Zak Ottow (16-5) came away from March’s UFC 222 with the first stoppage victory of his UFC career. There the Milwaukee-based veteran was able to stop Mike Pyle via a first round TKO, ensuring a winning record in the UFC (3-2) and perhaps his job with the promotion.
Bloody Elbow caught up with Ottow as he prepared to take on Sage Northcutt (10-2) at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos vs. Ivanov in Boise, ID. When asked to give a breakdown on the stoppage that ended Pyle’s night (and career), Ottow said he and his team had studied tape on Pyle and specifically the way he steps back from the fray.
“We thought we could take advantage of that a little bit,” said Ottow. “Also with the durability of his chin, with his age, this was a good opponent to stay aggressive with early and go for a finish early on. If the fight continued, I felt confident that I could play that chess match with him in the later rounds, which he’s pretty good at, but I wanted to try and get him out there early.”
“I was trying to lead him to my left,” continued Ottow. “But he wasn’t really going that way. He was going to my right, so I was kind of being aggressive and he was evading with a high guard. So I kind of started to play the matador and let him come forward and I basically just switched my stance, threw a low kick, off of that I set an angle, and then threw the right hand over the top and it landed clean.”
After sending Pyle to the canvas with that punch, Ottow swarmed on him and forced the stoppage with ground-and-pound. In retrospect Ottow said his aggressiveness was “a little sloppy”, but beside that he is very happy with his performance and its result.
“I felt like that win was really important for me. I felt like my job was on the line and I was known for being a finisher coming up on the regional level, and having all these split decisions and being finished myself in China, I just felt like I needed to come back and make a statement. So the pressure was really on. I rose to the occasion and got that finish. Felt good.”
Ottow entered the UFC in 2016 and immediately defeated Josh Burkman via split decision. He then lost a split decision to Sergio Moraes, in Brazil, and then won a split decision over Kiichi Kunimoto, in New Zealand. After that Ottow featured in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Gastelum in Shanghai. His opponent was Li Jingliang. Ottow lost that fight via TKO.
After beating Pyle and securing his place in the UFC, Ottow was shocked to get the call to fight one-time super-prospect ‘Super’ Sage Northcutt. It was an offer he agreed to immediately, which is a little out of character.
“Sometimes the call comes in and we’re like, ‘Ok, we’ve got to look at tape and refresh ourselves on who the opponent is, and what they’ve been up to lately.’ Obviously with Sage I knew exactly how his career had been going and who he is, what kind of fighter he is, so as soon as I heard that it was my fight, I was pretty pumped about it.”
Ottow was also surprised that Northcutt was returning to 170 lbs, since the Texan was riding a two-fight winning streak in the lightweight division. Ottow described switching game plans from Pyle to Northcutt as a total 180, but even so, he’s very confident of his chances against the Team Alpha Male fighter.
“I’m going from one of the most crafty veterans to a newer younger guy with less experience, so the game plan changes,” said Ottow. “With Pyle it was more to break his body and with Sage it’s more to break his mind. So I’m going to put the pressure on and just not let him breathe and keep a pace on him and make it a fight.
“I’m sure we’re going to get into a lot of different positions, a lot of different situations, and I’ve got a lot more experience than he does and I know, just the way he uses his explosiveness and energy in the fight, I’m going to be the smarter fighter in there and take him into deep waters. And once he starts to break mentally, I’m just going to capitalize on something that he gives me. I feel like I’m well rounded and I can lead a person down a lot of doorways and I’m going to find a finish opportunity.”
Ottow fought 15 times before he joined the UFC. That’s ten more times than Northcutt, who was signed off of Dana White’s Looking for a Fight platform. Ottow thinks the seasoning he experienced on his long road to the UFC will only mean good things for him come Saturday night.
“As far as getting to the UFC and stuff, you can look it up on paper, it wasn’t that hard for him,” said Ottow. “Five wins against nobodies and he’s in versus the route I took, a route a lot of people have to take to get to the UFC. It’s quite a bit different, but all that really does is give me more confidence. I have the experience on my side. I’ve been in there against tough tough guys, veterans of the sport, guys who have had twenty fights in the UFC, and — on the regional level — a whole bunch of killers; guys who have really good records.”
“I just feel like I’m definitely the toughest guy that he’s ever fought and he’s not the toughest guy that I’ve ever fought,” continued Ottow. “So all that plays into my confidence heading into this fight. When I feel this kind of confidence heading into a fight, I just refuse to lose. I feel like it puts me in a really good situation.”
For Ottow, who now has almost an hour of experience inside the Octagon, this confidence hasn’t been with him throughout his entire two-year UFC career.
“I’m not saying I was a deer in the headlights,” cautioned Ottow. “But I’m in there, my second UFC fight, going against this guy who has six fights in the UFC and is undefeated at welterweight. I’m just kind of way out-experienced and I feel like in this fight I really have the edge, mentally. And if I can win and get a finish here it’s going to put me on another level where I’m just going to be feeling super confident and super comfortable.”
“I know I belong in the UFC right now and I know if I finish him, I’m just going to believe even more in myself,” ended Ottow.
You can see if Ottow’s confidence is well placed by tuning into FS1 on Saturday night. Sage Northcutt vs. Zak Ottow is the co-main event of UFC Boise. The main card starts at 10PM ET.