Demarte Pena amidst a busy schedule, a business to run, and regular training, took time off his busy day to sit down and talk about his career, African MMA, the UFC, and his future plans.
Demarte Pena has reached great heights in African MMA, winning and defending both the Extreme Fighting Championship‘s featherweight and bantamweight titles. Pena is no ordinary wolf, a hybrid best describes the phenomenon, which he credits to hard work and self-belief.
I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing one of Africa’s greatest fighters and got to discuss something we both share a deep affection for, Mixed martial arts. Dermarte Pena grew up in Angola and fights out of South Africa. He runs a company, does media appearances, and coaches MMA.
Demarte Pena – Campfire Sitdown With”The Wolf”
Firstly, we are going through some strange times, so many things happening all over the world, how are things back home during the pandemic, how have you been, what have you been up to?
Demarte Pena: So the first question obviously things haven’t been good for most people, through Covid especially in level five as well, a lot of people couldn’t work. It was difficult for this side of the gym where we had to close because obviously, we couldn’t operate. I think afterward when we closed, we’ve lost a lot of clients coming in for training, and that was one of the biggest things, and then obviously in terms of training, we weren’t able to train as we wanted as professionals. Things now are a little bit better but, there’s still quite a lot of people who are reluctant to come back to the gym and train. So I’ve been alright, just take the good and the bad and then try and make it better.
The last time you stepped into the hexagon was in an intense rivalry with Irshaad Sayed, there were so many intense moments that you’ve had over your career, what are some of your highlights and lowlights?
Demarte Pena: Yes, Sayed’s fight was actually a really good fight because I was able to show that im not just a grappler and that im able to stand up and strike with some of the best guys in the world and im able to mix it up better than most.
So i really liked that and it showed a lot of my character into that, obviously having a lot of issues going on, yeah that fight was quite satisfying, and one of the highlights. My first professional fight obviously is one that you cherish the most, cause it’s the first one. Then being honored by the president of Angola, was one of the major highlights as well. Yeah, I think every fight and every moment has their specific thing, but I think my first fight was quite a satisfying feeling, to be honest. The others were just an add-on to the initial thing.
So obviously low points, having gone through the stuff that I been through with biogen and then being cleared with that and then obviously not being able to defend myself because of lack of funds. So I think you learn a lot in this process, it’s not just about being right, it’s more than that. So yeah its made me a grateful person, and I think a better fighter as well because I’m strong and patient, I’m dedicated and then I can achieve anything that I just put my mind to you know, that’s the mindset that I have.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since the last time you stepped into the hexagon? How have you overcome those?
Demarte Pena: You know, obviously, there are many challenges as an athlete, you compete then you get paid, so it’s not like you have a job in a sense where you getting paid per month. So I think not fighting for a while, was difficult naturally but then it allowed me to diversify a little bit more where I have my own fight gear brand or fitness brand so to speak. I sell MMA and boxing gloves, I have training dummies of the sorts, then I also do some work for Supersport TV. I talk about the fights, so yeah I think it’s a sport where you need to diversify as much as possible because there’s so much uncertainty, but other than that I’ve managed to still stand on my feet its been challenging, challenges are what makes us great.
Looking at how the EFC and the division has progressed since you’ve last fought, what are your thoughts on the EFC as a representative of African MMA?
Demarte Pena: Obviously after my fight with Sayed, I fought almost all the guys in the division. I pretty much cleaned out the division and then even the guy like Faeez Jacobs who is champion now, he wasn’t a top top guy then. So I mean, the division needs to get more depth, EFC has done well to promote the guys and obviously have gotten guys into the UFC because of all the exposure. So, they have a lot to contribute to the success of MMA as a whole, and obviously those fighters that are now fighting in the ufc. I think what EFC needs now is a little more funding. The platform is great, but I think they need to pay their fighters more. Pay the fighters more, and then it’ll become more mainstream if the fighters are real superstars.
There are a number of fighters that have received opportunities to fight in the UFC, what are your plans on a possible return? Would you want your belt back in EFC or try out the bantamweights in the UFC?
Demarte Pena: Yeah, UFC I think is the ultimate goal for every MMA athlete, Well, not every, but the ones that actually want to prove to be the best in the world. Yeah, I will definitely be in the UFC that’s for sure. Now coming back after not fighting for a while, I’ll need to possibly compete somewhere, but I feel like my time with EFC- you know I had a good run day there, I think its comes to an end. Going back there feels like, I’ve done a lot in the EFC, I was featherweight champion and defended it multiple times, bantamweight champion defended it. First two-division champion, undefeated. So, I did a lot in the EFC, so that motivation is not the same. So, coming back I won’t fight in the EFC, highly unlikely. I love the sport so I probably will go fighting somewhere else and rebuild my name, and eventually, the UFC is going to come knocking, 100%.
