Irshaad Sayed won the inaugural RUFF title last year. The organization is sanctioned by the Chinese government, giving its beltholders the right to call themselves national champions. The South African is now hoping to win a title with the most prominent organization in his homeland after signing to make his EFC debut later this month.
On March 27, Sayed returns to South Africa to face Leo Gloss at EFC 27. It will be his first ever MMA fight outside of Asia and he hopes it will be his first step towards securing the 135-pound title and establishing himself as the best fighter at his weight on the continent.
Originally from Cape Town, he moved to Thailand as a teenager to pursue his Muay Thai dreams before deciding to try his hand at MMA in 2010. Sayed has since gone on to run up a 6-2 record, culminating in the title win at RUFF 8 last year.
The fight with Gloss will be his first in South Africa for several years. After establishing himself as one of the top bantamweights in Asia, Sayed now wants to make a name for himself back home.
“I have never fought MMA in South Africa before. My last kickboxing fight here was about three years ago. I feel I still have a lot of support back in South Africa. My family alone is huge, so I’ll always have a following back home and it’s great to be back. I’m happy that I’ll have some of the crowd behind me, which is new for me as I’m always fighting abroad,” he said.
He is facing an opponent who will be familiar to all South African MMA fans because Gloss, a former amateur boxing champion, has been fighting for EFC since its inaugural show in 2009. Sayed is happy to be taking on one of the most recognizable fighters in the region for his promotional debut and feels stylistically this is a good match-up for him.
“Leo fought in the very first EFC Africa event, that’s when I first came to know of him. I feel this is a good fight for me because he relies heavily on his boxing, while I feel I’ve evolved as an MMA fighter a lot since joining the Evolve MMA Fight Team,” he said.
Although Sayed will be fighting in South Africa for the forseeable future, he will continue to live and train in Singapore. He joined Evolve MMA just prior to winning the RUFF title last year and says despite competing for a promotion 5,000 miles away, he has no plans to leave.
“Rafael Dos Anjos regularly prepares for his U.S. fights at Evolve MMA in Singapore and Rich Franklin also trained for his fight in Brazil there, so there is no reason why I can’t train in Singapore for fights in South Africa. I’m already in South Africa because I felt like I needed 10 days to adjust to the time difference and ONE FC superstar Eddie Ng will also be flying in to corner me,” he said.
Sayed signed a deal with EFC that will cover the cost for him and his cornermen to travel from Singapore every time he fights and said that this was a key factor behind his decision to continue his MMA career in South Africa.
“I would never sacrifice the quality of training I get in Singapore. Nowhere else can you train with so many champions in various martial arts like BJJ, wrestling, MMA, boxing, and Muay Thai,” he said.
The vast majority of fighters on the EFC roster are based in South Africa and have spent their entire careers competing in Africa. Sayed feels that fighting and training in Asia is something that will give him an edge over the competition.
“I think the level of MMA in Asia is slightly better than South Africa,” he said.
At present, the EFC bantamweight champion is Nkazimulo Zulu (5-1-1), but reigning featherweight champion Demarte Pena (8-0) recently vacated his title to drop down a division and is likely to receive an immediate title shot.
Pena has established himself as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in Africa and Sayed admits he has already been eyeing up the competition.
“I have been following the EFC bantamweight and featherweight divisions for the past two years. I will fight anyone I need to in order to become champion, if that means I have to fight Pena then I will,” he said.
Before he can seriously be considered for an EFC title shot, Sayed will need to start working his way through the top ranked fighters in the division. A win over seasoned veteran Gloss would be the perfect start and ultimately he says his goal is to eventually fight for the belt in his hometown.
“I’m hoping two or three fights will put me in line for a title shot and for a title fight I would love for it to be in Cape Town.”
EFC 28 is set for the Coca Cola Dome in Johannesburg on March 27. For information about purchasing the pay per view visit: http://www.efcafrica.tv/