Tomorrow night, Glory World Series will be putting on their 18th event in Oklahoma. The featured fare is a solid light heavyweight tournament featuring eight deadly men, all vying for a top contender spot resulting in an eventual title bout with current champion, Gokhan Saki.
Among those eight deadly men is a dynamic Congolese fighter named Zack Mwekassa. I'll admit, when my good friend Eric Jackman came to me with this interview opportunity, I didn't know a great deal about him other than he had soundly defeated former UFC heavyweight star, Pat Barry. I had no idea what a rare treat I was in for when I connected with him for the interview.
Dos Equis Beer has a very popular ad campaign featuring "The Most Interesting Man In The World." I'm fairly certain they've got the wrong man doing those commercials, because Zack Mwekassa is definitely a shoe-in for that title. From dragging family members away from a volcanic eruption to escaping the Congo after attempts to recruit him into rebel militia made it impossible for him to safely stay in his home land, he has packed more life experience into 30 years than most human beings will ever see in 10 lifetimes. In fact, it would take an entire series of interviews to cover everything he has been through and experienced, but for now, I have an hour of content that he very graciously gave me after we initially agreed on 15 minutes.
If you didn't already know Zack from his professional boxing career where he holds a very respectable 15-4 record (including a couple of belts), then you might have become familiar with him earlier this year when he defeated Pat Barry in highlight reel fashion. When he reflects back on the fight, it is with great respect and admiration for his opponent.
I think Pat Barry is a tremendous fighter and I have a lot of respect for him. He's accomplished so much in the world of fighting. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to fight him. It would be ungrateful not to thank him. He put on me, a little bit of his fame, and I will always be grateful to him for that. He's a very strong person, mentally and a nice guy outside the ring, too. I was just ready. Mentally and physically, and the outcome just had to be that way.
That fight launched Mwekassa's kickboxing career, being that it was his pro debut. While the contest was at heavyweight, he doesn't limit himself on any particular weight class, going "wherever I am needed" as is the case with his participation in the LHW tourney.
He has unconventional training methods, opting not to watch footage of his opponents, and adopting a "warrior's diet" as part of his regimen. The most important aspect of his camp is the mental preparation involved in getting ready for battle.
A lot of people say that training is the hardest part of fighting, but I think the mental aspect, the mental preparation, is the hard part. People react differently to the idea of a fight. Some people, shortly before their fights, I'd say two weeks out or so, they become very sharp and aggressive. You speak to them, and they're already in that aggressive manner.
Some become very quiet. I feel like I'm one of the quiet ones. I've been through this many, many times, and I've found a way to walk around it. I'm getting better at it and keeping it together. My mental preparation is crucial. I don't go into a fight being unsure of myself. I go into a fight knowing that I'm going to destroy this man. Trust that when you see me walking towards that ring, you will know. No doubt about it.
The person you're speaking to now is Zack Mwekassa. The person that will land in Oklahoma is Zack the Black Warrior. Two entirely different people. I prefer the guy you're speaking to right now. He's a nice guy that likes to make jokes; a normal guy that's easy to hold a conversation with. Zack the Black Warrior is the other one; he's the vicious one, he feels nothing.
Diet is one of the most important aspects of a training camp, and for Zack, cultural practices figure heavily into what goes into his body about 3 weeks out from a fight.
That's a very important question. Everyone does different things. Some people do carb loading, some people do high protein, they do this or that...I'm an African, and I am very traditional. What I do when I prepare for a fight is I don't eat meat, fish, eggs or anything like that. I only eat what we call in Africa, mopane worms, which are basically dried caterpillars. That's all I eat, and I only drink water. I do this for 21 days before the fight. Just caterpillars and water.
I cannot explain to you scientifically what the value of eating this is or what exactly is in it, but it is food for war, it's a food of warriors. African warriors would train for battle and they ate caterpillars. It has great elements of power and strength. I've been doing it for a while and I can feel the difference. I feel a lot faster, a lot stronger and I'm very explosive. It's a matter of culture, but hey, it works for me [laughs].
A common phenomenon among MMA fighters and athletes in general is jet lag. Mwekassa feels that jet lag is only a state of mind and people only speak of it when they lose.
