Karolina Wójcik became the new strawweight queen, Jared Vanderaa claimed the interim heavyweight belt, while Andrew van Zyl’s iron jaw eventually cracked in the final fight of his career at EFC 76 at Time Square in Pretoria on Saturday.
In the main event, Poland’s Wójcik (4-1) edged Italian Chiara Penco (4-1) via split decision despite only taking the bout on two weeks’ notice.
Penco was initially set to make her maiden title defence against Cheyanne Vlismas (2-1), but ‘The Warrior Princess’ withdrew with poor health.
‘Polish Assassin’ Wójcik stepped up as a natural replacement, having dropped a split decision to Vlismas in their respective EFC debuts in October, and got the nod this time on the judges’ scorecards after five rounds.
In the co-main, American Vanderaa (8-3) won EFC gold by defeating former champion Ruan Potts (11-7), one of the few South Africans to have fought in the UFC.
The 26-year-old patiently wore 40-year-old Potts down before getting the TKO with a barrage of knees and punches against the fence in the third stanza.
Vanderaa will now target a showdown with heavyweight and light heavyweight king Dalcha Lungiambula (9-1), who is currently angling for a superfight with fellow champ-champ Dricus du Plessis (12-2) in the new year.
It was a bad evening for local heavyweight legends, as Englishman Stuart Austin (13-5) stunned the home crowd by delivering the first knockout loss of ex-champion Van Zyl‘s (19-5) storied career, in the first round no less.
Van Zyl, who defended the EFC strap three times across two reigns, later announced his retirement from professional mixed martial arts at the age of 36.
After two previous defeats to DR Congo’s Lungiambula and Johnny Walker (15-3), who subsequently starched Khalil Rountree (7-3) in a sensational UFC bow last month, Austin ensured he remains within reach of another title shot.
It may have cost him a tooth, but thirty-six-year-old Dallas Jakobi (7-5-1) made an otherwise successful return from a five-year hiatus, defeating late-notice opponent Mark Kamba (2-3) at middleweight following the withdrawal of Gordon Roodman (3-6-1) through illness.
In the main card opener, Brazilian Jose da Rocha (10-5) quickly TKO’d Mamelodi-born Conrad Seabi (6-5) – who complained the stoppage was premature – to vault back into title contention at welterweight, making the most of replacing the injured Luke Michael (4-3) three weeks out.
In the prelims, featherweight contender Roedie Roets (5-0) extended his perfect record by submitting judo black belt Sindile Manengela (4-6) with a third-round rear-naked choke in a dominant display.
Earlier, fan-favourite Tumisang Madiba (8-6) snapped a three-fight skid by handing Billy Oosthuizen (3-1) his first loss at bantamweight with a third-round TKO.
A couple divisions up, power puncher Justin Smith (3-0) continued his rise at welterweight by rapidly choking out veteran Pietie Coxen (5-9) with a standing guillotine.
Niel du Plessis (3-1), the older brother of Dricus, returned to winning ways at middleweight by submitting EFC newcomer Roger Griffin (3-7) with a first-round guillotine choke.
In an entertaining rematch, Angolan bantamweight Marino Cutendana (5-4) beat Martin de Beer (7-5) again, this time by a split decision, which could have gone either way.
Also at 61kg, the rangy Asiashu Tshitamba (2-1) won his second fight in a row with a hard-fought decision win over Zimbabwean Takunda Gorimbo (1-1), the younger sibling of Themba (6-2).
Meanwhile, Roets’s Coach Quan University teammate Devon Cronje (3-1) spoilt the professional debut of the promotion’s first Mozambican fighter Orlando Machaba (0-1) with a guillotine choke in the opening frame.
The EFC’s final card of 2018 kicked off with Marcel Els (3-2) registering a second straight victory with a first-round submission of DR Congo’s Amisi Kabeya (1-2) via armbar.