CAPE TOWN - Demarte Pena, ladies and gentlemen! Your undisputed bantamweight EFC champion of the world. The man took the banter, chirps, and he pushed through all his challenges to come up trumps.
On Saturday, at Time Square, Pretoria at EFC 66, the Angolan warrior underlined why he deserves to be the only one with a belt in his division when he knocked out interim bantamweight holder Irshaad “White Tiger” Sayed in the fourth round to cap off what has been a taxing and gruelling 2017. Despite achieving what he had worked so hard for, Pena noted the smaller things that he was most grateful for ... a lesson that we all can learn from.
“I don’t care about the belt,” Pena said just seconds after referee Ferdi Basson called the match. “It’s been a tough year for me, I will be taking some time off. To everybody out there, happy festive to all, and always take care of your family, that is what is most important.”
After beating Sayed in their first match in December 2016, the fight was declared a no contest due to Pena testing positive for a banned substance after using a “contaminated supplement”.
As with any athlete, it was a tough situation for Pena to bear with all the labels that come with athletes being caught up in doping or banned substance scandals. Especially in today’s professional sports climate which is being looked at through a microscope.
Yet, the man overcame and kept moving forward, improving his game and preparing for round two.
Saturday night’s fight was also the culmination of a rivalry as coaches for Pena and Sayed, as they mentored and guided amateur fighters in the Extreme Fighting Championship reality show, The Fighter, season one, which saw fighters from around the world come together in a Big Brother kind of setup with the goal of earning an EFC contract.
Team Sayed’s Brendan Lesar was signed onto the EFC roster after overcoming Ibrahim Mane.
It was certainly a successful season and I doubt the EFC could’ve found better ambassadors than Pena and Sayed to participate in the show’s first run on air.
It was filled with drama, fun, hard work, banter and some serious challenges which often saw Pena and Sayed clash in heated moments.
And it is no wonder that exactly 400 days after their first fight, Pena greeted Sayed with a huge kick to the head in the first round last night, flooring the man from Cape Town.
You could hear the entire Time Square taking a big gulp of air as Sayed’s knees gave in.
I must admit, I too thought it was the beginning of the biggest anti-climax considering all the hype that was used to build the foundation of this mansion that was Pena versus Sayed part two.
Yet, Sayed proved why he too wore a belt around his waist as he recovered intelligently, shifting his weight and momentum to save himself from a series of hammer blows that would force Basson to call the fight.
With blood streaming from his face, Sayed switched on in the second round, landing heavy fists to Pena, the FFM warrior comfortably looking undeterred on defence.
Pena “The Wolf” started initiating some takedowns, a strategy that proved to be effective in the end as it exhausted Sayed, who continuously had to manoeuvre his way out of mounts.
In round three, the psychological doctor that is Sayed found some comfortable space, as he smiled and moved around the hexagon in effort of trying to unsettle Pena. However the 11-0 champion kept his poker face and remained in the zone, planning and plotting his finish.
Cue round four and it seemed as if Pena’s coaching corner might have complimented him on those take downs, as he continued to bring the fight closer. Yet Sayed reacted with a good sprawl.
The fatigue seemed to have finally got the better of Sayed, as Pena locked him in a position on the hexagon mat which gave “The Wolf” an opportunity to land some damaging hammer blows to Sayed’s face.
Basson warned Sayed on numerous occasions to change position or else he would call it as Pena adopted the role of psychological doctor shouting to the ref “call it ref” with Sayed responding “I’m still fine”.
However, Sayed failed to change his position, giving Basson no option but to call it and declare Pena victorious.
“I should’ve worked harder. I did not and that allowed him to go to work,” said Sayed of Pena. “Well done to Demarte,” added Sayed, showing his true sportsmanship.
What’s next for these two warriors? Who knows.
What we can guarantee is that 2017 has been a great year for EFC because of names like Pena and Sayed.
The brand can only be better off because of the traction this fight, along with TF1, got over the last couple of months.
And with MMA being such a fast-growing sport in Mzansi, fans should be very appreciative of warriors such as “The Wolf” and “The White Tiger” for the groundwork they have and will continue to lay for the future of the sport.