Zuffa LLC saved its flagship promotion, the UFC, when it introduced the world to The Ultimate Fighter reality show back in January 2005. After the epic first season came 19 more, with two currently in the pipeline. In the last eight and a half years, fans have seen champions emerge, including Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin and Matt Serra, as well as a host of other top-level contenders.

Tomorrow night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, fans will get to see another TUF alum making his official UFC debut, only he won’t be fighting at the same weight class as on the reality show. Instead, he’s going lighter.

Zak Cummings grew up in Springfield, Mo., and began wrestling in sixth grade. As an NJCAA National Qualifier at Meramec College, Cummings was unable to gain All-American status because of an injury, but he didn’t let that slow him down. Upon transferring to Missouri State University in his hometown to finish his degree, he began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and kickboxing, before trying his hand at MMA, which he fell in love with.

“I love competition. That’s all,” said Cummings in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I didn’t have a troubled upbringing. I come out to compete and I fight to finish. I don’t try to play the point system and create my own decision. I want to make sure the guy knows he lost the fight, and I try to finish and try to be exciting when I do it.”

Cummings (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

The record of Cummings speaks for itself. Going pro nearly six years ago, he has racked up a 15-3 mark with only five of those fights going to decision. He has only been stopped once, by Japanese jiu-jitsu black belt and Strikeforce standout Tim Kennedy. Of his 15 wins, Cummings has found his best luck in the grappling game. With the eight submission wins on his record, four came within his last six fights. Adding in his four knockout wins, it’s easy to assume that a Cummings fight has a really good chance for an exciting finish.

The Missourian’s last five wins all ended in 2:38 or less of the first round, which, teamed with his experience and the right combination of skills and personality, landed him a shot on season 17 of TUF. After a first-round knockout in the opening episode, he earned a spot in the house and ended up as the third pick for Chael Sonnen’s team. It wasn’t until the last of the elimination round that fans were able to see him in action again.

Cummings lost his elimination fight to Dylan Andrews by majority decision, which effectively ended his run on the show. Although he only got the opportunity to fight twice on TUF, the whole experience was an eye-opening one.

“I would say, for me, it was a confidence thing, even though I didn’t perform in the house like I wanted to and how I think I should have,” Cummings admitted. “Working out everyday with those guys, and especially Chael and Yushin Okami—these are top-level guys that come in to visit and workout—knowing that I can perform with them, I was just right there with them. I won my rounds, I lost my rounds, but I just knew that I belonged with the best in the world in the UFC.”

Most fighters that the UFC brass know are worth it, regardless of performance on the show, will get a chance to redeem themselves, either at the season finale or shortly after. Cummings figured to get such an opportunity.

“I thought I’d have my chance in the finale, but the stupid injury kept me out,” explained Cummings. “I tore my hamstring. I slipped during a sparring match, stuffing a takedown. I slipped on the mat and it was just this freak thing. My leg shot out and tore my hamstring.”

The season 17 finale was back in April, but with sufficient time to heal and a great camp at Grindhouse MMA in Lee’s Summit, Mo., Cummings is back in action and will finally get his shot in the Octagon.

At UFC Fight Night 27, Cummings will square off against another TUF alum in the form of Ben Alloway. Alloway, an Australian fighter, competed in The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, which aired in the fall of 2012. In the first episode, Alloway made his fellow countrymen proud with a second-round TKO in just 42 seconds, securing a spot in the semifinals, where he lost a closely contested split decision to Britain’s Brad Scott.

Since his TUF stint, Alloway has made two Octagon appearances, which resulted in one win and one loss. Alloway is a very well-rounded fighter who’s pretty much solid wherever the fight goes, but Cummings isn’t worried.

“I didn’t really know much about him, so I had to do some research,” admitted Cummings. “I think it’s a great match-up for me. I think he’s a very tough guy. He’s going to be hard to put away. He keeps coming no matter what happens, kind of like how I am with that mental toughness. I just don’t think he has the time and experience in the game that I’ve got.

Cummings (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“He’s a good striker, but I honestly feel that my striking is just as good, if not better. It’s pretty much two styles that are going to catch you on that night. I believe he’s good on the ground, but I’m better on the ground, in the jiu-jitsu department, and, from what I’ve seen, I feel I’m a lot stronger with the wrestling. But I like to come out and try to knock people out. We start the fight standing, so that’s where I’m planning on going. We’ll see how the fight goes from there.”

Alloway is a welterweight by nature, but Cummings is not. He has fought as heavy as light heavyweight and his recent TUF stint was as a middleweight. Fortunately, the weight cut hasn’t been too bad and, only a couple days before the fight, he’s right on point.

“My biggest concern was how I would feel cutting down to 170 [pounds], and I feel amazing right now,” Cummings elaborated. “The main thing is just being a lot more disciplined. The show gave me the opportunity to take some time and be a full-time fighter. I did the training two or three times a day; I started swimming a lot more, which really helped out; I started doing some crossfit, and that’s worked great with cardio and stability muscles. I’ve kept a very clean diet. I haven’t stuck with any particular diet, just something on my own. I’ve really increased my water loading and have a solid diet, and everything’s just lining up.”

Going into his next fight, Cummings is the lightest that he has ever been in his fighting career. Healthy and ready for that much-needed Octagon debut, he will be coming out on Wednesday night ready to take out Alloway and cement his place in his new-found division.

“My goal is to go in there and take care of this fight first. I would like to go in, get this fight taken care of, obviously not take any damage, and get back in as soon as possible. I really just want to get back in. I like to fight frequently the last couple of years, [but] I haven’t been able to do so. I just want to get in there and get my name known and make welterweight my new home.”

Zak would like to thank Grindhouse MMA, including all of his coaches and training partners. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Revgear, Dynamic Fasteners, Gateway Auto Plaza, Alienware, Cummings American Bulldogs, and ITD. Most importantly, he would like to thank his family and friends, as well as his new manager, Joe Wooster. Follow Cummings on Twitter: @ZakCummings

Top Photo: Zak Cummings (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator