Of all the Canadian athletes active on the UFC roster, John Makdessi is easily the longest tenured of the bunch.
The 38-year-old veteran lightweight, who returns to competition this weekend in Sydney at UFC 293 opposite Jamie Mullarkey, made his promotional debut back at UFC 124 in Montreal, registering a unanimous decision win over Pat Audinwood. Now in his 13th year on the roster, Makdessi has amassed an 11-8 record, and while he’s proud of what he’s achieved, the life-long martial artist still isn’t particularly comfortable with the recognition that comes with competing on the biggest stage in the sport.
“I’m very conscious and mindful about the duration of my time in the UFC, but I try not to think about it too much,” said Makdessi, who fights for the first time in just over a year this weekend in the New South Wales capital. “I’m very grounded. I never went into this sport to be famous; the fame, the TV of it all actually stresses me out. I just wanted to do something I enjoy doing and I could make a lot of money doing it.”
Makdessi has been training martial arts since he was first enrolled in taekwondo at the age of six. Over the years, the Halifax-born lightweight has been seeking out knowledge and instruction, keen to learn and continue expanding his understanding, adding to his already impressive arsenal of skills.
Making a career of out of putting those considerable skills to work in the cage has at times triggered a dilemma for Makdessi, who truly aims to live a true martial arts lifestyle, but also has to think of himself as a professional athlete, as well; the wants and desires of the two standing in conflict on occasion.
“The thing about martial arts is that by nature, you want to be loyal; as humans we want to be loyal to the people that take care of us,” offered Makdessi. “I don’t want to take away anything from other gyms and camps, but as a martial artist, when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau — and that’s personal, internal; it has nothing to do with anybody else — I feel like that’s when you have to get yourself out of your comfort zone.”
That internal conflict has prompted “The Bull” to bounce around in the latter half of his career, shifting from doing training camps at Montreal’s famed Tristar Gym to working with the team at Roufusport in Milwaukee, and now setting up shop in Phoenix alongside the crew at Fight Ready MMA.
“I forced myself to leave Canada — I wanted to uncover and discover (new places), I found Phoenix and fell in love with the energy, the sun, the people here,” Makdessi began, explaining how he found his way to the ascending fight team. “I tried different gyms and for this training camp I’ve been preparing at Fight Ready.
“For me to step into the Octagon to fight another guy, I have to put myself in a very uncomfortable position,” continued the veteran, who landed on the wrong side of the results in a bout with Nasrat Haqparast last time out. “I can’t be going back home to my bed and feeling comfortable, surrounded by my family and friends. I don’t want to fight after that. I feel like I need to be miserable, I need to explore, I need to be in a hostile environment.
“Being at Fight Ready, they really cater to you. It takes a lot more energy for the coaching staff and the structure of the gym, but they really take the time to work with every individual fighter that is getting ready for a fight. They’re very meticulous, and it’s a lot of detailed work, which I’m not really used to — I’m used to hard sparring and training.
“I’m very lucky because I did not know what was going to happen,” he added. “I was struggling to find good coaching, good structure, so I was very happy with how they welcomed me. It’s been very important for me to learn — to actually feel like I’m learning and getting better.”
The last several years have been a struggle for Makdessi.
From competing in an empty arena in Brasilia at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad restrictions that limited athletes for a couple years to dealing with multiple surgeries and lengthy layoffs, it’s been difficult for the Canadian veteran to find and maintain a rhythm. But through it all, he’s remained focused and pressing+ forward, and regardless of what transpires this weekend in Sydney, Makdessi is proud of what he’s accomplished and the message his perseverance sends to the next generation.
“This is a lot of pressure for me: it’s my last fight on my contract, so I have pressure financially, I have pressure career-wise, and I have a lot of people doubting me because my last performances weren’t the best.
“But this camp, I feel like I had the chance to not only heal from my injuries, but improve, which I’m happy about. Whatever happens on September 9, I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I want to inspire the guys who feel discouraged by injuries, but it’s part of the sport.”
Saturday’s fight with Mullarkey is another in a long line of tough tests Makdessi has accepted over the course of his UFC career, but it’s also a cool little moment that highlights his longevity in the sport.
The 29-year-old Australian trains at Central Coast MMA under former Ultimate Fighter winner and long-time UFC competitor Ross Pearson, whose penultimate appearance inside the Octagon came against… you guessed it.
“It’s funny because I did not know Mullarkey was trained by Ross,” Makdessi said of the cool “fought the master, now fight the pupil” moment that will take place on the UFC 293 prelims. “I don’t really think about that, and I hope he doesn’t feel like it’s an advantage for him because I’m not the same fighter as five years ago.”
Makdessi and Pearson garnered Fight of the Night honors for their clash in Calgary in the summer of 2018, and while the veteran would certainly welcome a similar type of battle and post-fight bonus this weekend, his greater aim is to further cement his legacy as an undersized lightweight that was ready to face whoever was placed across from him and deliver an entertaining fight.
“I’m a 155er, and I walk at 168 pounds,” began the Canadian. “I’m not the biggest, I’m not the tallest, and I’m not the strongest, but I’m “The Bull” and anyone that knows me knows I’m always going to try to make an exciting fight for the fans. I want my legacy to be that I’m known as a smaller guy who stood in front of giants.
“That’ll be awesome; that’ll be a crazy high, for sure,” he said of potentially replicating his win and bonus from his bout with Pearson against his protégé this weekend. “It will definitely make me happy to go out there, win in spectacular fashion, entertaining the crowd.
“That would be a good way to solidify my career.”
UFC 293: Adesanya vs Strickland took place live from Qudos Arena in Sydney, Australia on September 9, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!