Irshaad Sayed is no stranger to big fights, he has fought for Muay Thai and kickboxing titles in Thailand, Hong Kong and South Africa and emerged with his hand held high every time. Even by the standards of such a decorated stand up fighter his next fight, when he will be facing unbeaten Chinese bantamweight Tuerxan Jumabieke for the third time, is a little bit special.
The RUFF Bantamweight belt is on the line but what will inevitably be foremost in the thinking of both fighters is that the winner will walk away with One Million RMB (160,000 USD) in prize money. There are no prizes for second place and what makes this bout particularly intriguing is that it will be the third time these two men have met.
Jumabieke handed Sayed the first loss of his career in 2011, in what was only the South African's second fight. They met again at RUFF 3 in March of this year and this time the margin between them was even thinner with the Chinese fighter winning by split decision.
Sayed hopes to go one better when they fight in February and believes that he has what it takes to become the first man to ever defeat the 14-0 fighter who many regard as being, pound for pound, the best in China,
"The first time I fought Bieke I was still a kickboxer fighting MMA, the second time we fought was at the beginning of 2012 and this was the year I dedicated myself to MMA and gave up Muay Thai and kickboxing fights so I'm definitely developing my skills and I feel I'm getting closer to winning."
Last time out one of the three judges awarded Sayed the fight, with the other two voting in favor of Jumabieke and although he is confident that there is no reason why he shouldn't be awarded a decision against a Chinese fighter in China the South African wants to win the third fight decisively,
The judging at RUFF is very fair but I would prefer not to go to a decision again. I will try to stop the fight or win convincingly, leaving no doubt in any judges mind."
RUFF is open to Chinese fighters and foreigners in Chinese territory in possession of a valid work permit. Sayed falls into the former category as he has been living and working in Hong Kong since 2008 but to prepare for this fight he has temporarily relocated to Singapore to try and give himself the best possible chance of beating the only opponent to have ever defeated him in MMA competition,
"Evolve MMA is the top training facility in Asia and one of the best in the world. I knew that for me to win this fight, I needed to work on every area of my MMA game,striking, wrestling, and grappling. Evolve has numerous world champions in every discipline of MMA from Muay Thai to boxing, from Wrestling to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, etc. It also helps to have top notch coaches with decades of experience. I'm grateful to work with someone like Heath Sims who was Dan Henderson's coach for the last 15 years before he joined Evolve."
If previous encounters are anything to go by then takedown defence could be crucial for Sayed as Jumabieke has at times been able to outwrestle him. The 23 year old, who moved to Thailand to train Muay Thai at the age of 17, believes that putting his work in Hong Kong on the backburner for a couple of months to train in Singapore could be his key to victory,
"The training at Evolve MMA is great. I have only been here one week and I have already learned loads of new things. Its also nice to have fixed training times, you just need to show up on time at the fighters program and you know there will be other top class guys there you can work with."
MMA is developing rapidly in China and RUFF is leading the way by putting on events all over the mainland and crowning national champions for the first time. To be the bantamweight champion of the most populous country on the planet, as well as walking away with the prize money, gives Sayed all the motivation he needs as he prepares for this fight,
To win the RUFF title means a lot to me because it means I'm the best out of millions of people. The prize money is huge,160,000 USD, and that's a life changer. Sometime in the future I really want to be a full time fighter and I think this is my opportunity. I'm highly motivated to win this fight, but I'm not putting any extra pressure on myself."
Both hiss previous fights with Jumabieke have gone the distance but this time, with a title on the line, they will be fighting for five rounds and Sayed believes that this potentially decisive difference could favour him,
"I think the longer the fight goes on the more of an advantage I will have. I know Bieke has a hard time cutting weight and I'm excited to fight five rounds. This year I think I improved a lot as a mixed martial artist because I finally made a decision to give up Muay Thai fights and focus on MMA."
At present Sayed is 5-2 with the only two losses coming courtesy of Jumabieke. He has beaten much more experienced opponents such as Thailand's Ngoo Ditty, who he faced on his debut, and highly rated Filipino Jessie Rafols but the Chinese bantamweight is the only blot on his MMA record.
When they fight for the third time in February Sayed has the opportunity to add the RUFF title to the WMC and WPMF world titled he has won in Muay Thai and the SAKA South African National title he claimed in kickboxing as well as pocketing the sort of pay cheque seldom seen outside of the UFC.
There is no shame in losing to a fighter of Jumabieke's experience and stature and Sayed, who will not be 24 until March, unquestionably has a bright future ahead of him in the sport of MMA. If he could finally claim a win over his nemesis the ascent to the upper echelons of the 135 lbs division would be accelerated rapidly and Sayed knows that their fight in February will be a date with destiny for him.