Mmaengage.com examines the seven finalists for the EFC Athlete of the Year award.
Amanda Lino, Dalcha Lungiambula, Nkazimulo Zulu, Igeu Kabesa, Jared Vanderaa, Luthando Biko and Mzwandile Hlongwa were nominated for the accolade ahead of the EFC’s annual prize-giving at Time Square in Pretoria on Wednesday (19h00-20h00).
Lino (4-1) only fought once in 2018, but made it count as she TKO’d Olympic judoka Rizlen Zouak (3-1) three rounds into their thrilling inaugural EFC women’s bantamweight title tilt in May. In the process ‘Maddog’ became the promotion’s second ever champ-champ after Dricus du Plessis (12-2), having annexed flyweight gold with a second straight finish of Jacqualine Trosee (2-4) a year prior.
The DRC’s Lungiambula (9-1) had a similar 2018 to Lino, likewise becoming a two-division champion with a gritty, split-decision win over South African MMA legend Andrew van Zyl (19-5) in June. ‘Champion’, who has been based in Cape Town for a decade, previously won the light heavyweight strap with a second-round TKO of Englishman Stuart Austin (13-5) in November 2017. He relinquished both belts following his UFC call-up in the new year.
‘Zulu Boy’ (10-2-1) continued his violent reign at flyweight in 2018, swiftly finishing late-notice opponent Magno Alves (4-9) with strikes and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt Gary Joshua (4-1) by submission, with the latter five-round war in November a contender for Fight of the Year. Zulu, the first South African to compete in the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter Series in 2016, will welcome England’s Jake Hadley (3-0) to the EFC in the Mother City next month.
Zulu’s training partner and featherweight king Kabesa (11-1) also defended his crown twice in 2018 since regaining it. Kabesa, who is coached by Walter Wendt, quickly TKO’d experienced Brazilian Paulo Silva (23-14) and dominated Scot Callum Murrie (4-2) over five rounds last year. A suffocating wrestler with evolving stand-up, Kabesa has intimated he could straddle divisions in his bid to follow compatriot Lungiambula into the UFC.
Another UFC hopeful, Vanderaa (8-3) started 2018 with an unanimous decision loss to Vernon Lewis (6-4) at LFA 35. However, he rebounded by dispatching decorated Zimbabwean boxer Elvis Moyo (8-6) and former two-time heavyweight champion Ruan Potts (11-7) en-route to EFC interim honours. The well-rounded American became undisputed heavyweight champ when Lungiambula left for the UFC, and makes his maiden title defence against Ricky Misholas (7-7) on Saturday.
Biko (5-1) became the Eastern Cape’s first EFC interim champion in November with a third consecutive victory in 2018, an unanimous decision win over England’s Callum Ellenor (8-2), who later joined US-based promotion Bellator. Biko, a student of local MMA pioneer Chris Bright (6-1) in Port Elizabeth, will meet EFC bantamweight champ JP Buys (6-2) in an eagerly-anticipated unification bout in April.
Hlongwa (4-1) captured the MMA world’s attention by knocking out Norway’s Torbjorn Madsen (5-1) in November with a brutal spinning backfist/elbow – capping off a busy, successful 2018 for the KZN-based middleweight. He also TKO’d Robert Swanepoel (0-2) and Roy Lokolo (0-1) following a no contest with EFC veteran Gordon Roodman (3-6) last year.
Fans on the weekend were asked to vote for the various 2019 EFC Awards categories by emailing email@example.com.