Zac Cavender has been training under Keith Azbury at the Tooele Martial Arts Academy for years, hoping someday not only to become a professional mixed martial arts fighter, but to thrive at it.
That dream came true Nov. 16 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Cavender was triumphant in his first professional fight. He needed just two and a half minutes to defeat Romanian fighter Marius Cantoneru by technical knockout in their heavyweight bout, which was part of the Final Fight Championship 34 card.
“It feels pretty good,” Cavender said. “We’ve known it was coming for a long time. We trained really hard. I was expected to win, but it’s still nice to go out with a landslide win, which is what we were looking for — to really make a statement and show what I can do.”
Cavender, a former wrestler at Tooele High School, has never lost a fight, professional or amateur. In fact, none of his fights have gone the scheduled distance, with each ending by TKO. In his pro debut, he benefited from a different set of rules that enabled him to unleash his full arsenal, making him even more dangerous.
“There’s a lot of things I’m good at, such as head kicks and throwing elbows, that are illegal in amateur (fights) but it’s all legal in pro,” Cavender said. “It just made me a much more dynamic fighter. I cut him open in two different place with elbows — he had to get two different sets of stitches.”
Cavender dominated the fight, taking Cantoneru down to the ground and putting him in a precarious position. Once he gained the upper hand, Cavender began raining down elbows on his opponent until the referee stopped the match.
“It’s a different move set and it just makes me a lot more lethal,” Cavender said. “It was nice to go out and execute exactly what we had been planning and training for for the past couple of years.
“As soon as I got on top, I just started throwing down the elbows. I just kept the pressure on and just kept hitting him and hitting him.”
Cavender took the fight on just nine days notice, though it didn’t take much for him to get ready. He had originally been scheduled to fight on Oct. 27 and had been training for the past three months, but had four different opponents pull out for various reasons. That enabled Cavender to take some time to rest a minor hip issue before the FFC came calling.
Thus, he made the drive down to Las Vegas to take part in his first career fight outside of Utah, not far from the MGM Grand and the famed Las Vegas Strip, along with T-Mobile Arena, the site of numerous big MMA fights. While he has normally been a bundle of nerves before previous fights, Cavender said the big stage surprisingly didn’t rattle him much.
“My very first (amateur) MMA fight, after I won, I actually sat there and threw up in the cage in a bucket during my post-fight interview,” he said. “This time, I was just super calm in the days leading up to it, even when I was in my hotel room in Las Vegas. Right before the fight, my nerves were a minimal amount. It was crazy because I had stepped up a level, but the nerves weren’t even close to what they used to be when I was an amateur.”
Cavender is hoping to fight on another Final Fight Championship card in early 2019.
“This is the level that I’ve been training at, so we’re ready to hit the ground running,” he said. “I’ve already proven I belong here by just blowing (Cantoneru) out of the water.”