In the midst of preparing for his next fight, 24-year-old Erion Zekthi finds himself in an unfamiliar situation; one that he’s never been in, in fact.
When Zekthi meets Scott Ettling at Shamrock FC 290 on June 2, he will be entering the first bout of his mixed martial arts career where he’s coming off of a loss. The Missouri fighter stands at 1-1 in his professional career, but had a 10-0 amateur run prior.
“The Albanian One” suffered defeat for the first time when he lost a tight split decision to Demetrius Wilson last December. Zekthi, who has a reputation on the local fight scene as supremely confident, has had some questions raised about where his mind is at coming off of his first loss. While he has drawn some lessons from the experience, he said he won’t let his previous bout define him.
“I took that loss on the chin,” he said. “I asked myself questions about what I did wrong in that [Wilson] fight and what I could improve on. I sat there and calculated what I did wrong in that fight.”
Another lesson that Zekthi learned is that he now plans to formulate better game-plans that are based on his opponents. In his last fight, Zekthi said he realized that he should have kept the fight in the stand-up by scrambling back to his feet rather than try to fight Wilson off of his back. As a result, two judges favored Wilson’s control time. Zekthi said he won’t make that mistake again with Ettling (4-1).
“I know exactly what Scott’s strengths are,” he said. “I know how I’m going to fight this dude. I’m not going to let my ego get ahead of me. There’s no reason for me to make this fight close. Scott’s not on my level.”
Zekthi revealed there are several driving forces serving as motivators ahead of his clash with Ettling. One of the biggest ones is his professional record. He may have racked up nearly a dozen wins as an amateur and defeated Trevor Ward in his professional debut, but Wilson’s wrestling-heavy victory has Zekthi sitting at .500.
“This fight is everything,” he said. “I can not go 1-2. Scott’s going to have to kill me. He’ll have to break a bone or choke me unconscious. It’s bad enough that I’m a .500 fighter for the first time in my life.”
If that’s not enough of a motivator, there has been evident tension and animosity in the build-up to the bantamweight scrap.
Ettling, a large bantamweight, revealed in a Shamrock FC fight preview that he cuts weight from about 170-175 pounds down to the 136 limit for the weight class.
“I’ll make 135,” Ettling said in the preview. “That’s going to be the biggest fight there. Erion? I’m not worried about him.”
Zekthi said he was not pleased when he watched the video and saw that slight from Ettling.
“Ettling said in an interview that the hardest part of this upcoming fight would be the weight cut,” he said. “He said I would be easy. I’m like, ‘Okay. We’ll see.'”
Zekthi had some choice words of his own for his next opponent.
“He’s a bitch,” he said. “He wants to fight me now because he’s seen me lose. Where was Scott after I beat Trevor Ward? He has fucked up more than anyone I’ve ever known, because: 1) He thinks he has an advantage over me physically, and 2) He thinks he has a mental advantage now that I’ve lost.”
Assuming all goes well and Zekthi does not sustain any bad injuries from his fight with Ettling, he said he would like to fight two more times in 2017.
He has learned a valuable lesson about spacing his fights, however. In March of 2016, Zekthi took two amateur fights in the span of two weeks. Later in the year, he got into training camp for Wilson immediately after his fight with Ward.
“I started developing some fatigue in camp for [the Wilson] fight,” he said. “One of the things I’m taking away from that loss is listening to my body. It runs like a machine. If you don’t take good care of it, it’ll break down on you.”
When Zekthi steps into the ring, it will have been exactly six months since the Wilson fight. That’s enough time to have taken to heart all of the valuable lessons that he’s learned about himself as a fighter. On June 2, he’ll look to showcase all of those on Ettling.