African MMA is on the rise, and leading the charge, is none other than Africa’s largest fight promotion, Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC). Right before the lockdown took effect in South Africa, EFC 84 took place on March 14th, 2020 from Sun Times Square in Menlyn, Pretoria. That event saw Themba Gorimbo successfully defend his welterweight championship against the previously-undefeated Lyle Karam to close out the action-packed first event of the year. All sights were set to EFC 85, which already had confirmed the main event to see Zaakir Badat go up against Gideon Drotschie for the interim light heavyweight championship. The global pandemic immediately halted those plans but 2021 saw the EFC make it’s grand return to the global fight scene.
Over a year since their last event, the EFC were set to return on May 8th with the EFC 85 event. This event, in addition to marking the EFC’s return, also served as the start of in-house events emanating from the EFC Performance Institute. The main event saw a clash between Sylvester Chipfumbu and Faeez Jacobs for the bantamweight championship. Jacobs had, for a while, been claiming to be the bantamweight champion but Chipfumbu consistently insisted on that status including interim, as the official championship had been vacated. The weigh-in staredown between the two got intense and, on fight night, one could cut the tension with a knife. Jacobs and Chipfumbu went the distance and left it all to the judges. When it was all said and done, Chipfumbu proved to have done enough to capture the 135lb gold and be called the new bantamweight champion.
The month of June saw the two championships on the line at EFC 86. The co-main event saw Alain Ilunga claim the interim lightweight championship in his 5-rounder against Anicet Kanyeba. The main event would see Igeu Kabesa defend his featherweight championship against Reinaldo Ekson. The Brazilian had made a statement in his debut at EFC 79 when he got the submission victory against Tumisang Madiba via Guillotine Choke in the early stages of their second round. Kabesa, however, was set to be Ekson’s true challenge. Many fight fans and fighters alike have respect for Kabesa and some believe he might be one of the best to ever do it from the African continent. Ekson shocked the masses by cinching in an arm triangle choke that saw the revered Kabesa submit a mere 1:32 minutes into the fight. This served as Kabesa’s first loss since EFC 57 in March of 2017 but, above and beyond that, it solidified the arrival of a new featherweight king – and his crown was that featherweight championship wrapped around his waist.
Three weeks following that, EFC 87 took place. This proved to be a night of finishes as all the fights on the card ended with either a submission or KO/TKO, and the main event proved to be no different. The main event was set to see Luke Michael go up against Dino Bagattin. Both fighters had become staples of the African MMA scene, with Michael making his pro debut as far back as EFC 33 (August 2014) and Bagattin had been with the EFC since it’s inception. For this reason, Bagattin was affectionately referred to as the pride of the EFC. With the main event, it was clear that there was mutual respect between the two former teammates. As the fight was not for a title, the two were given just three rounds to prove themselves. Michael wasted no time before putting Bagattin in a Rear Naked Choke in the opening of the first round, which saw him earn the submission victory. Following that fight, Bagattin symbolically placed his gloves in the middle of the hexagon. During the post-event press conference, Bagattin expressed disappointment in his performance but also acknowledged that, although that was probably the end of his active career, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of his coaching career. On the flipside, Michael was exploring his options for a future opponent, but one thing was clear: He was looking to get gold around his waist, and middleweight seemed to be where he was headed. All in all, this was a great night of action with feel-good moments.
August 14th saw the shortest EFC fight card of the year. EFC 88 had several bouts cancelled and rescheduled but the EFC were determined to still make the event count. Of the seven total fights put on, three fighters were making their debuts at this event – all of which were victorious. Much like the previous card, this event saw nothing but definite finishers. The main event saw a clash of heavyweights as Thabani Mndebela went up against Matunga Djikasa for the vacant EFC heavyweight championship. Both heavyweights were on 4-fight winning streaks and had rightfully earned the right to be crowned the next king of the heavyweights. The stakes were high and both fighters had a lot on the line. The second round of the fight saw Mndebela do exactly what he had promised to do during the weigh-ins final face-off the day prior: he finished his opponent. The victory was an emotional one for Mndebela as, in addition to getting his first championship victory, he had dedicated the fight to the memory of his late father, who he had just buried the weekend prior. Mndebela expressed his excitement for this new phase as champion moving forward and was clearly looking forward to being the one to receive new challengers in the division.
As the final quarter of the year began, it was quickly becoming clear that there was limited time for fighters to prove themselves before the new year. EFC 89 was set to give the EFC flyweight division their own champion, and the two who would fight for that position would be Nkazimulo Zulu and Luthando Biko. At the weigh-ins, Zulu missed weight by 2.7lbs but the fight would still go on but only Biko was eligible to win the championship. The condition was that, should Zulu win the fight, the title will remain vacant. Fight night produced a mix of different results but perhaps the most shocking was the main event itself. About halfway into the second round of the fight, Zulu locked in a Guillotine Choke that saw Biko tap out. Celebrations proceeded but, being unable to actually win the championship, it became clear that a rematch between the two would be on the cards for the near future.
