Regis Muyambo is in the middle of a jujitsu training session, straining under the significant bulk of his head instructor at Panther Fighting Arts gym.
Tucked into the corner of a strip mall, which is itself dwarfed by seemingly endless rows of housing developments on Parklands Main Road, the modest facility is home to at least 11 fighters who ply their trade in Africa’s top mixed martial arts promotion, Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC).
It was at Panther that Muyambo first discovered MMA as a 16-year-old, fell in love with the sport, and honed his craft until he, too, could reach the heights of the EFC.
By his own accounts, the Zimbabwean-born Muyambo was a “weird” teenager, more concerned with the melodramatic storylines of professional wrestling than the brutality of combat sports.
But after moving to Parklands and stumbling into Panther while wandering around his new neighbourhood, Muyambo discovered grappling and took to the sport with aplomb.
“When I started at Panther I was literally one of only three people who did jujitsu. Mixed martial arts wasn’t big yet in Cape Town and almost everybody who trained here was just interested in kickboxing, so I got a lot of individual attention,” he said. “That, and the passion my coach had made me love the sport.
“In jujitsu you can capitalise on a single mistake in a split second. It’s also interesting to see how people react in certain situations. It’s very tactical and a bit like a chess match.
“I played rugby when I was younger so the grappling just felt a lot more natural to me than striking (boxing and kickboxing). It took me a long time to actually learn how to strike properly. I used to get beat up a lot in training.”
Muyambo would eventually grow into one of the top amateur lightweight and welterweight competitors in South Africa, and went on to make his EFC debut at just 19 years old.
His quick rise is undoubtedly the result of his determination, as well as the effort and expertise of his coaches, but he also credits his alma mater, Wynberg Boys’ High.
A proud Muyambo has worn his old school tie to weigh-ins, walked to the hexagon in his blazer and even has the school’s motto tattooed on his chest. The Latin phrase “supera moras” translates into “overcome difficulties”, and Muyambo is always keen to stress that a “Wynberg man never gives up”.
Muyambo says he also owes his nickname to his time at Wynberg. “It came from my friend Nadine. She said that because of my accent that I was the ‘whitest black oke around’, so she nicknamed me ‘Frostie’,” he joked.
“At my EFC debut, there were quite a few Wynberg boys there and everyone started shouting Frostie and it just stuck.”
Now that Muyambo is working to achieve his dreams, he hopes to help other young people the way his teachers and classmates helped him.
“It’s always been my dream to hold a title and to influence other people. I want to be a cool role model. I feel like I have already inspired a few people,” he said.
“At Wynberg Boys’ a lot of people have now joined gyms. It keeps kids disciplined.”
However, Muyambo knows that he must improve his performances inside the cage. He surged to victories over Donald Nzirawa and Texier Kabesa in his first two EFC fights, but went on to lose his next four.
In May last year, Muyambo signed up to face former lightweight champion Don Madge on just two weeks’ notice and went on to suffer a TKO loss.
He would lose again just three months later, tapping out to EFC debutant Armand Scheepers.
Those two defeats coincided with the most challenging year of Muyambo’s young life, according to his head coach Anthony Kettle.
“What happened was his mother moved up to Johannesburg and he had the choice to either move with her and start studying, or stay in Cape Town, find a job and keep training,” Kettle said.
“He opted to keep training and got his first job, and it’s been a big adaptation for him. He realises now that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination.
“The bottom line is that the guys who do the best are the guys who persevere. You can see that in all the top fighters. Everyone who has Regis’ talent has the potential to be a champion if they put the effort in.”
Unlike most of the EFC’s top fighters, Muyambo has been forced to shape his workout regime around his day job, training between 5am and 6am and 6pm and 9pm every day.
Though he admits the routine is a test of his motivation, he refuses to use it as an excuse for his past failures. Instead, the 21-year-old is channelling his energy into becoming a fitter, leaner version of himself.
“Last year didn’t go too well for me, so I’m working towards a comeback. I definitely slacked a lot. I didn’t put in the hours that I did before,” he said. “I definitely underestimated my opponents.
“At the moment I’m just focusing on getting better and fitter and dropping some weight. I’m planning to come back around the middle of this year.”
So as Muyambo goes in search of redemption, a stricter eating plan and more intense training are not the only alterations he intends to make. Muyambo could also end up fighting in a heavier or lighter weight division.
“With the changes I am going to make this year, I can definitely become a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
“I feel like I have all the talent in the world … and relied on it too much and not worked as hard as I should have. So this year is do-or-die for me and I don’t want to let this sport go.”