Pulling no punches

2012-10-13 15:09

Joburg’s gyms are turning in warrior factories with the rise in combat sports. So Percy Mabandu pays EFC heavyweight champion, Roan Potts a visit ahead of his cage fight with Bernado Mikixi


What does a man do to prepare himself when he’s getting ready to fight another man?

To what extremes does he push himself to condition his mind and body for the pain that surely lies on the horizon?

Mixed martial arts, or cage fighting as it is more infamously known, is arguably the most brutal of the combat sports.

The fighters who partake in it easily gain a reputation for having a vicious streak and a ravenous hunger to hurt their opponents.

Their robust work-outs are aimed at training the entire body, with a focus on strength and endurance.

Consider that one of the sport’s most rowdy brawlers with a penchant for the extreme, Garreth “Soldier Boy” McLellan, pursues a manic regime that includes walking underwater while carrying 20kg weight plates.

He’s part of the Fight Force Militia team and his system saw him become Extreme Fighting Championship Africa’s first middleweight champion, firmly on top of his class. He’s part of a crop of mean men willing to take their bodies to the brink of torture. No guts, no glory!

Ruan Potts, at a gym in Boksburg in the east of Joburg, trains with South African light heavyweight boxing champion Rupert van Aswegen to sharpen his boxing skills.

Aswegen is the nephew of apartheid-era star of the sweet science, Gerrie Coetzee.

The old pugilist’s picture hangs on the wall to profess this heritage.

There are also the glorious images of Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston, the cantankerous Floyd “Money” Mayweather in full steam and other modern warriors.

With no chairs in sight, Potts invites me to sit on the ring floor in this cavernous gym.

He’s just done a series of punching bag routines. The man is recovering from a cold, so he needs to pace himself. His wife, Chanelle, and their four-year-old son, Sloane, hover around like concerned caregivers.

Potts is apparently used to their constant worrying.

“If I mention that maybe I’m too tired to work out, she’ll say, ‘Okay, take a day off babe’, but I’ll be in the gym five minutes later anyway. You have to ask yourself what your opponent is doing while you sleep,” he says.

The regular sessions with Aswegen form part of Potts’ complex training regime. It includes Muay Thai, wrestling and other combat systems.

He needs it to prepare for his scheduled title defence against Bernardo “The Black Panther” Mikixi.

Of this much-anticipated fight, Potts says: “I’m not worried, but I think about my flawless record. Will it be 14 and one or 15 and zero when we are done?”

The fight will take place next week at Carnival City in Brakpan.

This is going to be the reigning champ’s third defence of the belt he won when he defeated Norman Wessels in a third-round technical knockout.

That was how Potts became the second Extreme Fighting Championship Africa heavyweight champion.

Wessels was the man against whom Mikixi lost his initial title shot at Extreme Fighting Championship Africa 5. This fact adds to the pro-Potts chatter that points to his comfortable wins against fighters who’ve met Makixi.

In mixed martial arts, though, things are never predictable. As Potts puts it: “Everything can change in a second for the other guy to win.”

Will he be a 100% when the bell tolls? After all, he broke a bone in his hand when he threw his first punch in his last fight.

“If you are training properly you’ll always have niggling injuries,” he says, but adds that “you can’t worry about it unless it’s detrimental”.

He won that fight on the ground with a submission manoeuvre.

Potts has just returned from a two-month visit to Las Vegas.

He went there to train with international mixed martial arts fighters from Team MusclePharm.

He says they moved their operations to Wolfslair premises in Las Vegas while repairs were being done to their London facilities after damage caused by a fire earlier this year.

Their team includes the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who shot to fame after playing BA Baracus in the latest A-Team movie.

There’s also Mario “Sukata” Neto, the famous Brazilian jujitsu instructor.

The association works well for Potts, who also took up Muay Thai boxing and Brazilian jujitsu to expand his mixed martial arts range.

He won gold in the Abu Dhabi Pro European heavyweight division in 2009 and won gold medals in the Africa Championship in the heavyweight and open weight divisions.

These are like the Olympics for Brazilian jujitsu combatants.

Now add these achievements to his expertise as a 16-year judo champion and provincial school rugby star.

It should all add up to a particularly vicious spectacle in Brakpan when Potts clashes with Makixi.

As his wife, Chanelle, says: “Ooh, sometimes I don’t want to watch. I get scared.”

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