EFC celebrated another first as they put on their first Fight Night event in October. EFC promoter, Graeme Cartmell, made it clear that these Fight Night events would be something that they would look to incorporate more of in the future. Right at the top of the card, the women’s bantamweight would be on display as Christine Wolmarans looked to kill the momentum of the retuning Shana Power. The card featured a balance of staple African MMA names, as well as the lesser-known but up-and-coming talent. All the talent definitely proved themselves worthy and, the event as a whole, was much appreciated by fight fans across the African continent, as well as the world. Power had been on hiatus for 5 years but, during her time away, she had been training with fighters from the international circuit. Wolmarans, on the other hand, had only made her pro debut at EFC 81 (August 2019) – a fight in which she was successful. In her second outing at EFC 85, Wolmarans was not as lucky. This fight at the EFC Fight Night would prove to be redemption for her. The fight made it past the first round but Power’s Rear Naked Choke in the second round proved superior and secured the returning star the win.
The landmark EFC 90 event took place in November, and was stacked from top to bottom. A number of fighters were making their pro debuts, whilst others were making their promotional debuts. At the top of the card, the bantamweight championship was up for grabs. Sylvester Chipfumbu had vacated the title and, seeing another chance to capture gold, Faeez Jacobs was ready to fight. Across from him would be Sindile Manengela. Jacobs was considered the favorite to capture the gold but it could not go without being acknowledged that Manengela, under the tutelage of former EFC lightweight fighter-turned-coach Chris Bright. Although the face-off between the two did not get physical, their fight saw the two go at it for the entire five rounds. The judges came to a split decision with Manengela as the one they saw fit to have the gold strapped around his waist. Following that fight, Jacobs proposed to his girlfriend of six years. In a way, both fighters won that night.
To close out the year, the EFC had to put on one more major event to send MMA fans into the festive season. EFC 91 featured an impressive 13 bouts. Initially, this was meant to be a super event to feature about 16 or 17 fights. On the morning of weigh-ins, it was revealed that some of the fights had been affected by Covid-19 related issues. Additionally, Martin Gcinumkhondo, was not medically cleared following a mugging incident which saw the fighter get stabbed in the hand. As a result, Lukhmaan Jhazbhay and Gift Walker (who was one of the affected fighters with the Covid-19 issues) were matched to have their fight with just 24 hours notice. The top of the card would see the main events of the evening be for championships but they also had their fair share of troubles. First, August Kayambala did not make the required weight. This meant that he could not challenge for Reinaldo Ekson’s featherweight championship in the co-main event, and that fight would be a standard three-round fight. The main event would see the highly-anticipated rematch between Nkazimulo Zulu and Luthando Biko for that 125lb gold. Shockingly, Zulu collapsed backstage again due to weight cutting, and it was feared that the fighter might not make weight yet again. When Zulu was eventually helped to the scale, he had actually made weight and the main event was on. Going into fight night, Kayambala was a massive underdog in his fight against Ekson but suprised many by actually holding his own in the first round – maybe even winning that first round. In the second round, however, Ekson caught Kayambala in a D’Arce Choke and forced him to submit. There was mutual respect between the two fighters and Kayambala, at the post-event press conference, made clear his intention to have another fight with Ekson – this time, having made weight, and having the fight be for the gold. Kabesa, who was also present, also let it be known that he would like to get back into the title picture. Ekson was fearless and let it be known that he is ready for any and everyone. Over at the main event, there was question as to how the fight would go down. It did not take too long for fans to have that question answered as Biko managed to get the Overhand Right, then the Ground ‘n’ Pound going to secure his victory at just 26 seconds into the fight. Now, with Zulu and Biko both having one victory over each other, many await the rubber match between the two. It seemed like all the fighters on the card were looking to make a statement at EFC 91 but perhaps no one did so in the manner that Cole Henning managed to. The second fight on the main card saw Henning go up against Tumisang Madiba, and he shocked the world. Henning placed himself in the EFC history books with a stunning 5-second KO victory. That finish effectively made Henning the holder of the fastest finish in EFC history.
EFC 91, in itself, managed to set up fights for the future. The EFC looks to make the 2022 one of it’s biggest yet and, judging by all the action that could barely be contained at this year’s festivities, it’s clear that absolute carnage awaits the African MMA scene. EFC is going on an extended break but will return in March 2022 with 10 events to cover the calendar. EFC 92 is already being set up, and the main event will see Luke Michael going up against Pupanga Tresor.
Combat sports writer and thought-sharer. Major interest in pushing African combat to the rest of the world.