Introduce yourself.My name is Zak Ottow and I'm 27 years old. I am from Milwaukee, WI and I received my degree here at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. I am a Henry Matamoros purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the owners at Pura Vida. I was the Wisconsin Fighting Championships amateur champion at Light Heavyweight (205 lbs) and am now a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter in the welterweight (170 lbs) division sporting a 7-2 record.
Tell us about your background.Well, I was an All-State Inside Linebacker and state champion at Wisconsin Lutheran in high school, and played Division I football at the Air Force Academy. I wrestled in high school, and was a 2-time regional champion, a sectional champion and a Division I state tournament qualifier. I am currently ranked in the top 10 in Wisconsin in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 185 lbs, and have won and placed in many grappling tournaments. I have been competing at the advanced and expert level, usually against practitioners above my belt rank. I don't see my purple belt as a representation of how I compare to other practitioners. I see it as a symbol of how far along in my own Jiu Jitsu journey I have come while I strive to reach my potential.
What drew you to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?I had always competed at a high level in sports and suddenly realized that I had not scratched that competitive itch in a long time. My life was missing something. I knew I had not reached my full potential as an athlete, and I wanted to pursue something that would be challenging, and feel natural, like I was meant to do it. No other sport fit that niche like BJJ. Because of that, this is no longer a sport to me, but a way of life.
For many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has lead to a love of MMA. What do you love about MMA?There is no hiding who you are as a person in this sport. Some people go their entire lives hiding. They wear this disguise. They lie about who they are to other people, and end up believing it themselves. They end up acting out this fiction every day they're alive. Many of them don't even know who they really are. Inside the cage, there you are for the world to see. You can't hide who you are in there. When the going gets tough and the chips are down, who am I? I like to test my own character. I like to express myself to the people watching. After being in the cage I can honestly say that I know exactly who I am.
Who are your inspirations?I've always been inspired by Rocky Balboa and Mike Tyson. The warriors. I'm not a wrestler in the cage. I'm not a kickboxer or a Jiu Jitsu player. When someone tries to categorize me and my style it frustrates me. I strive to be as well rounded as possible. The style of fighter I like isn't the specialist. It's the guy you throw the kitchen sink at and he still gets up and comes forward. It's not the style the guy fights with. It's the way he fights that I admire.
What would you say to someone that is thinking about coming into the gym?I think Pura Vida can be a fit for any individual. If you're someone who wants to get in shape and get exercise while learning skills in a fun environment, or if you want to work your way up to becoming a professional fighter on our fight team, you'll fit in here. My advice is to get in a dojo and try it! Even if it isn't ours, you're going to be happy you took that step. You only live once! I thought about it and put it off for almost two years before I took the plunge and I regret missing out on that training. I'll never get it back. If you ask any long-time practitioner what they regret, they will almost all tell you it's that they didn't start earlier. Get in!
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