Zak Bucia will go for gold once again.
Nearly three years removed from fighting for the Shamrock FC lightweight championship, Bucia is back, this time up a weight class.
Waiting for the 32-year-old Bucia (15-8) on May 20 in the main event of Shamrock FC: 289 at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City will be Bobby Voelker (28-12) for the SFC welterweight belt. The winner will be granted a contract with Bellator.
Bucia asked for Voelker, a Kansas City fighting legend who has won five straight and has fought professionally since 2006.
It's a match-up to make right now, Bucia said We both want to move on to bigger shows. It just makes sense. It's an awesome fight fun to watch.
Bucia added that 38-year-old Voelker's pressure-heavy style, is perfect for me.
In martial arts since he was a child, Bucia left Kansas at the age of 18 for San Francisco and set forth on a combat sports path that has led him to China, Brazil, Thailand and an assortment of locations Stateside, including fighting two times for Strikeforce in 2009. When it came to grappling, in the early days it was Bucia all by himself other than some videos. Then began an odyssey that included stops with Kurt Osiander at Ralph Gracie while in San Francisco, one year in Vegas at Wanderlei Silva's fight team, and another year training in Brazil
I have picked up jiu-jitsu from all over, he said. I can be pretty tricky, pretty crafty.
Bucia did earn a blue belt while in Brazil and when he moved back to Lawrence, was awarded his purple belt at Rivers BJJ and currently has four stripes.
A few years ago he returned to Kansas, Lawrence, specifically.
I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in Kansas but Lawrence, he said.
Bucia has been in the gym business for some time and currently operates Lawrence Fight Club. With just enough mat space, bags, and a cage, Bucia is beginning to build a budding amateur fighter base in the college town.
When it's time to put the focus back on his skill-set and fight career, Bucia has bonified pro Kelvin Tiller, coach Shannon Woodward, and grappling at Rivers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Juggling the role of coach and fighter has become commonplace for Bucia
It is difficult but I have been able to pour everything into (Voelker fight), he said. I have not been working many other jobs. I've been living a Spartan lifestyle but I enjoy what I do.
Bucia has been in the gym business with an eye looking ahead to his post-fight career.
I want to be established and ready for the transition early, Bucia said. When I do stop (fighting) I want to have something going.
Bellator currently has a lot going, especially in its welterweight division. Bucia's style, both inside and outside the cage, could add a creative piece to that puzzle if he gets through Voelker.
(Bellator) is making big moves and is doing really well, Bucia said. But I try to put that out of my mind as much as possible and let the chips fall where they may. I'm confident I can win and I'm excited about what can happen.
Either Bucia or Voelker will be given a three-fight Bellator MMA contract, joining previous Shamrock FC belt holders Rebecca Ruth (flyweight), Jordan Howard (bantamweight), Rudy Bears (lightweight), and Bobby Brents (heavyweight). Ruth won her Bellator debut on a televised main card by decision over Lena Ovchynnikova. She lost in June 2016 to Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. Bears has fought twice, including on a main card, losing to Michael Venom Page and Neiman Gracie. Brents lost a split decision to Chase Gormley in October 2016 and was cut by the promotion afterward. Howard has yet to jump-start his Bellator career.
On his way to the top of the Shamrock pecking order, Bucia went through three of the St. Louis region's top fighters in the lightweight and welterweight division. Here is his and our take on those three fights.
After losing in his first crack at a SFC title - against Rudy Bears and at lightweight - Bucia defeated then-undefeated Hugh Pulley at the November 14, 2014, at Shamrock FC: Destruction by unanimous decision. From the KJ recap: Bucia was relentless with ground control and submission attempts while Pulley held the advantage in the stand-up. Pulley showed grit in fighting off the choke for most the entirety of the 3rd round. Ultimately, it was the positional dominance and submission attempts throughout the 1st and 3rd rounds the earned Bucia the victory.
That was a tough one, Bucia said. He's a tough kid. He pretty much shrugged off a lot of things I threw at him. But I was able to maneuver and manipulate him on the ground. I felt pretty good about that fight and thought I had a decisive win.
Six months after the Pulley fight, Bucia KO'd Washington in the first round at Shamrock FC: Charged. Following the Washington win, Bucia knocked out Pride Fighting stalwart Jose Landi-Johns on a Titan card. From the KJ Recap: Bucia put the exclamation point on the evening with a head kick KO of Washington at the end of the first. Both were prepared to keep the fight standing and trade punches. It was well fought and very even until late in the first round when Washington circled along the fence into the head kick by Bucia. This is another step forward for Bucia who is primed for a very bright future.
He was really ready to scrap, Bucia said. I was determined and in the right mindset. (Woodward) and I really focused on my Muay Thai. My striking was clicking. I felt like I was on fire. I lined that kick and dropped him with it.
In December 2016 at SFC: 280 Bucia took on Meredith, easily considered the top fighter St. Louis had to offer at the time not signed to a long-term contract with a major national promotion. From the KJ recap: The fight was a display of jiu-jitsu prowess and quickly went to the ground with Meredith taking Bucia's back. Bucia showed great patience waiting until a misstep by Meredith allowed him to reverse the position and get the finish on Meredith late in the first round.
I remember before the fight people were talking about his (BJJ) purple belt a lot and I was like, I have one too, Bucia said. I was really relaxed. I started slow. Probably slower than I should. He got into some good positions but I felt comfortable. He took my back but I was able to escape. I got mount easily. He gave up his back and I was able to flatten him out and rather than going for the choke I kept throwing strikes until it was stopped. I didn't feel the pressure (going into the fight). I have been through a lot in this sport.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Chavez Photography