As the plane ticket is passed to him, a rush of excitement hits. It’s not long until the plane will be touching down in South Africa. He will be home again. Anybody that has left their old hometown knows that feeling. It’s a kind of anxiousness that is truly hard to describe. So many thoughts run through the mind, and just like that, names that hadn’t been uttered in years become second nature, engraved in memories.

Combat sports has taken Irshaad Sayed around the globe, but as the saying goes, there’s just no place like home.

Sayed (R) (Evolve MMA)

Sayed (R) (Evolve MMA)

“I’m excited for this one, you know. It’s in my hometown, so a bit of added pressure with family and friends there, but definitely exciting as well,” Sayed explained to The MMA Corner. “I have fought kickboxing before in Cape Town, but I’ve never fought MMA. I definitely have a much larger following now than what I did back when I was a teenager. A lot more lights and a lot more cameras now compared to when I was younger.

“It’s different fighting at home compared to when I was fighting abroad. When you’re fighting abroad, the crowd is always cheering against you, so there isn’t that much pressure. But when you fight at home, your friends and your family, they are all cheering, so it does add that pressure. But with that pressure, there’s also the support. So, it goes both ways.”

Leading into his EFC Africa 30 bout on June 5, Sayed is riding a four-fight winning streak and faces Charlie Weyer, who is coming off a first-round defeat at the hands of the current bantamweight titleholder, Nkazimulo Zulu.

“Charlie was a previous title contender,” Sayed explained. “He fought Zulu for the inaugural bantamweight title. There’ll be a bantamweight title fight in July, so hopefully with a win here I’ll be able to face the winner of that fight.”

With his successful EFC Africa debut behind him, Sayed now has to ensure that he can replicate that performance for the fight fans in Cape Town.

“It gives me a bit more confidence knowing I’ve got the first one out of the way,” Sayed admitted. “When you come into your first fight, there’s expectations. So, the first one is out of the way and now I’m moving on from there, so there’s definitely less pressure there.”

Sayed is slated to appear in the co-main event, and that has meant that he has experienced an increase in media attention in the lead-up to his bout. Some fighters can get distracted by it and, sometimes, even intimidated. However, Sayed has had some help from the best in the world when it comes to public speaking.

“Obviously, since joining Evolve [MMA]—they have a great PR team, and we get a lot more interviews and time in the spotlight,” he explained. “Chatri [Sityodtong] always speaks to us about being humble and keeping level-headed. It’s important to keep focused on the goal at hand and not get blown away by all the attention.”

Sayed (Evolve MMA)

Sayed (Evolve MMA)

The final two weeks of Sayed’s camp took place in South Africa. Although he may not have been around all of the world-class coaches and trainers that frequent his new home at Evolve MMA in Singapore, Sayed certainly saw the upside in being able to go back to his roots.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Sayed said. “I have a lot of friends there who are looking forward to me coming back and sharing some of the knowledge that I’ve learned abroad. It’s nice to teach some other people new techniques that you’ve learned, because that’s what it’s about—sharing what you know and learning from other people at the same time.”

Sayed is lucky to train out of one of the best facilities that Singapore has to offer, and he knows just what that has been able to do to his development as a fighter. Training alongside some of the best fighters and coaches has allowed him to continually get better as a fighter.

“The best thing about Evolve is that we have all these world champions together under the one roof,” Sayed explained. “It’s a really unique environment. Some other fighters in other places, they have to do their boxing at one gym and their BJJ at another one and their strength and conditioning at another, whereas at Evolve we have world champions in boxing, wrestling, BJJ, all the disciplines that are needed to make a good MMA fighter. Basically, we have all aspects under one roof. When you train with the best, you just become better.”

Sayed didn’t grow up with this in mind. When he was younger, he hadn’t envisioned fighting in Cape Town for Africa’s largest mixed martial arts organization. Sure, competing professionally was always on the cards, but this, well, this is something completely different. Sayed has the chance to show everybody in Cape Town that he is still the same face that they remember, and you can be sure that when he puts on a hell of show inside the EFC Africa cage, all of his friends, family and fans, will be eagerly awaiting the day that he comes home again.

Irshaad would like to thank his sponsors: Grips and MMASHOP.CO.ZA. He would also like to thank Evolve MMA and all of his coaches and training partners. He would like to thank Eddie Ng for making the trip to South Africa with him once again. Finally, he would like to thank his wife for helping him through his weight cut. Follow Sayed on Twitter: @IrshaadSayed

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.