It’s 4:45 a.m. and junior Zach Rome pulls into Ranchmart Shopping center. Down the hall and on the left – Revolution Gym. For the next two hours, Zach will be pushing his body. Power cleans, sledgehammers, tire flips, sit-ups. For Zach, his discipline is what helps him wake up at the crack of dawn Monday through Thursday.
This is how he has found success in the ring. Those early morning practices have helped him get closer to his goal of becoming a professional fighter. They are what helped him to beat those three Bellator Fighters, the three men who are a few short fights away from being on the big stage – the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
But Zach hasn’t always had this determination. He lost it back in eighth grade.
* * *
Fourteen-year-old Zach Rome sits alone in a hospital room, listening: the beeping of the ventilator, the shuffling feet of the nurses outside the door. He stares at his father — Thomas Rome. It’s 2 a.m. and the doctors’ conversation has just woke Zach up. Nurses and doctors come in and begin to talk to Zach.
They tell him that his father is in pain and that if his family chooses, they can put him on pain medications and let him pass away.
Two hours later — 4 a.m. on the dot. Thomas is pronounced dead due to liver failure. This is when Zach changes.
He stops showing up to school, only attending about two times a week. His temper shortens. He fails to turn in homework.
However, this trend began to break one day as he was wandering down a sidewalk in Westport. He noticed a business card floating across the sidewalk; bending down, he read “Integrated Martial Arts And Fitness Center” (IMAFC) across the top.
Four hours after finding the business card, Zach walks into IMAFC. He begins his first class in muay thai. He starts to learn how to use outside leg kicks to take down opponents. From this point on, Zach slowly begins to pick up different fighting skills from kickboxing and jiu jitsu to taekwondo.
* * *
During his freshman year, Zach met fellow freshman Marshall Green in their seminar and math class. They began to talk and then realized that they both enjoyed mixed martial arts.
“A year ago [Zach] started coming to my gym,” Green said. “And my gym was more serious. He liked it more than the one he was going to so he switched and we have been going to the same one ever since.”
It was at Revolution Gym, Green’s gym that offers a variety of classes, where Zach met the owner, John Brown. After meeting him, Brown slowly became a father figure in Zach’s life. Brown began to help Zach regain the discipline in his life – the determination he lost when his father passed away.
“[Brown] is there for everything,” Zach said. “He went to my parent teacher conferences, he gets all the emails from my teachers if I get a bad grade on a test or something and he comes and yells at me…If I’m ever struggling with anything, he is there to help out.”
According to Brown, he wants to help Zach because of his own experiences.
“I came from a pretty rough past myself,” Brown said. “I’m not from this side of the tracks and it’s just kinda giving back. Anytime I see a kid as great as Zach who is able to rise above some things…and hold his head high and find something he is passionate for, I want to help him out as much as possible. On the other side, I’m there to smack him on the back of the head if he needs it.”
* * *
Zach competes in tournaments a couple of times a month, but he begins preparing weeks in advance. Two weeks before the fight, he will cut his calorie intake down to 500 calories per day. Four days before his match, he will stop eating almost completely. His only food for that day will be a glass of skim milk with 1 ounces of honey and a raw egg. Then, two days before his match, Zach stops drinking water.
If he needs to lose more weight, he’ll don a sweatsuit. Plastic bags covering his body. Tied up around his ankles. Three sweatshirts. Zach’s determined to lose weight. He knows he needs to hit his target weight.
Zach competes in one to two tournaments a month with each tournament consisting of around six matches. Of the 15 tournaments he has entered in, Zach has won 13.
“First I want to go pro and see where that takes me,” Zach said. “Right now it seems like I have a pretty high future in the sport but if I’m injured or if something goes wrong where I won’t be able to do as well as we think I will probably go to [University of Missouri-Kansas City] for sports medicine and then I would like to eventually become a sports doctor.”
In order for Zach to become a professional fighter, he will need to work on all of his skills. He will need to continue to improve the discipline. The discipline that forces Zach to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and fast for days will also help him in the cage.
“You know,” Brown said. “Zach is one of those diamonds in the rough kinds of kids, not to be cliche. But he is one of those kids that could go a long way. I would love to see him step up and be a leader…The kid has a big heart and that’s something you can’t teach in fighting and he has plenty of it. He has a bright future.”