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GLORY's Zack Mwekassa vows to stop Saulo Cavalari in 'emphatic manner' tonight at 'Dynamite 1'

The No. 4-ranked GLORY Light heavyweight spoke with MMAMania about his title fight against Saulo Cavalari at Bellator 142: Dynamite 1, the current state of South Africa after the recent xenophobic attacks, training in Holland and spreading his story and positive message to the world.

GLORY Sports International

"It's been a very long journey already," Zack Mwekassa tells MMAMania via a phone call from the Hayes Mansion Hotel in San Jose, California.

The No. 4-ranked GLORY Light Heavyweight could easily make that a reference for his life and professional career, but at the moment, he is referring to his latest fight camp ahead of tonight's showdown for the vacant title against Saulo Cavalari at Bellator 142: "Dynamite."

"I've been away from family for over eight weeks," he continued. "It's been a long road. You just get to that point where you just want to fight and get it done with and get back to normal. I was in Holland preparing for this fight. Like usual I would train in South Africa and fly straight to the place of the event. I would be away for one week or something, but this time it was very, very different. I am very excited. I feel good."

Prior to his GLORY 22 knockout victory over Carlos Brooks, Mwekassa (13-2) -- who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa --wasn't far from a very serious situation in the country involving xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, leaving several people killed and foreign-owned businesses destroyed. Many citizens would flee the country and many were repatriated back in their country of origin, while others sought shelter in refugee centers.

"I don't feel safe," Mwekassa told MMAMania back in April.


Mwekassa, 31, came to South Africa more than 10 years ago after fleeing his hometown of Goma in the then war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo when a volcano erupted and turned the city he grew up into ashes. Making matters worse was the fact that not long after he returned home Lille, France, after GLORY 22, he was robbed at gunpoint.

"Armed robbers put a gun to my head and took my wallet, my cell phone and everything. Some people were really shocked, 'Whoa, didn't they know you were a boxer and you could beat them up?' Well, they don't know that. They are willing to shoot you for a cell phone."

On if he is still considering leaving South Africa, "absolutely, that is still the case," he says.

While the violence may have quelled, "The Black Warrior" said the xenophobia is being carried out in passive aggressive ways, or "administrative xenophobia," as he calls it. For example, he was not issued a visa from South Africa to head to Holland to train. Instead, he had to fly to the Congo to obtain one.

"They are making it difficult for foreigners to get the very paper that they used to get simply and normally," he said. "They are making the laws very complicated.They are making it so, so complicated that I had to return to the Congo to get a second visa. I couldn't apply. I could not apply for a second visa from South Africa. This time around, 'no sir, you cannot apply for this visa from here you have to apply from you country of origin.' So I had to fly back to the Congo to get the visa.

"That is the new form of xenophobia for the moment. They have felt the pressure from all over the world, from all over Africa, people have been complaining about South Africa's stance on how it's population is mistreating foreign nationals. I do believe the government themselves don't want foreigners, but they won't say it, selfishly. They say 'we condemn the xenophobic attacks.' There is a difference between saying 'we condemn the xenophobic attacks' and saying 'we condemn the xenophobic attacks, whoever touches a foreigner is going to go to jail and pay for it!' and show examples and direct people from it. There is a big difference between those two situations."

The ABU All-Africa Heavyweight boxing champion is disheartened that a country that overcame apartheid would mistreat foreigners the way it has. The world is filled with so many different people and different businesses and jobs that have people constantly relocating to countries all over the globe, so "home is not really where you are born," Mwekassa states. "Home has become where you are and where life works."

"We live in a world where ... I forget the word, I don't know what you call it," he continued. "The world has become one country. You have a Pakistani working in America. You have an American living in India. You have a French person living in Melbourne in Australia. It's about life. It's about where you are comfortable; where things are working for you. Where you and your family feel at home. It's really sad to see one country that has itself gone through struggles of apartheid and all sorts of discrimination and segregation and apply the very same thing, the very same misery to other people. What is the difference between apartheid between xenophobia or Afrophobia? It's not even a phobia meaning fear. It's hatred. They should find another word for it. It's not a phobia. The accusations: 'they are taking our jobs. They are taking our women.' Who is taking your jobs? If you are qualified you will get a job. Get a qualification. Stop being lazy and not wanting to work and thinking the world owes you things. The world doesn't owe you anything."

Mwekassa says he tries "not to get political," but doing that would betray his character it seems. He is an outspoken person who cares deeply and strongly about the issues going around him. Indifference or apathy aren't traits that would ever be associated with him. He loves South Africa. It's the place where his professional career began under the tutelage of the late Mike Bernardo and has been his home for well over a decade now.

"It's a place that has really let me grow and flourish and become a name," he says. "I've spent so many years by myself in that country and I've found ways to become independent and I'm very glad. I'm grateful for the person I've become today."

The Johannesburg resident says it's also sad that a lot of people he has spoken to and been friendly with over the years remained silent about the attacks on the foreign nationals, which in his eyes is essentially consenting to it.

