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Naked & Afraid Star Lives For MMA

It May Seem Like A Crazy Crossover, But Naked & Afraid’s Jeff Zausch Explains That There Are A Lot Of Similarities Between The World Of Survival And The World Of Mixed Martial Arts.

Fans of Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid franchise know that there are few people who know more about the survival game than Jeff Zausch. People close to Zausch know that there are few people who know more about the fight game than Jeff Zausch.

Long before ever taking on mother nature with nothing but his skills and a personal item to aid him, Zausch was earning his “diehard” badge in MMA. Sure, food, family and bug spray are the biggest luxuries Zausch misses when he’s miles away from comfort, but not far down the list are UFC events.

“Back in the mid-90s is when I was first introduced to MMA,” Zausch explained. “I was still a kid. I’m only 36 years old, so I was only ten years old when I was introduced to the UFC. That was around the time the internet was coming out, when we had AOL and dial-up. I was accessing old fights and that kind of stuff through the internet early on. Obviously, I remember those early fights where there were no weight classes or anything. To me, it was like watching the Olympics. It was amazing. I’ve been a fan since the beginning.”

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The man who “lives for” conquering the impossible is as human as any fight fan. While you may expect Zausch to lean toward the outdoorsmen in his list of favorite fighters, he’s all about the chaos.

“My favorite fighters have been the guys where, from the opening bell, they choose violence,” Zausch said. “They’re willing to receive four punches just to give one. I’m thinking of Clay Guida, the Diaz brothers; these guys are not afraid of pain. In fact, they welcome it.”

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While you may expect the Bryce Mitchells and Tim Kennedys to top his list, the grit of Stockton’s finest and the ageless wonder make complete sense for Zausch.

When it comes to overcoming punches, kicks, knees, elbows and torqued limbs, fighters have to go far beyond “the grind.” Fighters have to fight every urge to let pain take the brain’s focus from logical and technical to reactionary. The same can be said about starving, burning and itching in the African bush or the Colombian rainforests.

“I have to tell my brain that I enjoy pain, that I love pain. When my body is covered in 30,00 mosquitos, when I’m fighting anaphylactic shock, I have to tell my brain that I enjoy this. That’s what I see in some of these fighters that aren’t afraid to shy away from a backyard brawl or an absolutely bloody battle. I love to see that.”

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MMA makes refence to “deep waters” all the time. Anybody can look good in a 30-second knockout win, but it’s the elite few who can absorb four and a half rounds of punishment, find themselves down on the scorecards and still fight to get back to their feet. How easy it would have been for Darren Elkins to let the ref pull Mirsad Bektic off of him at UFC 209 or Dan Hooker at UFC 290 to point at any of his broken bones and say, ‘I’ll get ‘em next time.’

The same parallels can be drawn with survival. Whether it’s for entertainment or life and death situations, it’d be very easy to throw in the towel, tap out and let the chips fall where they may. The elite few will find a way to mentally conquer any obstacle.

For Zausch not only are Naked & Afraid challenges similar to a five-round war, he’ll also throw the weight cut in there, too.

“A fighter’s training camp and weight cut is like the first three or four weeks of a survival challenge,” Zausch said. “In the first 28 days, I lose over 30 pounds of muscle mass and fat, I’m suffering through infections on the bottom of my feet, my body is being pushed to the absolute limit. However, after those 28 days then it’s the second half of the challenge, and that is when you must take your overworked and overtrained body and do the most difficult thing you’ve done the entire challenge. Often, for me, that might be jumping on the back of a nine-foot alligator or caiman, and you’re doing that in a weakened, overtrained state, and that’s when your body has to perform. When these fighters go into the ring, often they’re not at their strongest. Their training camps are brutal, injuries are common, infections in the gym are frequent. They’re sore, they’re beat up, they just had a weight cut, and now they must do the most difficult thing they’ve done in months, and that’s fight night.”

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He may not know firsthand what it’s like to be in the cage and fight off Edson Barboza leg kicks, Mark Coleman ground-and-pound or Israel Adesanya striking but it takes a man of elite mental control to accomplish 246 total days in the wild without ever tapping. It kind of makes you wonder, had Zausch gone into MMA the day he discovered combat sports, what kind of star would he be?

“Survival in general is 90% mental. It’s 10% skill, ingenuity, and creativity, but it’s 90% mental toughness. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved stories of incredible human endeavors,” Zausch explained. “What I love about the UFC is that it holds the spirit of the Olympics, being the best in the world, but then it adds the violence. When you’re taking number one and number two in the world, there’s something that means absolutely everything in this person’s life. This fight will change this person’s life forever; then when you throw the violence into it, which I love, it’s a recipe for success.”

Recently dropping a clothing line at Zausch is poised to become the Conor McGregor of the survival world. As the first person complete a 60-day challenge, the most quotable war cry in the show’s history and an appreciation for a good old-fashioned brawl, it’s very clear he’s not far away.

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