Thabani Mndebele: A champion inside and outside the hexagon
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CAPE TOWN – If there ever was a magical moment inside the EFC Hexagon, it was on Saturday night at EFC88.
In the main event, what started out as a contest between two giants led to adults of all backgrounds, colour, religion, shape and form breaking down in tears.
After his incredible comeback to earn the vacant Extreme Fighting Championship Heavyweight title, South Africa’s Thabani Mndebele let go a lot of pent-up emotions, expressing more sorrow and pain following the loss of his father – who was buried just this past weekend.
“He’s going to get tired!” Thabani Mndebela called it. After being rocked by 2 devastating head kicks, ‘The Doctor’ survives round 1 to finish Djikasa in round 2.#EFC88 #AndNew pic.twitter.com/lIHOCzTYnU— EFC Worldwide (@EFCworldwide) August 14, 2021
Despite wanting to pull out of the fight with DRC’s Matunga Djikasa – whom the former beat via TKO (due to strikes in the second round) – it was Thabani’s mother who encouraged him to represent his family and honor his beloved father at the EFC Performance Institute in Johannesburg tonight.
“I was supposed to pull out, but my mother told me that I need to honor my father,” said an extremely emotional Thabani as he spoke through the tears while being consoled by not only his opponents camp, but also a handful of EFC crew.
“My father told me everything was okay, but he was lying to me, he was not okay. We buried him on Saturday. I am sure he is happy now though as he always supported me and knew what this sport means to me. This belt means so much to me,” said Thabani.
Thabani faced a lot of adversity in the first round of the five-round bout, taking a barrage of head kicks from his Brothers In Arms opponent. Despite attempts to block Matunga’s heavy leg kicks, it was clear that they were seeping through and Thabani seemed rocked on a few occasions.
Close to the end of the first round the fight went to the ground and Matunga attempted to lock in a submission, however it would not come to fruition and the tide seemingly started to turn just judging by body language of both fighters
A telling moment at the end of the first round (which probably went to Matunga 10-9) was when the bell rang. The manner in which Thabani got up was uplifting in contrast to the heavy-breathing Matunga who seemed to lack the cardio conditioning, walking with a gaping mouth toward his corner.
Cue the second round and the cerebral and much-fresher looking Thabani changed the game, subduing any form of leg kick attacks from Matunga by going on the offence, plastering his own debilitating leg kicks.
It paid dividends as the continuous onslaught unsettled a tiring Matunga and took away any form of attack.
Thabani’s fantastic awareness and control of the Hexagon wore down Matunga both physically and mentally as the South African just seemed to gain the ascendancy as the fight went on.
He continued attacking the lower body of the DRC athlete who was at one stage unable to even move, resting with his arms on his legs.
Thabani mixed it up with high kicks and a few body shots in between, but the damage was done in the middle of the second round and ref Ferdi Basson was forced to call the fight due to an unresponsive Matunga, declaring the new Heavyweight champion.
“Like my friend, Themba Gorimbo (EFC Welterweight champion) says, hard work always wins,” said Thabani.
“It’s a sign, with hard work you can make it, nobody can curse hard work. With this belt, I want to encourage those kids from my hometown that anything is possible through hard work. And also, I am not politician, but I just want us all to remember that, no matter if you’re black, white, colored, Indian ... when Matunga bleeds, or when he smashes my face, we both bleed red. Let’s stop fighting one another,” said Thabani encouraging the world to stand together once and for all especially during these trying times.
The full results
Flyweight bout: Julio Plaatjies beat Teboho Ntene via rear-naked choke in the first round.
Bantamweight bout: Nicholas Hwende beat Themba Mkhize via KO (due to strikes) in the second round.
Featherweight bout: Shannon van Tonder beat Trezeguet Kanyinda via TKO (due to strikes) in the first round.
Middleweight bout: Roy Lokolo beat Francois Cundari via TKO (due to strikes) in the first round.
Welterweight bout: Smith Steyn beat British Boloyoang via TKO (due to strikes) in the second round.
Bantamweight bout: Roevan de Beer pulled off a guillotine choke in the first round to despatch Orlando Machava in the first round.
Heavyweight bout: Thabani Mndebela beat Matunga Djikasa via TKO (strikes) in the second round.
*The initial co-main event between Ricky Misholas and Juan Bezuidenhout was called off due to Ricky not being medically cleared.