White Tiger is let out of the cage

Post - - Sport -

ONE of the Ex­treme Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship’s ( EFC) most pop­u­lar ri­val­ries will en­joy a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion when Ir­shaad Sayed and De­marte Pena step out of the cage to head­line a new re­al­ity show that will air next month.

Capeto­nian Sayed, nick­named the “White Tiger” fol­low­ing his ex­ploits as a Mixed Mar­tial Arts (MMA) champion in Asia, and An­golan Pena will go head to head as coaches in the show ti­tled The Fighter.

Over 10 episodes, set in a villa in Jo­han­nes­burg, Sayed and Pena will each train and men­tor five of the best MMA mid­dleweight prospects from around the world.

Fighters from each team will be pit­ted against each other in a quest to win the main prize - a R500 000 con­tract and a guar­an­teed shot at EFC gold.

The coaches will ul­ti­mately face off in the sea­son’s grand fi­nale. There is al­ready bad blood be­tween Sayed and Pena.

Pre­vi­ously they fought in a bid to unify the EFC ban­tamweight cham­pi­onship.

Pena de­feated Sayed via unan­i­mous de­ci­sion but the fight was ruled a no con­test af­ter Pena tested pos­i­tive for per­for­mance en­hanc­ing sub­stances, which he blamed on con­tam­i­nated sup­ple­ments, ac­cord­ing to the EFC.

Sayed was re­in­stated as the in­terim champion, and will get the re­match he has been chas­ing when the re­al­ity show cli­maxes with a fi­nale on De­cem­ber 16 in Pre­to­ria.

POST got into the hexagon with Sayed, 28, to learn more about his fight­ing ca­reer that takes him around the world.

Q: What is your fight­ing back­ground?

A: I started kick­box­ing when I was a teenager. At first I started purely for the fit­ness as­pect but was quickly drawn into am­a­teur com­pe­ti­tion. From kick­box­ing I tran­si­tioned to Muay Thai and now com­pete as a pro­fes­sional MMA ath­lete for EFC.

Q: How were you drawn to the sport?

A: The pu­rity of com­bat sports is what ap­peals to me. When com­pet­ing with another ath­lete in the ring or cage all out­side in­flu­ences like money, ed­u­ca­tion, race or re­li­gion be­comes re­dun­dant; all that mat­ters in that mo­ment is how well you are pre­pared for that fight.

Q: How was your ex­pe­ri­ence abroad?

A: I left South Africa af­ter fin­ish­ing ma­tric at the age of 17 to fur­ther my skills as a mar­tial artist. I moved to Thai­land and lived and trained full time at a Muay Thai camp. I’m cur­rently based in New Zealand af­ter spend­ing time liv­ing in Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore too.

Q: What are your ma­jor high­lights so far?

A: In 2007 I won the WPMC world Muay Thai ti­tle in Thai­land. That was my first big achieve­ment in mar­tial arts. Since then I’ve gone on to be­come two-time WMC Asia Muay Thai champion, WMC kick­box­ing world champion, RUFF China MMA champion and EFC ban­tamweight champion.

Q: Are you a full-time fighter?

A: I train full time and run some busi­nesses too. At dif­fer­ent times of the year I fo­cus my time and en­ergy into dif­fer­ent things. When I have a fight com­ing up my fo­cus shifts pri­mar­ily to train­ing. Af­ter a fight I have some down time and have time to fo­cus on other projects.

Q: Where do you draw in­spi­ra­tion from?

A: I’ve al­ways as­pired to do some­thing dif­fer­ent with my life and it’s a con­tin­ual process that keeps me in­spired and mo­ti­vated.

Q: Have there been down sides to the sport, such as in­jury, and how did you cope?

A: Train­ing daily and com­pet­ing can be hard on your body but I haven’t had any ma­jor in­juries. There’s al­ways some­thing small here and there but I main­tain my body by stretch­ing reg­u­larly and work­ing close­ly­with my physio.

Q: What is your train­ing rou­tine and your diet?

A: This ques­tion in it­self is an en­tire book and cer­tainly can’t be an­swered in depth with a few short sen­tences. But in a nut­shell, train­ing is twice daily with Sun­days off. My diet varies de­pend­ing on whether I have a fight but al­ways rel­a­tively healthy ex­cept on my cheat day.

Q: Step­ping into re­al­ity TV do you fore­see a fu­ture in me­dia?

A: I haven’t re­ally thought about that in depth, just tak­ing ev­ery­thing one step at a time. For now I have no am­bi­tions in this re­gard, my fo­cus lies in­side the cage. I still have a lot to ac­com­plish as a fighter.

Q; Out­side of the sport what are your other in­ter­ests?

A: I love be­ing out­doors. I do a lot of hik­ing and moun­tain bik­ing in my spare time.

Q: You do­nated part of your win­nings to­wards build­ing a school in ru­ral China, and raised funds for the build­ing of wa­ter wells in Mozam­bique. What’s your next project?

A: My next project that I’m work­ing on is set­ting up a bur­sary or schol­ar­ship fund for uni­ver­sity stu­dents.

Q: What’s your take on the re­cent bout be­tween boxer Floyd May­weather and MMA fighter Conor McGre­gor?

A: McGre­gor did a lot bet­ter than most peo­ple an­tic­i­pated. It’s def­i­nitely a good thing for the sport of MMA.

Q: What’s your view on the growth of MMA in South Africa?

A: The sport of MMA has had rapid growth in SA in a very short space of time. We’ve gone from an un­der­ground sport to main­stream in less than five years, all thanks to EFC. I see our top ath­letes be­com­ing sport­ing su­per­stars. We will be­come house­hold names just like any­one play­ing for the Spring­boks or Proteas.

MMA champion Ir­shaad Sayed is set to star in a re­al­ity tv show

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