"They don't say anything," he exclaimed. "If you don't' say anything then you consent. You accept what's happening. It's very sad. It makes you realize that your enemies are not actually the people who you think they are. Your brothers are basically the people that share tears with you and are happy with you. Those are your brothers. Doesn't matter if they are black, white, Chinese, Indian, whatever. People just make everything about race and origin and stuff. It's not even about that. There are good and bad people in every community. In every community, every religion, every race, you will find good people and bad people.

"People just ignore that. They don't look at that. They look at, 'he looks like me, he's my brother.' It's not about that. It's about how good he is around you. What is he bringing to the community. What is he adding to your life, into the wellness, the goodness of life. It's just really very, very sad. We just judge people based on what they look like. We don't look deep inside. We don't look further than that. We don't look at the positive things that lie in people beyond their look, beyond their religion, beyond their nationalities. That is the problem we have. I'm sorry I'm speaking like a motivational speaker. That's crazy."

I joke with him that a career in politics is awaiting him after he hangs up the gloves. "Probably," he says laughing. "I've been blessed with a brain that understands situations and I have the abilities of expressing myself. For a man of my age, I am 31 and I already feel like I'm 50-something in my mind. I can see things beyond what people see."

The way he expresses himself in the ring is with sheer and unbridled violence. Mwekassa was virtually unknown when he came on the scene to face Pat Barry at GLORY 16 in Denver last year. When he flattened the former UFC Heavyweight and left him unconscious on the canvas, he put an official stamp on his arrival.

The Congolese power puncher then dropped down to Light Heavyweight, where he knocked out Brian Collette in the semifinals of the GLORY 18 tournament before succumbing to Cavalari in the final.

Mwekassa has spent this fight camp in Holland training at Hemmer's Gym to sharpen his craft and work on some of his deficiencies. He feels the outcome will be much different on Saturday night than it was at GLORY 18.

"I've been working on a lot of things," Mwekassa said. "Cavalari is not a complicated fighter. He's very scrappy. He throws everything. He's not a technical fighter. He's not technical mastermind, he's not that. He's one of those guys that gets brave when he sees that he's hurt you. We've made some changes. Not changes, but adjustments. There were some gaps and we've closed those gaps. I know he thinks he's going to low kick me to death. that's what he is thinking, but he is going to be in for a shock. I think he is going to hurt himself. We have done the right adjustments. I will stop Cavalari. I will stop him. I will stop him in an emphatic matter."


Mwekassa mentioned a good friend of his that recently passed away. A lawyer in his 30s who just died of liver failure, but wasn't a drinker. "We take so much for granted," he says sadly, before addressing how people miss the point in life and how he's glad his experiences have lead to him to understanding the importance of finding happiness. He's not fighting "to be the richest fighter or the most famous." He'd rather people know him not for his in-ring skills, but for the "positive message" he brings to the world and that it is possible to overcome adversity and succeed in life.

"It makes me really happy that African guys can leave me messages and say, 'wow Zack, you are my idol," he said."You are my role model. You are the proof that you can come from nothing and be something.' Look at it, we are here. I come from a country of war and the toughest situation you can possible imagine.

"A country that has been in war since 1996 up until now. From that place to here, San Jose today. And on Saturday I will be fighting for a world championship. That's how I want my message to come across. I want to send the message. I believe that if as a human being  you come into the world and you become a prominent and known person and you don't affect and you don't change someone's life positively you are a failure."

The Congo native said he is "looking forward to kicking Cavalari's ass on Saturday and going home and having a good time" with his friends and family. Now that he has revisited the Congo due to his visa situation, he had a great experience, and plans on heading back there after the fight on Saturday. And most importantly to him, he plans to pay a visit to his home city of Goma.

"I was reborn into the country," he said about his recent visit. "I got an opportunity to see a few places where I was a long time ago. And people were very happy to see me, 'oh our champion he's going to fight for a world title.' Really, really good. I am looking forward to going back to present my newest belt. And perhaps have a chance to go back to Goma. Goma is the city where I grew up. It's where the volcano erupted and the wars and stuff. I know it's mostly into ashes and into the ground, but I just want to go and see it. Maybe I will probably cry when I see my memories gone, but yeah, I just want to go back and see that."

Being on the Bellator 142: "Dynamite 1" card undoubtedly places GLORY in front of its biggest audience ever and Mwekassa said there is "definitely pressure" to perform well. While he is feeling it, he says when his walk-out music begins and "The Black Warrior" takes over "there will be no more of any of that."

With a win over Cavalari, Mwekassa will make history as the only fighter to win a title in both boxing and kickboxing.

"The main thing is I believe I'm going to be the only person to win a belt in boxing and a world championship in kickboxing. I still am the African champion in boxing. So it's going to be two belts in two different disciplines."

With Spike TV being the home of Bellator MMA, GLORY kickboxing and PBC Boxing, there will be plenty of eyes on Mwekassa ... more so than ever. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could catch PBC's eye with his knockout power and boxing background.

"I think they are probably looking forward to see how I perform on Saturday and then everything is going to come falling. I definitely think this fight tonight will trigger a lot of big things. There is no doubt in my mind. I've had great preparation and now it's getting there, dropping bombs, bringing the drama, getting the belt, and get back to normal."

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