White Tiger is let out of the cage
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