September 10, 2013
According to Wikipedia, the honey badger, “is a species of mustelid native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. It is primarily a carnivorous species and has few natural predators because of it’s thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities. Honey badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity, and toughness. They are virtually tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations.” According to his nickname (and appropriately in keeping with the afore mentioned description), Dominic Mazzotta is The Honey Badger. According to In Ya Face MMA, The Honey Badger is the September 2013 Fighter of the Month.
To meet September’s Fighter of the Month, I made the scenic 45 minute drive from Pittsburgh’s Northside to his hometown of New Kensington, PA. By 2:30 in the afternoon, Route 28 North was already backed up with nightmarish, bumper to bumper traffic. After about 30 minutes of inching forward, while being serenaded by Penn Dot jackhammers and generators, I escaped the pre-rush hour jam and starting sailing smoothly. I had a 3:30 interview with Dom at Stella’s, the restaurant he owns and manages along with his mom. After being an eye-witness to his latest knockout, a devastating switch kick that has already attracted 10,000 views on YouTube, I felt it prudent to not keep the man waiting.
I pulled into the small parking lot across from Stella’s 10 minutes early. Carrying my interview questions in my trusty blue binder, I entered Stella’s through the front door. Straight ahead I saw the pizza counter and kitchen. To the left, the main dining area holding maybe 10 or 12 tables. To the right, the bar and lounge. I had the sudden feeling that I had been to this very comfortable restaurant before, even though I knew I hadn’t. No one was in the place except for a middle-aged lady standing behind the empty bar. I was pretty sure it was the Badger’s mom. I took a seat at the bar, where the Pirates were in the late innings of an afternoon game on the flatscreen tv.
Dom’s mom, Stacey, waited on me immediately and asked, “What would you like?” “Well, I’m at Stella’s. I think I better have a Stella Artois.” I didn’t tell her that I was there to interview Dom at first. After a long swig of the cold, delicious beer, I couldn’t keep my identity undisclosed anymore. “Is The Honey Badger here,” I asked. Her face lit up right away with a warm smile. “Yeah, he just got here,” she replied. “He’s around here somewhere. Let me go get him for you.”
About a minute later, Dom appeared, walking to the bar from the kitchen. After giving me a friendly welcome and handshake, it was time to get down to business. He was going to pull double duty tonight. The empty restaurant was about to fill up and Dom was going to manage and man the pizza oven, the most important job in the kitchen. I was ready with my first question. But I need another cold Stella first for inspiration.
IN YA FACE MMA : What was it like growing up in Lower Burrell?
DOM MAZZOTTA : Pretty cool, pretty easy. Laid back. A lot of Italians, a lot of Catholics. A nice place to grow up.
IYF : What sports were you involved in as a kid?
DM : I was involved in pretty much every sport. I was always a good athlete, but never stuck to one sport. I liked football a lot. I did BMX, I raced go karts. Played a little basketball. Did a little of everything.
IYF : In your post-fight interview after your victory at July’s Gladiators of the Cage, you said you had been doing head kicks since you were 5 years old. What was the first martial art you trained in?
DM : I started Taekwondo when I was 5. My parents would have to make me do it sometimes. I would cry and say that I wanted to play with my friends instead. But when I would get there I would like it. I think it built the foundation of my MMA career.
IYF : Did you get into fights when you were young or did you get along with the other kids?
DM : I got into fights. I didn’t start the fights. Other kids would start with me because I was smaller. I didn’t lose too many.
IYF : Why is your nickname “The Honey Badger?” How did it come about? Who named you that?
DM : My brother-in-law showed me the YouTube video of the honey badger by Randall. It was pretty funny! It was actually after my only loss. So I took it to class with me. I was like, “I’m not going to give a shit anymore, I’m just gonna go in there and beat people’s asses.” I showed the video to my class and they said, “that IS you. You’re just like the honey badger.”
DM : That’s an interesting question. It just depends on my opponent, the person I’m fighting. I don’t think I’m better at one thing than another, I think I’m a pretty well-rounded fighter. There’s a way to beat everybody, and I just look for that way. If a guy’s weak on the ground, I want to take him to the ground. If he’s good on the ground but weak standing up, I want to keep him standing up. I try to expose the other guy’s weaknesses. And if I have to grind it out to a 3 round decision, then I will. That’s a big reason why I keep my cardio up. If I could get a flash knockout like my last fight, I would do that every fight.
IYF : You had a lot of fans come to see your fight at Gladiators of the Cage, and they were quite loud. Do you have a fan club?
DM : Not an official fan club. I’m getting my website up. I come from a small town and not a lot of interesting things happen around here. We rally around our troops here. We had a viewing party here at my restaurant for the airing of the fight (on ROOT Sports.) A lot of people came and we had a really good time.
IYF : When did you first get involved in MMA and how did it happen?
DM : After my dad died, I quit martial arts and got into drinking and partying. I was always skinny and never had to work for a good body, but I started gaining weight. I got to like 170 or 180, I can’t even remember.
