Blood, sweat and tears as Potts and Van Zyl clash for title
EFC fighters are often stereotyped as brutal and barbaric but when face-to-face with the powerful fighters you quickly realise they are big-hearted guys who are passionate about their sport.
Defending heavyweight champion Ruan Potts will put his heavyweight title and unbeaten record on the line when he faces Andrew van Zyl at EFC Africa 18 at Carnival City in Johannesburg on Friday night.
In the ring they have reputations of being punishing pugilists but Potts and Van Zyl also have an inspiring dedication to their craft and a generous amount of respect for their opponents.
Outside of the ring they lead lives just like the rest of us.
Potts is a dental technician and has often heard the joke that he breaks teeth in the evening and fixes them during the day. In reality he makes mouth guards to avoid this. He is also kept busy by the work he does for one of his sponsors RDG. Van Zyl is a teacher and sport coach at Parktown Boys High School.
These are full-time jobs yet the fighters still find the time to spend hours training every day. It is the commitment they have for mixed martial arts (MMA) that has helped it to grow at a rate that surpasses all other sports in South Africa.
It is also a dedication that comes easier to them because sport is in their blood. Potts has won gold medals at international judo and jujitsu championships. He also played club rugby in Cape Town and was selected for a Western Province development team. While studying in England he played at Saracens and London Irish but ultimately had to choose work over rugby.
Van Zyl also played rugby and was selected for his provincial water polo team. “Sport is my life. I’m either coaching it or playing it,” says the title contender.
The two fighters have met before, with Potts inflicting the only defeat of Van Zyl’s professional career. “He’s the only oke to have ever beaten me and I’ve taken that to heart and I think I owe him one,” says the heavyweight who has the fighting name 'One Gear'.
Van Zyl is confident the result will be different this time. He has since gained experience and says he is more composed. Potts also expects to get a tougher fight and has prepared accordingly for it. “I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, the strongest I’ve ever been. You’ve got to up your game to stay competitive,” claims the defending champ.
It all promises to be a pulsating fight and both fighters are likely to take a great deal of shots. During their previous fight Potts broke his hand when he connected with his first punch. The broken hand was the worst injury that Potts’ has suffered in the ring. A plate was inserted in his hand and thankfully there are no lingering issues. It could have been worse though. Potts was initially told by a doctor that he could fight with the plate still in his hand. Luckily he got a second opinion and realised his hand could have been permanently damaged. Suspect medical advice might be a bigger danger to him than his opponents’ punches.
Despite this, both are adamant that no serious injuries occur in the ring and that the majority happen during training. As Van Zyl sees it, he’s got as much chance getting injured riding a bicycle and Potts thinks that rugby and boxing are more dangerous sports to play. In terms of statistics MMA is very safe and because it is heavily controlled there are fewer risks involved. Potts goes as far as to label rugby a more violent sport than MMA. “Who’s more barbaric? These rugby players that throw punches almost every match or us who are paid to be fighting?” It’s hard to argue with his reasoning.
As a teacher Van Zyl is especially determined to depict the positive aspects of MMA. His students look up to him and appreciate that he is challenging himself and working towards achieving his goals. He also tries to portray an image of clean living, hard training and focus. These are all values that are important to a young boy growing up.
Potts has a similar opinion about young people that might get involved in MMA fighting. To him the sport is way to get kids to lead more active lifestyles. “It will get them off the couches and away from their cellphones!”
It is obvious that both fighters put all they have into their sport and EFC Africa can only continue to grow with the enthusiasm and zeal that they deliver.