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Irish MMA pro Frans Mlambo keen to reconnect with SA roots

South African born Frans Mlambo trains out of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Ireland, the same gym that has produced UFC legend McGregor. Photo: Supplied

South African born Frans Mlambo trains out of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Ireland, the same gym that has produced UFC legend McGregor. Photo: Supplied

Published Oct 24, 2020


DURBAN - Irish-South African MMA fighter Frans Mlambo may have a distinctly Zulu name but he has an Irish accent which is as strong as Conor McGregor’s. Interestingly, Mlambo trains out of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Ireland, the same gym that has produced UFC legend McGregor.

Most South Africans who migrate to Europe usually end up with a hybrid South African/European accent. That is not the case with Mlambo. Without knowledge of his surname, one wouldn't believe he was born in South Africa.

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The 29-year-old spent the first 11 years of his life in South Africa before moving to Ireland.

“When I came over to Ireland, my mom and my little brother were already here for a while. I flew over by myself when I was 11 to come over to Ireland,” said Mlambo.

Mlambo said that while Ireland has changed, seeing another black person in the country was rare in his early years there.

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“At the time, I lived inside the coast and was the only black guy within miles. I would go for months without seeing another black person. It has since changed and that would now be impossible. In the last few years, there have been a lot of different cultures coming in. Before, it was crazy because I knew I was different but I enjoyed it. I did not experience any racism locally. I think I was a lucky one though,” he said.

Mlambo’s path has been different to that of most South Africans who leave the nation of their birth. Most return home after a short while to visit their native surroundings and reconnect with loved ones. After leaving South Africa the man who is referred to as the “Zulu-Irishman” would only return to Mzansi after more than 15 years.

This led to him losing the ability to converse in Zulu which he was fluent in while growing up in Johannesburg. He aims to re-learn Zulu.

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“When I was a kid, I was absolutely fluent. It’s all gone now. I’ve always had a bad memory. When I was growing up, I was always adaptive. My dad was from Johannesburg and my mom was from Limpopo and she is Ndebele. I’m half Zulu, half Ndebele. When I’d go to the countryside, I’d speak in Pedi.

“When I went there, I’d speak Pedi and forget Zulu. When I’d come back to Johannesburg, I’d have to re-learn Zulu. It’s the same thing that happened to me when I came to Ireland. I’ve always felt really close to South Africa and I’ve always been really proud to be a South African. It’s just really tragic for me that I can’t speak a South African indigenous language,” he said.

As a competitor, Mlambo eventually returned to his homeland to take on Durban MMA star Dansheel Moodley at the Brave Combat Federation 19 event at Sun City in December 2018. He defeated Moodley in the first round of the bout via submission.

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“It was absolutely awesome to return to South Africa. In the time I’d been in Ireland, I did not have a chance to go to South Africa. I’ve been in Ireland since 2003 and only returned in late 2018. I have plans on going back,” he said.

Mlambo is affiliated to the Bellator mixed martial arts promotion. His most recent bout saw him defeat Cory Tait by unanimous decision at Bellator Europe 8 last month which was the promotion’s first show in Europe during the pandemic.

He also won gold for Ireland at the 2015 International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships of MMA in the men’s featherweight category, defeating Joel Moya of Sweden in the final in Las Vegas, US.

Due to his boxing background, he also spars professional boxers at the SBG, one of whom is McGregor.

“When I was 15, I moved to boxing and did it for five years. I had hopes of going to try out for the Olympics. I then got injured and got sick of boxing because it all got ruined. I was watching MMA at the time and one of my friends introduced me into it. I fell in love with it (MMA) after a few classes, it was the martial arts part which I stuck with,” he said.

McGregor’s boxing skills attracted criticism and praise alike following his TKO defeat against Floyd Mayweather in August 2017. The former UFC star is believed to be in talks to have a boxing match against Mayweather’s arch-rival Manny Pacquiao.

While some boxing fanatics feel that McGregor’s boxing ability is not on par with elite boxers, Mlambo believes that the Irishman has solid boxing technique, having sparred him.

“I don’t see why he would not take up the fight (against Pacquiao). I definitely believe that he can box. He comes from a boxing background himself and was an amateur boxer at a high level. He boxed for ages and never stopped for ages. He was boxing even when he was doing MMA,” he said.


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