CAPE TOWN - Andrew van Zyl is something out of a Hollywood movie. If I could zoom in on a motion picture, it would be Gavin O’Connor’s 2011 hit, Warrior, featuring Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy.
That film has various dynamics to it, but one of the main elements sees Mr Conlon (Edgerton), a teacher, enter a Mixed martial arts competition to help him secure his family and home.
The word soon gets out to his colleagues and students, much to their delight.
Now Andrew (and that is Mr Van Zyl to you school kids out there) might not have anything in common with Mr Conlon aside from the awesome reality that he is that teacher by day and Warrior “by night”.
The EFC heavyweight champion educates his Parktown Boys’ High pupils through life orientation and history and has also been the first team rugby coach for the last 10 years. Being a EFC star has also helped him engage his students on a deeper level.
“Being involved in MMA allows me to be a working model for the boys, they are very attuned to role models who walk the talk. It is something they can respect. I always want to be someone boys can respect,” says Mr Van Zyl who says that teaching found him instead of the other way round.
Come this weekend, class will definitely be in session when Andrew "One Gear" van Zyl opens his EFC "classroom door" also known as the Hexagon to the US’s Jared "The Mountain" Vanderaa at EFC 66 in Times Square, Pretoria.
Judging by Mr Van Zyl’s success rate, Vanderaa better have done his homework if he has any chance of defying this teacher’s lesson.
Van Zyl boasts an impressive record of 18 wins and 3 losses, his last defeat coming to Cyril Asker at EFC 44.
And the heavyweight champion has no intention of handing over his belt that easily, if at all, in the five-round championship bout on Saturday.
“I have covered all Jared’s fights on the net, he is well versed and very tough, he basically is very similar to me,” says the man who has an incredibly strong jaw, a heavy punch and impressive grappling ability.
Andrew, a 1.89m champion with a 199cm reach, fights out of the BJMMA gym in Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg, under (or should we say over) the watchful eye of Bobby Karagiannidis. The heavyweight king has overcome many opponents, and with 18 wins under his belt, you can only imagine how many fighters are baying for his blood.
Looking back, he admits that his toughest fight to date was with Elvis Moyo at EFC 54.
That fight saw Moyo punish Van Zyl for three straight rounds, particularly with that dangerous right jab that is packed with power and speed. He tested Van Zyl in almost every aspect of the game which included a takedown defence and clinchwork.
Yet, in the fourth round, Van Zyl stood resolute and this is where that tough skin of his came through.
With just moments before the doctor stepping in to call a stoppage via TKO, "One Gear" swept Moyo to the canvas and took full mount to land some earth-shattering blows to the ID of Moyo forcing the ref to call the match.
It was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, comebacks in the history of EFC. And a true testimony to the champion within Teacher Van Zyl.
“I have a good defensive technique and I outlast opponents simply because I am in better shape,” he says.
He claims his versatility and ability to fight everywhere is one of the reasons why he is where he is today.
In preparation for the fight, he concluded that he has just worked on getting better at the simple things.
Van Zyl’s short-term goal right now might be to over come “The Mountain” in Pretoria on Saturday. But he has a dream of opening a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school in the near future. Witnessing the positive effect he has on so many kids, maybe this Parktown Warrior can too become a Box Office hit, just like Gavin O’ Connor’s 2011 movie.
All Main Card fights to be aired live on SABC 3 at 9pm Saturday night.
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