All African event attracts top mixed martial arts amateurs
Africa attracted some of the world’s best amateur mixed martial artist (MMA) talent this past weekend, and two Port Elizabeth fighters came home with a gold and bronze medal hanging around their necks.
Kwazakhele’s Luthando Biko was crowned the African bantamweight champion, while his Summerstrand teammate Reece van der Merwe came away with the featherweight bronze medal.
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) brought the All African Open Championships to South Africa for the first time and the competition at the Brakpan Indoor Sport Centre was fierce, with fighters from all over Africa, as well India and the number one ranked amateur team in the world Sweden, fighting out for a spot on the podium.
Biko, 26, who was crowned the Commonwealth Judo Champion in the under-60kg division earlier this year, said representing his country in MMA was an amazing experience.
“This was the first IMMAF championship to be held on African soil, and walking away with a gold medal feels surreal. I can’t really put how I feel into words. I made history,” Biko, or Shorty as he is known to his teammates at Port Elizabeth Submission Fighting Academy (Pesfa), said.
His road to gold consisted of two tough fights against South African opponents. The first fight ended in the first round when he got the submission victory via a keylock, and the second went all three rounds and he won via a split decision on the judges’ scorecards.
“That second fight was probably the toughest opponent I have ever faced, but at no point was I concerned about losing. My coach was there to talk me through our training and game plan the whole time and I just did what I do best.”
Biko said he would have liked to fight an international opponent, but both Indian fighters from his division were eliminated.
Looking ahead, Biko said he wants to focus more on his stand-up fighting as he looks ahead to upcoming fights and possibly European and World Championships.
Van der Merwe, 20, who recently competed in the World Championship, lost to Sweden’s Hoger Salih in the second round via a triangle choke submission. Salih went on to win the featherweight division.
Pesfa head coach Chris Bright says he is proud of his fighters and their performances, and said this international competition was good exposure of Biko heading forward in his fighting career.
“I think Shorty was one of our best kept secrets until now. He is one of the most athletic guys I know and his judo experience, on local and international levels, helps him to relax and let loose under pressure,” Bright said.
He added that there were many exciting things on the horizon for Biko, with talks of sponsorships for European Championships later this year going around and a possible amateur title fight in South Africa on the cards down the line.