But I was like, “I gotta do something to get back down to weight.” So I got back into Taekwondo. Then MMA was getting bigger, and I thought if I am going to train, I might as well fight. I went to the Mat Factory and started training with Ed Vincent. He had a student named Isaac Greely who was the assistant coach for Burrell wrestling at the time. From there, we just started working and I decided I wanted to fight.
IYF : What is your training regimen?
DM : On Monday mornings I do technique, at night I do sparring. Tuesdays are the same thing. On Wednesday night I do Jiu Jitsu class and heavy rolling. I don’t really do any weight lifting at all. I don’t run much at all. Closer to the fight I will do sprints. 3 weeks out I will do sprints, but only for about 5 or 10 minutes. At the beginning of the camp, when I’m doing my wrestling, I’m like a fireball. I go out there and go as hard as I can. I’m all over the place, I keep coming. That’s where I get my cardio from. And sparring is the same way, I’m always picking up the pace. And then closer to the fight, when I have my cardio, I step back and start pacing myself for the rounds.
IYF : What goes through your mind as you walk out towards the cage for a fight?
DM : I try to stay focused, make sure I’m breathing. I’m always telling myself to stay relaxed. I try to show no emotion at all. I try to take emotion totally out of it. I try to stay as calm and clear-minded as I can, all the way to the end of the fight.
IYF : Before and after your fight, you bowed while you were in the ring. You were the only fighter all night to do this. Who are you bowing to and what does it mean?
DM : It’s a tradition from my Taekwondo background. It’s what my instructor from my Taekwondo taught me to do; it’s a respect thing.
IYF : What did you know about Jeremiah Yeager before your fight and how did that affect your training and approach?
DM : He was a replacement opponent. I don’t watch video on my opponents. All I knew is what my trainers told me, that he liked to throw a lot of heavy handed things and that he was a good boxer. That said he was a good striker, but that I was better. We talked about it and said it was time for me to show off some of my striking. I had no intentions of taking the fight to the ground, but I was opposed to it if I had to. I really wanted to show off my striking, and I think it’s easier to do that against another striker, because they’re not trying to take you to the ground all the time.
IYF : You knocked Yeager out cold, but the referee didn’t call the fight immediately. You were merciful to him in that you didn’t jump on him and ground and pound him while he was out of it. I thought this was very classy. Why didn’t you go for a few extra strikes?
DM : People were saying I should have jumped on him, asking, “what if he really wasn’t out?” I know when you kick somebody like that what happens. When you land a square kick like that. I looked him in the eyes and saw he was unconscious. Whether the ref knew it or not, I knew he was. If he would have got up, I would have hit him again.
IYF : Was he cognizant enough to talk to you after the fight? If so, what was said?
DM : I just thanked him for taking the fight. I don’t think he was happy. He was upset about losing the fight.
IYF : I looked up your fight on YouTube today. It has gone viral, nearly 10,000 views! How does that make you feel?
DM : Oh man, it’s great! The first two days after the fight it was at like 3,000 or 4,000 views. I was checking it like every 15 minutes to see how many more views there were. If you look at the demographic on it, it got hits from everywhere. 1,000 plays in Canada, 25 in Japan. There was even like 2 or 3 from Kazhakstan. That’s crazy. It makes you feel good, especially after all the hard work. I never knocked someone out with a head kick before, never had the opportunity to. After 20 years, I finally knocked someone out with a head kick in the biggest fight of my life. It’s pretty cool.
IYF : When I interviewed your friend and fellow fighter from The Mat Factory, Chris Dempsey, he said you stole the show! What do you think about him saying that?
DM : (Dom Laughs.) Haha, well you know, Dempsey’s a grinder, man. He’s never going to be a spectacular one-hit knockout guy. But he’s one of the hardest fighters to deal with because he just grinds on you and wears you down. That’s one of the hardest things to do in fighting. He’s a great fighter and he’s going to go far in this sport. He’s going to win his way, and I’m going to win my way. I can’t wrestle like him. It doesn’t really matter who steals the show.
IYF : When is your next fight?
DM : I fight for Gladiators of The Cage again in December.
IYF : Where do you hope to be in one year from now?
DM : Well, pretty much the same situation, maybe for a bigger fight house. Hopefully I’ll get the call from the UFC, but these things take time. I’m only 26, I have at least four more years to make it there and then start the next chapter. You don’t see many guys that are 22 or 23 years old coming into the UFC anymore. You got to pay your dues now with the way the sport has been built up. Hopefully in one year, I’ll stack up three or four more wins, and have a bigger fan base. Hopefully, I’ll still be undefeated. I’d still like to fight for Gladiators, and if they grow, I’d like to grow with them. Keep fighting and keep winning, that’s all I can do.
IYF : Dom, this has been a great interview. Thanks for having us out to your restaurant and for your hospitality. I only have one more question. Will you sign my ticket from Gladiator’s of The Cage North Shore’s Rise to Power?
DM : Absolutely! Where do you want me to sign it?
Interview by Jaime Chesney and John Neiderer III, written by John Neiderer III
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