MMA fans might not be too interested in Muay Thai, kickboxing or K-1 but they all seem to love a striker. Everyone knows that the best stand up fighters start off in pure striking disciplines and one of them will be inside the cage fighting for ONE Fighting Championship next month.
Irshaad Sayed is a WPMF World Champion and a WMC I-I Asian Champion who is one of the best Muay Thai practitioners South Africa has ever produced. Just like Vuyisile Colossa he now calls Hong Kong home and after making a name for himself as one of the best farang fighters at his weight he is starting to switch his attention to MMA.
The lure of ONE Fighting Championship, Asia's most prestigious mixed martial arts promotion, has proven too much for a number of top Muay Thai fighters and Yodsanan Sityodtong, who has fought at Lumpini and Ratchadamnern numerous times as well as being a boxing world champion, made a very succesful debut at the inaugural event.
Colossa also gave a good account of himself that night, finishing a Chinese Sanda fighter with strikes in front of 7,000 fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. On February 11th at the BritAma Arena in Jakarta it will be the turn of his friend and training partner when Sayed takes on the always aggressive Jessie Rafols.
The Filipino is much more experienced as an MMA fighter with a 6-2 record and has a wrestling based style which could cause Sayed problems. However the South African, whose only defeat was a decision loss to the number one bantamweight in China, will feel he has an advantage in the striking department over just about any 135 lbs fighter in the world.
In an ironic twist of fate he was only called up to take the fight after Ngoo Ditty, the man he beat on his MMA debut, pulled out and a subsequent replacement was also unable to compete on the card due to contractual issues. Sayed says he will be ready and believes that his superior stand up will make the difference,
"My opponent is good, very compotent on the floor but i dont think he can match me on the stand up. He's an agressive fighter to, so it will be an exciting fight. I'm really excited to be fighting in ONE FC, its a great opportuntiy for me and I'll make the most of it."
He showed just how good his stand up as when he made his debut against Ditty in a fight you can see in full here. The Thai fighter had only ever previously been beaten by Kevin Belingon, one of the best bantamweights in Asia, but Sayed absolutely took him apart with vicious combinations of punches before knocking him out cold with a perfectly timed knee.
It was an impressive performance but Sayed, who says his ground game has improved a lot since then, is not reading too much into it,
"I am confident going into this but the fight with Ngoo was a long time ago and I'm not taking anything for granted. I'm working on my ground game with Rodrigo Caporal and working stand up and wrestling with Vusi. Me and Vusi work together often, we both from South Africa and he is one of the reasons I got the offer to come to Hong Kong."
Sayed initially came to Thailand soon after finishing High School to train and fight Muay Thai but now lives and works in Hong Kong. At the age of 22 he has immense potential as a mixed martial artist and after falling into the sport almost by accident he is working on becoming more than just a stand up specialist,
"I got an offer to fight MMA for the first time against Ngoo in Macau so I tried it and I was successful and im just taking it from there. I would still see myself fighting Muay Thai a few times during 2012 but I'm focusing more on MMA now. I'm much more comfortable on the floor now, I have some submissions off my back and if I'm on top I look to finish with ground and pound. I hope I'll be a regular fighter for ONE FC, it's an honour to fight for such a big promotion so early in my MMA career and I will try and put on a great fight so that people want to see more of me."
With so much Muay Thai experience at such an early age Sayed has had the perfect preparation for an MMA career in the limelight. He is no stranger to taking on the best in the world and beating them and has at least another decade to improve as a mixed martial artist. That makes him a very scary proposition indeed for anyone in the 135 lbs division and if he can get his ground game up to speed his potential is enormous.
Alistair Overeem is set to challenge for the UFC heavyweigth title and if he is successful it would make him one of very few fighters from a pure striking background to hold a major MMA title. Sayed is some way of emulating that sort of an achievement but he has plenty of time to improve and could well develop into a truly world calss mixed martial artist.