Irshaad Sayed will be looking to take another step towards a fight with undefeated EFC bantamweight champion Demarte Pena when he faces Abdul Hassan next month in what will be his third fight for the South African promotion.
Pena and Sayed are not just the two top bantamweights currently signed to the promotion, they are two of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the continent. A match-up between them would be a massive bout, but the 25-year-old says he is not looking past Hassan, whom he will be facing in the main event of EFC 35.
“Abdul is an experienced fighter, he’s had many more fights than his Sherdog record reflects, and has a slightly unorthodox striking style, although there’s no secret that he’s mostly a BJJ practitioner, but he hasn’t fought any high level international opponents and I’m training daily with world class athletes at Evolve MMA in Singapore.”
Sayed will be headlining the card at the Grand West Casino in Capetown and, after spending the majority of his career competing in Asia, he will be fighting in his homeland for the second time in quick succession.
“It’s always exciting to go back home. I’m happy that my first hometown bout went well and I feel there will be less pressure going into this second fight,” he said.
Sayed won the bantamweight belt with top Chinese promotion Ruff, but after a prolonged period of inactivity, he requested a release from his contract in order to return to his homeland and compete for EFC.
This will be his fourth fight for the South African promotion and he has enjoyed being able to fight so frequently in recent months.
“I’m so happy to be active this year, it really helps to keep a good routine. Although I didn’t have many fights last year, I used my time wisely to improve my MMA game all round and I think I’m a much more complete martial artist now than I was before I arrived in Singapore.”
Sayed is now fighting in South Africa, but he is not training there and flies in from Singapore, where he is a member of the Evolve MMA fight team, for every single bout. Although this makes for some long trips, he says being based in Asia gives him an advantage over opponents back home.
“Training at Evolve MMA gives me a huge advantage over other EFC athletes based in South Africa. I’m privileged to train with world class athletes on a daily basis and we have a number of UFC and ONE FC fighters based permanently in Singapore, while we frequently have high level athletes visiting us from around the world like Tyron Woodley, Tarec Saffiedine, and Roger Gracie.”
Sayed is riding a five-fight win streak and has a professional record of 8-2. His losses both came at the hands of Jumabieke Tuerxun, whom he fought relatively early in his career dropping a unanimous decision in 2011 and a split decision the following year.
Tuerxun is currently signed with the UFC, so the trilogy is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but Sayed recently saw one of his Evolve MMA teammates submit the Chinese bantamweight and says he was delighted to see both fighters pick up a fight of the night bonus.
“What an amazing fight, I’m so happy for Brodinho (Leandro Issa) because he’s one of the most dedicated guys in the gym and its great to see all his efforts pay off in a big way. I’m also happy for Jumabieke because he won a $50,000 bonus; he deserves it.”
With Jumabieke coming off back-to-back losses, his career trajectory is moving in the opposite direction to Sayed’s, but one opponent who is very much on the radar of the South African is the reigning EFC champion, and he thinks he has spotted some holes in Pena’s game.
“He relies heavily on landing his takedowns because he has low-level striking. His MMA game is very one-dimensional. It’s very easy to predict what he’s going to do, but his game plans have been working thus far because he hasn’t fought anyone with good wrestling and takedown defense.”
Pena and Sayed appear to be on a collision course. Hassan might have something to say about that, but “The White Tiger” believes that if he could take his promotional record to 3-0 with a win on Nov. 5, then a title shot should beckon.
“I definitely think if I win this fight I deserve a shot at the title. My previous two opponents were both number one contenders at some point and so was Abdul. I’m fighting the best EFC has to offer and I’m proving myself worthy.”
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