CAPE TOWN – When I think of the greatest fights in the history of Mixed Martial Arts, UFC’s (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Nate Diaz v Conor McGregor, Randy Couture v Rodrigo Nogueira and Georges St Pierre v BJ Penn come to mind.
Ten years from now, I’m sure I will be able to look back and list EFC’s Pena v Sayed part 2 up there with the best of them.
Yep, you heard correctly, it’s that time again, when two of the Extreme Fighting Championship’s most talented and charismatic fighters will throw down the gauntlet and settle their rivalry once and for all.
Rewind to November 2016, when bantamweight champion Demarte Pena successfully defended his title against Irshaad Sayed, only to be rocked by a test by the South African Institute for Drug Free Sports (SAIDS) concluding that he was guilty of inadvertently using a prohibited substance prior to his fight with Sayed.
It was found that Pena had not acted with intent or negligence due to the fact that the substance in question was traced to contaminated supplements. Pena did however declare the substances to officials, thus tipping the scale in his favour.
The fight was changed to a “No Contest”.
Pena thus remained bantamweight champion, with Sayed being reinstated as Interim Bantamweight champion, considering that he effectively did not lose the fight.
Fast forward to today, December 16 at EFC 66, Time Square, Pretoria, and we have a fight on our hands that will be watched in all corners of the globe.
A great advert for the growing African brand.
These two warriors have been at each other’s throats for a while now.
The chirps, the banter, the insults, you name it. It all comes down to tonight, where they compete for the unification of the Bantamweight belt and the ultimate bragging rights.
In the build-up to the fight, the EFC brains trust even concocted a genius recipe of using these two athletes as the faces of the new TF1 (The Fighter) reality show. A programme which sees fighters from across the globe come together in an Big Brother type of set-up, whereby they compete against each other for an EFC contract.
Deservedly so, both Pena and Sayed were given the honours of coaching these guys, and of course, seeing their fighters do well would just add more to their personal rivalry and bragging rights goody bags.
In their first bantamweight championship bout, the competition was tight, with both fighters offering up much respect to each other.
The warriors displayed some crisp stand-up technique, holding their ground, much to the delight of the Grand Arena audience.
It was Pena who initiated the Lion’s share of takedowns, but Sayed proved to be worth his salt, by testing Pena with impressive defensive tactics which took the fight all the way to the end.
This time around, Sayed has other plans.
“I certainly am not planning on going the distance. I’m going out there to finish the fight,” he says.
“I felt I didn’t put enough pressure on him (Pena) and I was slightly too cautious the first time around. I’m not worried about what he’s going to do this time, I’m going out there to implement my strategy and game plan.”
It could prove to be a toe-to- toe spectacular tonight as Pena too has been working around the clock on his stand up, indicating that he could also be planning to go in for the finish, despite his incredible ability to take the fight all the way without letting fatigue get the better of him.
“I’ve have focused a lot more on my stand-up, I feel I could’ve done better with my boxing the last time so that has been something I have worked on, despite always doing all-round prep which includes ground work,” says Pena.
“Sayed could come out a completely different fighter so the bottom line is that I prepare as well as possible in every single aspect,” added Pena.
Coaching the fighters in the TF1 show has obviously taken a big chunk out of the two stars’ prep work, however, being the professionals they are, they have had to compromise and find ways to focus on their athletes as well as their own hustle.
It must be said that it was admirable to see the amount of time Sayed spent with his athletes on the show.
“The whole filming process of TF1 was taxing, I was at the fighter house in Johannesburg and EFC headquarters from the morning till the evening, the only training I managed to do myself was with my athletes,” says Sayed.
Pena agreed that it was tough finding the balance between his training and the show.
“In the beginning it was a little bit hard when we were doing the filming because the times were a little bit conflicting, but eventually I managed to find a way to still train as hard myself without it getting in the way with the coaching and I also started doing my own training with the fighters,” he says.
As for the whole scandal around the unfortunate banned substance, and the fact this rematch of sorts has hyped the fight to what it is today, Sayed demanded Pena be tested again.
When questioned about this, Pena cut straight to the chase.
“It is what it is, it happened and I am over it. So I’m not gonna bother myself too much with it. I’m just moving forward. I’ve been a champion for a long time, I have been tested on various occasions before fights so Im not too bothered by it.
“In terms of the fight itself, I’m just going to take it as another fight, There is no need to label it more. I’m just going to go in there and do what I do best and that is to win and move forward,” a relaxed Pena said.
Well, if that’s not enough drama to satisfy a Days of our Lives soapie veteran, then I don’t know what is, all I can say is that the chirps, the banter and the talk is over.”
In the words of Michael Buffer: Let’s get ready to rumble!
* All main card fights to be aired on SABC3 from 9pm.