ONE Championship is blessed with an abundance of talent within their roster. The promotion includes names such as Brandon Vera (16-8), Angela Lee (10-2), Demetrious Johnson (30-3-1), and Aung La Sang (26-10).
However, there aren’t many that belong to the Heavyweight division. ONE has a growing pool of emerging talent that can change that. This time, we’re looking at Danie van Heerden (17-8).
The Fighting van Heerdens
Boxing fans will find the last name familiar. That’s because his brother is former IBO Welterweight Champion Chris van Heerden.
In an interview with South African MMA, Danie opened up about his family and their relationship to sports. He describes how his father, Daniel van Heerden, a former boxer, tried to get all of his sons into boxing.
However, Danie never got a passion for the sport and training felt more like a job. His path to MMA began through karate and wrestling as a fan of Hulk Hogan.
Fighting and getting championships is in their blood. Though Chris has gotten a bit more attention because of the exposure of boxing, Danie is in no way behind his brother in the gold department.
King of the EFC
Danie began his professional MMA career in 2009 with the South African promotion Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC) Worldwide.
He spent his early career bouncing from Middleweight to Heavyweight finding his comfort zone. Much of his time was spent trying to make progress at 93kg. or Light Heavyweight.
But it was easy to see that he had the most success whenever he broke 100kg at Heavyweight.
After suffering a three-fight losing skid, he made the decision to move up in 2015 and saw immediate results. He won all three of his fights that year, two were knockouts in the first round, while the other quit in the second.
In April 2016, just a few days after his brother won against Steve Clagget in Las Vegas, Danie was in the biggest fight of his life. He was fighting Brendon Groenewald for the vacant EFC Heavyweight belt at EFC Worldwide 48.
Danie knocked Brendon out in the latter half of the second round to get the biggest win of his career. A win that he compared to becoming a father.
The culmination of seven years of hard work had finally born fruit. Danie van Heerden can now do his family proud and call himself a champion.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t last very long.
The Fall From Grace
Danie was to have his first title defense against a surging Elvis Moyo at EFC Worldwide 54 later that same year. The two were fairly matched although experience was in Danie’s favor.
However, in the lead-up to the fight, Danie made a racist post on Facebook, comparing Moyo to an ape. Although the post was deleted and he apologized to his opponent, there was no stopping the inevitable backlash.
The EFC brass acted quickly to strip Danie of the belt, suspend him, and cancel the fight. A decision, Danie says, that he wasn’t aware of before the promotion went public.
In a statement, the EFC said:
The EFC will not tolerate any form of racism by our athletes. What Danie van Heerden posted was completely unacceptable and we have taken the course of action to strip him of his title. Danie is no longer facing Elvis for the heavyweight title, he is no longer the heavyweight champion and he has been suspended from the organisation-EFC President Cairo Howarth
While Danie didn’t make any excuses for his behavior, he did give the impression that company culture played a part in it.
As fighters we are strongly encouraged and even incentivised, by the EFC, to generate hype around our fights in our personal capacity. This very often means publically (on social media specifically) promoting the competitive nature of the sport by showing some healthy aggression towards our opponents. This is not only widely accepted but, as mentioned, a requirement of the job.-Danie van Heerden
Fortunately, his preparation wasn’t for nothing, as Danie was able to fight on the prelim card of Last Fighter Standing (LFS). He won over Reinis Porozovs via rear-naked choke in the first round.
Funnily enough, current ONE athlete Alain Ngalani also fought on this card in a one-off in between fights in ONE.
Danie’s situation with the EFC never got better though, as lawyers came in to settle it. The promotion refused to budge on the issue and both parties would never work together again.
It would be three years before Danie van Heerden would fight in MMA again.
Tragedy for the van Heerden Clan
The loss of his title and seeming end of his fighting career would not be the worst of his troubles.
In 2018, the South African boxing community was reeling when Daniel van Heerden, his father, was shot after an altercation with a security guard.
Both brothers gave emotional tributes to their father on social media, with Chris going as far as to say that the act was politically motivated and something needs to change in South Africa.
This man was the reason both brothers are who they are today. Everything from their fighting careers to how they father their children is because of this man.
The senseless way in which they lost him would affect them both substantially.
The Long Road Back
The death of his father motivated Danie to go back to the gym and plan his return to the cage. This was his way of honoring his father’s memory as well as proving something to himself as a fighter.
Unfortunately, his return has just as many twists and turns as the rest of his story.
In an interview with Ruckus Media in March 2019, Danie spoke about an upcoming fight at SFL 5. That fight does not look like it was able to push through.
The next time we saw Danie was in an interview with Real Talk Combat Sports, where he talks about fighting for ONE Warrior Series. However, this isn’t OWS 10, he was preparing for OWS 5 against Rick Alchin at Light Heavyweight.
That fight didn’t push through either, as Alchin eventually fought Koji Shikuwa in that card.
Thankfully, Danie managed to get himself on the OWS stage against Arash Mardani and made the most of the opportunity.
Check out our recap of the event here to get an idea of what the fight looked like.
The Next Heavyweight Contender?
I am adamant that Danie deserves a contract with ONE after his performance in February. His skill, activity, and cardio are arguably better than some of the active ONE Heavyweights or those that have fought for the title.
The Heavyweight division of any promotion – save the UFC and Bellator – are desperate to fill their ranks with compelling talent. The entire snafu with the EFC lands Danie van Heerden right into Rich Franklin’s lap.
Giving him more cage time also opens a market for ONE in Africa, a continent they’ve yet to make any serious ground in.
From both a fighting and marketing standpoint, Danie van Heerden provides many opportunities for the promotion. It’s all up to him whether he can live up to that promised potential.
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