Erion Zekthi Calls Shamrock FC 329 Opponent Dillon Tolbert a “Stepping Stone”

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Erion Zekthi will look to make it four wins in a row and improve his professional record to 5-1 at Shamrock FC 329. He’ll take on 6-5 Dillon Tolbert in a clash of Missouri regional circuit bantamweights scheduled for March 14.

Zekthi said he’s not taking Tolbert lightly – he’s been training seven days a week for the bout – but he said he still believes Tolbert is a “typical journeyman.”

“He will never leave the local scene, because guys like me exist,” Zekthi told MMASucka. “We will always use him as a stepping stone to get to where we want to go, and that’s the next level.”

When the two meet in the cage, Zekthi is expecting it to be one-way traffic.

There is no avenue or set of circumstances that could happen for him to win this fight. This will be 100 percent me.”

Zekthi has competed in Shamrock FC his entire professional career, as well as much of his amateur run. He’s toppled the likes of Trevor Ward, Scott Ettling, Jordan Collins and Horacio Escobar throughout his run. His lone blemish was a split decision loss to Demetrius Wilson, a fight Zekthi learned a lot from. Zekthi is a large proponent of strength of schedule, and believes his is as good as it gets for a man with just five professional fights. Where does Tolbert fit into that?

“He’s got fights,” Zekthi said. “That’s the value in this fight. And I’ll give the guy some credit. His last fight was a spectacular finish, albeit against a very weak fighter. He put the guy away, and it looks good on video. Now he’s back in the win column, so he’s got a winning record, so I can’t necessarily call him a .500 fighter, but that’s what he is. After I beat him, he’ll be 6-6, right? That’s what he offers me.”

Erion Zekthi vs. Dillon Tolbert

Tolbert earned a technical submission over Steven Graham, then a 7-4 fighter, in his last bout. He is now 4-1 in his last five fights.

Zekthi said while he’s not underestimating Tolbert, he’s a “realist” on how he feels the fight will play out.

“His strengths are where I excel, and his weaknesses are my strengths,” he said. “So, you’re fucked. On so many levels, you’re fucked. You’re going to get hit and try to take me down, and I’m going to stuff that shit. Then, I’m going to punch you in the face repeatedly until it’s over. That’s how this fight’s going to go. He can’t take me down. He can’t submit me. Nothing.”

Tolbert, following his win over Graham, called Zekthi out. Zekthi said he’s had a difficult time finding fights, so he’s glad Tolbert called him out. However, he said Tolbert erred when he asked for the fight.

“This is a mistake on so many levels,” Zekthi said. “So many people have failed at their jobs in this fight. Dillon failed himself. His coaches failed to protect him. His sparring partners failed to keep him relative and feet on the ground. Someone should’ve been like, ‘Hey, I don’t think you should take this fight. I don’t think you should call out Erion. Sounds like a bad idea.’ Someone should have stepped up and said that. But I’m glad no one did.”

Best Shape of His Career

Zekthi also believes he’ll be in the best form of his career in this bout. His professional career has been inconsistent in terms of turnaround time between fights; he’s had a year-and-a-half layoff, a couple of six-month layoffs and a quick three-month turnaround. It’s been eight months since his last bout against Escobar.

But this time, Zekthi has been constantly training and improving. He was supposed to fight Cody Peterson before the 6-1 Peterson retired before the bout.

“You’re talking about this Dillon fight where I’m relatively fresh, I’ve been training, the skill-set has been getting better,” Zekthi said. “I would’ve had a fight had the opponent not backed out, so I was training for a fight. You’re not getting an Erion who’s taken a year off. You’re getting me, so get fucking ready. That being said, I could come off the couch and whoop [Tolbert’s] ass.”

Plan Of Action

Zekthi said with a win, he’s not concerned about fighting for the Shamrock FC bantamweight belt. He feels that’s not what will catch the notice of the UFC.

“If the UFC wants to sign you, they’ll sign you. What matters to me is, after this fight, I solidify good management and I start setting myself up for the fights that will get me seen.”

Zekthi’s goal for 2020 is activity and, of course, wins. He wants to fight again in June/July and then once more in October/November. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be 7-1 by then. At that point, he wants an opportunity to reach the UFC.

“Get me on Contender Series. Get me on Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight,” he said. “Whatever the fuck you need to get me on. Get me an opportunity, and I’ll make the most out of it. I used to think that by getting the [Shamrock] belt, I’d somehow get everyone’s attention, but that’s not the case. You get people’s attention way before something like that.”

The plan for Zekthi is to finish Tolbert, become a client to a good management team, get the right eyes on him and then put more fighters away.

Zekthi’s Prediction

It all starts with Tolbert. Zekthi predicts he’ll secure a first or second round knockout over his counterpart.

“Not TKO. A knockout. I’m going to sleep him,” Zekthi said. “He’s slow, bro. Here’s the thing. I get subs for all my finishes because I’ll hurt him and then he’ll be in a position where I go for the sub. This time, worst case scenario, I’m going to get a TKO by elbowing him in the fucking face when he crumbles. I will not be looking for the submission in this fight. He won’t see the third round, no way. That’s if I don’t put him away in the first, because I’m going to take my time with this one. I’ve got to show everybody the skill-set that I have.”

Shamrock FC 329 is headlined by Erion Zekthi vs. Dillon Tolbert. The card goes down Saturday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. from River City Casino in St. Louis, MO. The card can be bought for $20 and live-streamed on FITE TV.

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Michael is a big MMA fan who enjoys interviewing the sport's athletes, writing about the sport, and just discussing it. He earned his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and his B.A. in Journalism at Stony Brook University. He also enjoys hockey, football and baseball. Feel free to hit him up if you want to discuss MMA, or any other sport!

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