Relationships are what make life worth living. Whether it’s a lover, a partnership in business or the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team, it’s a driving force behind what makes people see that glimmer of hope in others.

Unbeknownst to Dino Bagattin, on Nov. 12 2009, an important relationship was in his near future.

At the time when his latest fight was being signed, it probably just seemed like another fight on just another night. It was set to be his third professional outing as a mixed martial artist. There wasn’t going to be much to it. From that night forward, though, Bagattin’s life changed. A relationship was forged.

Bagattin (EFC Africa)

Bagattin (EFC Africa)

“I think they took a gamble on me at [Extreme Fighting Championship Africa] 1. I was relativity unheard of; a friend of mine actually got me on that card,” Bagattin explained to The MMA Corner. “I was blown away from EFC 1. It was such a professional production. I hadn’t experienced anything like it and I felt like I had hit the big time, fighting in front of a big crowd. Everything regarding the show and the production, everything, I was just blown away, and I definitely knew it was the organization I wanted to stay with. Twenty-odd EFCs later, I was finally welterweight champion. It’s been a long road, and it feels good.”

A career in combat sports wasn’t exactly in the cards for Bagattin early in his life. If the choice was left up to somebody who was very close to him, things probably wouldn’t have happened the way that they have.

“I used to dream of people cheering my name like [in] the Rocky movies. My mother wouldn’t let me box when I was kid because she didn’t want me to get punchy,” Bagattin said. “I did some amateur wrestling when I was a kid and I absolutely loved it. She stopped it because she saw one of the Afrikaans kids with a cauliflower ear, so she stopped that. I love fighting. I used to get into fights at school for no reason, and at clubs. I just love competing and testing myself.”

For Bagattin, traveling to a different part of the world soon after finishing school meant that he could experience a whole new side of life. He took on a pilgrimage that a lot of young adults take and, from that, he was able to find his pedigree in combat sports.

“I grew up in South Africa. I lived here most of my life. When I finished school, like most kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he revealed. “I went off to the U.K. and spent eight years there, working hard on the London Underground slaving away with the rest of the Aussies and Kiwis. I was always drawn to combat sports, and I started Thai boxing just to keep fit in the rugby off-season and I just loved it. I soon found myself fighting amateurs, and I went on and won an amateur title. I then turned professional and went on to win the British Muay Thai title and the [ISKA] Commonwealth Muay Thai title.

“In my first three fights in the EFC, I didn’t really have any ground game. I didn’t really understand and I wouldn’t even say I was a white belt level in jits. I kinda just winged it. Sprawl and brawl were my tactics, and that’s kind of become my game plan now. Obviously, I’ve been working a lot harder on my wrestling and my jits. I like to stand to fight—that’s what the crowd loves and I aim to please the crowd.”

The transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts isn’t as common as one would think. Whilst the striking element of a fight is important, as we know, another aspect that is just as important is wrestling. It takes years, and a lifetime for some, to become an expert practitioner in Muay Thai, so adding an extra element to an already elaborate skill set can be overwhelming. But for some professional fighters, there comes a time when there is no choice but to embark on a new journey.

“I was following the UFC. I was a big fan, so I understood what it meant to compete in MMA, but I was kind of a Muay Thai purist,” he admitted. “I went and trained in Thailand on numerous occasions. I had no plans to switch over to MMA until I arrived back in South Africa. I got hold of my mate, Wade, who I hadn’t seen since school. We actually bumped into each other in Thailand of all places and he told me to give him a call when I got back to South Africa. I contacted him on Facebook and he said the Thai boxing scene is pretty dead in South Africa unless you were to go down to Capetown. I was looking for a gym to train at. He said there, with MMA, there were gyms all over Johannesburg, and he told me to come down to the gym he was training at. And that was my conversion, really.”

Bagattin (L) (EFC Africa)

Bagattin (L) (EFC Africa)

Bagattin returns to the EFC Africa cage on May 1 at EFC Africa 29, where he will defend his newly won welterweight title against Henry Fadipe. Fadipe is yet to taste defeat under the EFC Africa banner, with his debut for the promotion resulting in a draw. He enters the fight with back-to-back wins, and Bagattin certainly isn’t discounting Fadipe’s desire to continue his winning ways.

“Obviously I’m anxious. I’m nervous and excited. All the normal pre-fight jitters are there,” Bagattin admitted. “The magnitude of this fight, though—nobody has been able to defend this welterweight title. I’m planning being the first one to do. I respect Fadipe. He’s a tough opponent. They call him a finisher, and I respect that, but I’ve got my goals in place and I’ve been working hard. I’ve trained for this fight as if I am the challenger. To keep myself relaxed, I tell myself it’s not about a belt, it’s just a fight. I’m excited, and I am sure me and Fadipe are gonna put on a hell of a show. I want to show that I have become a well-rounded fighter. I have put in a lot of time on the mat, and I want to put on a full display of my full MMA arsenal.”

EFC Africa has put on 27 events since Bagattin made his debut for the company in 2009. On that night, on Nov. 12, he walked out the victor, his first fight in what would become a relationship that has spanned the course of almost five years. On May 1, he once again has the chance to continue his success in the EFC Africa cage. With yet another entertaining win, he will be able to show that he is indeed the best welterweight fighter in South Africa, and that there is nobody that can tell him otherwise.

Dino would like to thank his main sponsor: GDC (Gearbox & Diff Centre) as well as his other sponsors, First Freight Couriers, Jaded Ink, Supremebeing, Inspirecor, EJX Auto and Onnit. Follow Bagattin on Twitter: @HandsOfStoneMMA

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.