters as UFC lightweight contender Anthony Pettis and current Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, but there is another member of the group who is looking to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Though Zach Underwood had no background in martial arts before his entry into MMA, the Memphis-based lightweight has compiled a 10-4 record, including wins in his last two fights. Underwood most recently earned a decision victory over Chris Coggins at Bellator 73 on Aug. 24.
“I’ve been in sports my whole life and [MMA is] something I picked up with my brother,” Underwood told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “A hobby became my profession. It’s what I love to do. I love to fight.”
A true full-time fighter, Underwood begins each day at 8:00 a.m. with some coffee—”I am not a morning person,” he noted—and training with his brother and other fighters from the Memphis area. For a typical fight camp, he’ll remain in Tennessee for the first three or four weeks before heading to Milwaukee to finish his training at Roufusport.
“I just love their style of training,” Underwood said of his Roufusport coaches and partners. “They just get you prepared for anything.”
Underwood first got involved with Roufusport after collecting enough sponsor money to spend a year living in Milwaukee. He’s maintained a strong connection with the group, even if he splits time between camps.
“They have a great core of guys up there. We push each other really hard,” he said. “We’re not your average type of people, man. We do crazy stuff. We’ll spar for six rounds and then do a wrestling meet. A fight’s easy if you train there.”
In his latest victory, Underwood avenged his first professional loss, but he still has a lot of respect for Chris Coggins.
“Chris is a real tough guy,” Underwood said. “I actually know the guy and it sucks we had to fight, but it was business. We’re looked at as two of the top guys around here and it was just ‘let’s get it done,’ you know?”
Underwood said the victory over Coggins, who defeated him via unanimous decision in their first encounter, serves as evidence of his progression as a fighter in the five years he’s been involved in MMA.
“I’m going to continue to improve, too,” he said. “I’ve got bigger things in mind than Bellator. I want to win a couple more fights and get my name on the radar.”
Among his ten professional victories, seven have been by decision. Underwood knows a lot of submissions, but he simply prefers a ground-and-pound strategy when the fight goes to the mat.
“Everybody wants the stoppage,” he said. “I’ll stand with you and try to knock you out, but if we go to the ground, I’m going to keep you down because I’m winning and I’m going to just keep punching you and grind you out, because I have faith in my cardio.”
This strategy seems to have served Underwood well, as he escaped from his fight with Coggins injury-free. He’s already back in the gym preparing for whatever lies ahead next.
“I’m focused on keeping my weight down, as usual,” he said. “That’s why I’m back in the gym now, just in case we get that call, I’ll be ready. I’m healthy right now.”
Whatever is on the immediate horizon, the Roufusport camp can rest assured it will once again be seeing a lot of Underwood, who said the coaches and fighters in Milwaukee take him back to his younger days training for other sports.
“Growing up, my dad was my coach and he was on my butt my whole life. He taught me what hard work was, and they kind of remind me of that up there,” he said of the team. “If you miss a day of training, Duke [Roufus] will let you know…you need to get your butt in the gym. You’ve got a fight.”
Underwood’s ultimate goal is evident, but he feels he probably needs three to five more impressive wins to get there.
“The UFC is where everybody wants to be,” he said. “It’s the NFL of it all, man, and that’s where I want to be.”
The up-and-coming lightweight believes his time spent at Roufusport will definitely help him get there.
“If you think you’re tired, they’ll put you in for another round so you’re not tired,” he said. “It’s why they call it Sparta, man!”
Top Photo: Zach Underwood (R) battles Chris Coggins (Keith Mills/Sherdog)