Calling all lovers of everything that is violent. If you love WWE but feel it is too scripted, or you miss the glory days of Mike Tyson or whatever your reasons for yearning for “true” action in a contact sport, then EFC is your best bet.
For those who are not in the know, EFC stands for the Extreme Fighting Championship which is the biggest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion on the African continent. With a series of fights lined up tomorrow and e.tv bringing you the action at home live, we caught up with some of the people involved to find out what is to be expected.
Two EFC champions, Dermate Pena (featherweight reigning champion) and Costa Ioannou (lightweight champion) took time out from the vigorous training to shed light on their individual careers so far.
“I have been doing martial arts my whole life but it has been slightly over two years since I started doing mixed martial arts,” said Ioannou, who is your true definition of a gentle giant.
“I didn’t want to compete at first. I only trained because I wanted to stay fit and also to a lesser extent I did it for self-defence,” he said.
But his was always a life of dangerous contact sports. Having grown up playing rugby, it was a matter of time before EFC would come knocking on his door.
“I attended a match once and I loved it. They were so professional and the production was amazing and so I was sold and tried it out,” he said.
Again, getting in, Ioannou had no great expectations save for just being part of the EFC roster. Fate would have other plans though because in no time after joining the body, he stands as the EFC lightweight champion. Which makes things interesting because his title is sought after by number one contender, Adam Speechly.
“I like him, he’s a gentleman. We have no grudges or any of that stuff that people want to believe before every match. It is going to be the hardest fight I have been in yet, because he is an all-rounder. I beat him before but that was a long time ago so it is going to be interesting how this goes,” he said.
Featherweight champion Dermate Pena is ripped to the bone and only speaks when spoken to. After a few pleasantries, he turned out to be a good guy who has probably mastered the art of keeping his cool. It’s a karate thing, I suppose.
“I am coming from a session where I was working on submissions,” he said.
Pena faces Wesley Hawkey and he feels he is prepared. Like in the karate movies, Pena has done his homework on his opponent and he is convinced he has done enough work.
“As soon as you know who you will be fighting then you find out where they are training and how hard they are doing that,” he said.
“My opponent is very aggressive and he comes from a boxing background and so I have modelled my training to cater for that defen- sively. Also I hear Hawkey just had a baby and so that might mean he hasn’t been getting enough sleep lately.
“The fight is happening in Johannesburg and he is from Durban and I am sure the altitude is going to affect him,” said a confident Pena.
The president of EFC, Cairo Howarth, also found time to keep us up to speed with what the EFC organisation has done since its conception.
“In mid-2009 we thought to start the EFC after watching what had been going on on the international scene with regards to mixed martial arts,” he said.
Since no one was doing it at home or on the entire continent, the man and his associates took it upon themselves to create an arena where fighters from different backgrounds and fighting styles would compete under one roof.
“I was always a fan of the sport and I still train Muay Thai whenever I can,” he said.
Coming from humble beginnings, Howarth is happy that EFC has built a reputation and a name for itself.
“When we were starting out, the guys we had were doing the fighting thing as a side job. They had normal nine-to-five jobs and then they would make time to come and work out. Now a lot of interest has been given to us from the corporate world and we have spon- sorship, so the fighters are doing this whole thing as a full-time job. Some have even gone overseas,” he said.
Some of the attention that they were getting came from e.tv which agreed to air their main matches, such as tomorrow’s showcase. This is easily one of the channel’s best decisions as the live broadcast gets a viewership of almost two million viewers.
“It took us two years to get the broadcasting deal with e.tv and we are happy with the way things are going. Because the channel doesn’t air local soccer, our show is the biggest African sport to come off the channel,” he said.
At first glance they look like regular young men. However, when you get closer you realise that mixed martial arts fighters are built lean and they are fit and fast.
The two champs, Ioannou and Pena, generously invited this writer to their gym to demonstrate how the sport works. Since it is a blend of any fighting discipline you can think off, I had to quickly learn how to grapple, duck, avoid submissions and so on.
With everyone rooting for the underdog, a.k.a me, I felt slightly confident that I could last a few minutes in the ring. To start with, I am exactly 20kgs heavier than Ioannou and that played on my mind. In gym I would probably lift a little heavier than him and yet he was the champion of this sport.
Piece of cake, I thought to myself. That mentality got me chocked, twisted and locked down in more ways than I could count. It wasn’t a David and Goliath scenario, but it was close.
I tapped out on many occasions my “fans” lost faith in me in no time. Turns out size isn’t everything after all. Ten minutes later I was panting, more eager to leave than I was to get in. Let’s just say that you should listen when they say do not try this at home.
• Tickets are on sale at www.computicket.com and tickets for the live broadcast to NuMetro Cinemas are available at www.numetro.co.za. The three main bouts will be broad-cast live on e.tv, from 10.30pm.