Very frankly I'll tell you about jet lag [laughs]. It's a state of mind. People that lose talk about jet lag. I think you better know that talking about jet lag is just an excuse. Have you ever seen somebody win a fight and say they were jet lagged? It's only when you lose that you say that.
As rumors started swirling about financial difficulties within Glory, largely in part due to 3 of its main draws not having their contracts extended, the Black Warrior doesn't let worry prey on his mind. A computer engineer by trade, Mwekassa has made sure to secure his future, allowing himself the freedom to pursue fighting with a little more breathing room than most.
Honestly, I'm not worried. I'll tell you why. When you're walking up stairs, you don't need to see the last step, you just need to see the first one, and then the second, and so on. Tomorrow doesn't belong to anybody. It was not promised to me or to anyone else. I cannot be worried about tomorrow like that. I just need to be the best I can possibly be today. Besides fighting, I'm a computer network engineer. I'm not worried about these things because I've secured my future already.
Zack comes from a large family of professionals (2 brothers are doctors, father was the first accredited pharmacist in the Congo, a brother that's an attorney and another is an anthropologist), and while supportive, for a large part of his adult life, he made his way on his own.
I wasn't born and raised in South Africa. I'm originally from the Congo and moved here in 2004 after the war. I was there by myself. I was a young man of 20, alone. I felt hopeless. I left because of the war in the Congo.
I was arrested a few times because they wanted to forcefully enroll me in the rebel groups. They killed and raped people, stole from them, and committed many atrocities. At this stage, there are more than 300,000 rapes of women a year, and that's horrible.
They would see me walking down the street and would stop me, ‘Hey you're strong and you've got big muscles so you should be carrying a machine gun, not walking around like you own the place.' I should have kept my mouth shut, but I'm very much like my mother. Why should I do bad things like you guys are doing? Why should I kill innocent people and rape women? I won't do that. They beat me down, said they were going to kill me if I didn't do what they said. I was just very lucky to have escaped.
That's when I decided to leave. I had no one, but it was necessary to leave. I did crazy jobs to get by. Looking after people's cars, just anything legitimate I could do to get by. I've come a long way. I started my studies but I couldn't continue because I didn't have the money and my dad couldn't send any because he didn't have any money either. He was trying, but I said to him, ‘Dad, you need to stop. It's fine. I know you don't have any money. I'll take care of it myself.'
Around that time I started training and I did this to forget about my suffering and my difficulties. What would you call that? Destiny? Life? I don't know what you call it, but here I am. I am the Black Warrior now. I look at myself and think of how far I've come.
Zack's life experiences figure heavily into his mindset, which he feels makes him stronger and more fearless in the face of adversity. The old adage, ‘What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger' is definitely applicable here.
I come from a country with volcanic eruptions and war and I've survived those things. I've been bitten by a deadly snake, I've been shot. I did not die. I was poisoned, but I did not die. Do you think I would fear human beings in the ring wearing gloves? I don't think so.
I'm going to tell you a story. I was only 18, just a young man when the volcano erupted. I was all by myself because my brothers and sisters were already gone. I was the only one there to take care of my parents and I did just that. It was terrible, and close quarters. You could barely walk. I was pulling my mother and my father while carrying a pack of about 80 kg on my back to escape the lava and ash.
I've been through so much in my life. Anybody that says they've been through a lot...well, there's "been through a lot" and then there's "been through a lot." You know what I mean? I'm only 30 years old but I feel like I'm 47 or older [laughs].
I know what my voyage is. I've been all over the world; Russia, Germany, France, the US...you name it. I know the direction I'm headed. So many people don't know, or it takes them until late in life to discover it, but I already know where I want to be.
Glory 18 is one leg of my journey. I'm not worried about anything. I don't want to seem arrogant, but I know the Black Warrior will take care of everything. I am coming to create mayhem. I didn't come for a belt, but I just happened to end up in the tournament that will lead to the belt. I want to bring the people something to talk about. I want everyone to be on the edge of their seats. Fights are not won at press conferences. It's in the ring that the truth will come out. When the Black Warrior walks into that ring, the truth will come out.
Zack Mwekassa faces Number 8 ranked kickboxer, Brian Collette tomorrow night in the first round of the card's tournament. You can purchase the event here:
You can follow Zack via his Twitter account, @ZackMwekassa