Last year was a quiet one for Irshaad Sayed (8-2), who despite winning the RUFF bantamweight title, only fought once. But in 2014, things are happening fast for the exciting South African stand-up specialist.
Since singing with EFC earlier this year, the 25-year-old has fought twice in the space of just over two months, taking out two of the organization's top bantamweight contenders in the process. A title shot potentially beckons and the "White Tiger" believes the time is right.
"I definitely feel my next fight should be for the title. I might only have two fights in EFC, but have an extensive record on the Asian MMA circuit. Pena beat Gloss for the 145 title, Zulu beat Weyer for the 135 title, so I have beaten both top contenders and I feel this puts me in the number one contender spot."
Sayed finished Leo Gloss with a rear naked choke in the opening round at EFC 28 and Charlie Weyer succumbed to exactly the same fate at EFC 30. A bantamweight title bout is already booked between Demarte Pena and Nkazimulo Zulu at EFC 31 and the man in line to face the winner breaks it down like this.
"I see this fight going one of two ways with either Zulu winning by KO or Pena winning by decision. That being said, this is MMA and anything can happen."
After leaving South Africa seven years ago, Sayed has spent his entire career training and competing in Asia, first as a Muay Thai fighter and more recently as a mixed martial artist. He fought in his hometown for the first time ever at EFC 30 recently and describes it as an emotional experience.
"It was a great experience, seeing family and friends in the crowd is a real motivator, but I definitely felt more pressure knowing they were there. They were all there to support me though, so with the pressure also comes added support."
Although Sayed is competing in South Africa again, he has no intention of moving home on a full-time basis and is currently a member of the fight team at Evolve MMA in Singapore, which he thinks gives him an edge over opponents training in his homeland.
"Training in Singapore at Evolve MMA definately gives me an advantage over my opponents. I get world class coaches and world class training partners. We have world champions in MMA, Muay Thai, boxing, BJJ, and wrestling. This kind of facility is not available in South Africa."
The price Sayed pays for being able to prepare at one of the most renowned camps in the world is having to endure a long flight followed by the inevitable jet lag in the build up to every fight, but he says neither are insurmountable obstacles.
"I normally arrive about 10 days before the fight, which gives me enough time to adjust to the time difference and the climate."
Sayed is currently riding a five-fight winning streak and his record stands at 8-2. The only man to ever defeat the South African is Jumabieke Tuerxun who, in a curious twist of fate, is facing one of his Evolve MMA team mates at the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 Finale next month.
"I train with Leandro on a daily basis and I feel Bieke doesn't have the tools to beat him. I went to a split decision with Bieke and at the time my wrestling was non-existent. Leandro out-wrestles me like a rag doll."
After only fighting once in 2013, Sayed is enjoying being more active and has no regrets about adding his name to the UFC roster.
"It's great to be aligned with a promotion that can keep me active. Last year was my first training full time at Evolve and over the year I steadily improved my overall game, but it was a slow year for me in terms of fights."
Sayed was reportedly attracting interest from UFC, who wanted to put him on the Singapore card, but the opportunity to compete in his native Cape Town for the first time was simply too good to turn down and he hopes that by the end of the year he will have the chance to win a title there.
"Ramadaan is coming up, so I'll out if action for a while, but I plan to be back in Cape Town at the beginning of November and I hope I will be fighting for the EFC title."