Minnesota MMA prospect Zach “Juice” Juusola was victorious in his K1 kickboxing debut this past Saturday night when he defeated Deangelo Curtis in Minneapolis.
Juusola, primarily known as a wrestler, used his ever-improving skills in the standup game to control and ultimately decision Curtis, fellow MMA fighter, in one of the more lopsided fights of the night.
Though he got the win, Juusola wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance and saw some areas where he could improve.
“I thought that I was going to knock him out but I didn’t get that,” Juusola told Bleacher Report MMA. “I didn’t connect cleanly like I wanted to with my boxing. I kind of got heavy on the knees and for the K1 fight, our rules were that there were no knees or elbows to the face. So he was bending down and his head was down there. I was trying to knee him in the shoulder and collarbone, trying to get as close to his face as I could without hitting it.”
In hindsight, he wishes that he would’ve been a little more loose with throwing his hands versus the knees, which did damage but were unable to finish the fight.
A member of The Academy gym, Juusola trains with a number of high level strikers but has been improving his boxing specifically at the Circle of Discipline gym with former multi-time Golden Gloves national champion Robert Brant.
Juusola and his opponent both took the fight on just a few days’ notice, which certainly played a part in him not being quite as strategically prepared as he otherwise would have been.
“Usually I would just be doing Muay Thai sparring and kickboxing sparring, with some additional pad work. But for this fight, I really didn’t have time to prepare too much differently than I do my MMA fights,” he said. “It doesn’t go against my MMA record, so I was just out there having fun.”
The K1 experience was definitely positive for Juusola, who said he would recommend giving it a shot to other young fighters who are looking to improve their craft.
“It’s awesome. Especially for guys who come from a wrestling background, it will help you stay comfortable on the feet and not just automatically shoot in for that takedown,” he said. “I think taking a kickboxing fight is really beneficial. I want to do more kickboxing fights, I even want to take some boxing fights. All of that. I need to do it while I’m still in organizations that will allow it.”
While smaller promotions will typically allow their fighters to compete in other martial arts, the UFC historically hasn’t allowed that, even from their top-level competitors. For Juusola, competing on the national stage of the UFC is his ultimate goal.
“I know the UFC probably wouldn’t allow me to do boxing or kickboxing, but that’s my goal...to be in the UFC in the next year,” he said.
After an impressive victory over Billy Christianson in September, Juusola now sits with an impressive 9-2 pro record. His next fight is being worked out for sometime in early March, with the CFA in Miami, Fla.
“I don’t know who I’m going to be fighting yet, but I just want tough opponents,” Juusola said. “I’m trying to get to the big show.”
Prior to his victory over Christianson, Juusola actually went through a two-fight losing streak in the second half of 2011 when he fell short against Trent McCown and recent UFC The Ultimate Fighter cast member Mike Rio. At just 25 years old though, Juusola feels that his best days are still ahead of him and that he is currently the best he has ever been.
“I feel like I’ve just started getting good and my fight game’s really started to click in the past seven or eight months,” Juusola said. “[In 2011], I kind of was just a tough wrestler that just kind of knew how to fight. Lately, everything’s been clicking. My wrestling, my boxing, my kickboxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu...Coach Greg Nelson has been helping me a ton with my ground game and of course my standup.”
In addition to Nelson’s world renowned skills as an MMA coach, Juusola and his teammates at The Academy recently welcomed one of the highest-profile fighters in the sport to their gym when Pat Barry started training there.
“Pat Barry is a great addition to The Academy,” Juusola said. “He just knows everything there is to know about striking. He can read everything, he can tell you different things. The way he looks at things is a little different than everybody else. I really like his style.”
With his gym now better than ever and his skills ever-improving, Juusola looks like a fighter to watch in 2013. If he can string together a couple wins, fans could be seeing “Juice” achieve his goal of competing in the Octagon in the very near future.
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