The UFC has started noticing African fighters, which is huge for African MMA, what are your thoughts on this, why do you think it’s taken so long, and what do you think about other organizations such as ONE FC and Bellator
Demarte Pena: Look, the UFC has always known about African fighters, and then obviously there are other African fighters living elsewhere that are competing in the UFC. So, I dont think it’s a matter of neglecting the African fighters, its just that a lot of the guys take a while, we dont have the same opportunities as the guys that live elsewhere like Adesanya in New Zealand. So, I think the UFC has always seen the guys here, but the level, its taken a while for the guys to reach that, i think thats why. Always I think in terms of them coming this side, lets say a UFC ticket that side is quite costly, and we know here, especially in South Africa, one of the best African countries, you wont find someone paying R2000 to watch someone fight, not everyone has that amount of disposable income for a ticket. So I think that’s why they’ve delayed coming into Africa as a whole. and also in terms of PPV, they might lose on PPV. I think it’s more financial than skill wise. Having said that, I think ONE Championship is massive, they have more revenue than the UFC or more fans because its in Asia, I dont know the exact figures , Bellator as well, its massive so there’s quite good organizations out there, obviously just the UFC has done most marketing and they have the pinnacle and most of the best fighters to compete there.
Looking at african MMA, which prospects are you most keen on and who do you think has the opportunity to be a world champion?
Demarte Pena: Look, in African MMA I think I’ve trained with possibly all of the best guys here, I can’t really say because its up to them and their motivation. Its one of those sports where you can only speak for yourself, who knows what they doing now because I don’t train with those guys anymore, so I cant say, they would have to speak for themselves.For me, I want to be the best in the world, and I don’t just want to compete, I want to be the champion. So once my opportunity comes I’m going to grab it with everything. Once I get into the UFC, I’m going to become champion, I can and I will, you have to believe in yourself.
What are your thoughts on the obstacles that many African fighters need to overcome, in order to be successful in the sport? Should there be more investment in African MMA? And how do you see the sport progressing in the future within the African continent?
Demarte Pena: Look MMA keeps growing in Africa, there’s a lot of African countries hosting MMA brands and the sorts, and they’re beginning to be affiliated. The reality is that it’s still Africa, a lot of people, in general, don’t have that much disposable income to invest in sports, buying tickets and fighters merchandise, and making them stars. That’s the biggest issue besides just MMA, people don’t have that money to commit. Like in America the stadiums are full, even college football and basketball, it’s massive. It’s just a matter of a general thing, where there’s just not enough money here and then obviously the opportunity. Like a gym, especially for South Africans, there are not many MMA gyms, the industry is small, the skillset is not vast. It’s difficult, then obviously the right nutrition, the right recovery, the right coaches. There’s a lot of difficulties here, you just have to make the best of it, as a fighter and athlete you need to do the best for yourself.
There are a number of African champions, and contenders within the UFC, from Usman, to Dricus, which African talent do you think will be champion at the end of 2021?
Demarte Pena: Yeah man like I was saying, the African guys are doing the best, it’s nice to see. As I was saying earlier the guys that are overseas where they have the infrastructure, they excel. It’s not a matter of Africans can’t fight, it’s just a matter of the right opportunities. I think by the end of 2021 Adesanya will still be the Middleweight champion, it’s a pity that he couldn’t take the Light Heavyweight championship, but I think he’ll still be champion. Kamaru Usman as well, and possibly Francis Ngannou gets the title, it’s looking good, in terms of the other guys it takes a long time to get a title shot so they would need to fight a 7-8 fight win streak before the UFC can give them a title shot.
What do you think of the bantamweight fighters in the UFC? How do you think you’d do in that division?
Demarte Pena: The bantamweight division is stacked, there are obviously killers out there, we recently saw the title fight between Petr Yan vs Aljermain Sterling. Yeah, they’re good fighters, they are the best in the world. There are no easy fights in the UFC, that’s a fact. I am no easy fight for nobody, that’s a fact. I’m nobody’s easy fight, and then I’m a winner, I think I’ll do well, I’m a hard worker, whatever I lack, whether its skill or opportunity I make it up, with extremely hard work and dedication. I feel I will do well, I will be victorious, this sport you can only do it if you have that kind of mentality, otherwise, you shouldn’t do it.
Kamaru Usman recently put on a class act to defend his championship, where do you rank him in the GOAT status, and do you think he surpasses GSP as greatest welterweight?
Demarte Pena: Yeah, Kamaru, what a legend. He’s looking really good, it seems like it’ll take a monumental task to dethrone him as champion,I think at the moment, GSP is up there. Obviously when you measure your career, mostly when you at your end stages. I don’t feel like he’s at GSP level right there, but you can’t question him any longer and then he’s breaking all these records, so 1-2 wins you can’t question him anymore. I feel like he’s right up there with him, what can you say when he’s being completely dominant.
Israel Adesanya is set to become the first African double Champ in the UFC, and would set the record for accomplishing it in the fastest time, do you think he can accomplish that? What do you think that would mean for African MMA?
Demarte Pena: Adesanya, obviously after watching the fight, I thought he was going to do it. He’s a tall guy but his frame is way to small for Jan Błachowicz we saw what happened. Once he got taken down we saw the difference, I mean he’s a great fighter and he’s done what many more people thought could be done, I like the guy, I’m proud of what he’s done, big ups to him. I know that he will be quite successful at middleweight and possibly one day try that task again to become a double champion. You have to take risks and that’s what he did but unfortunately this time it didn’t play out.
Lastly, your thoughts on the future of the sport, what’s in store for your fans? And any last messages that you’d like to send our American fans?
Demarte Pena: Look, I think now with Covid there’s a lot of things going on, but the sport will keep on growing, there quite a lot of new fans coming into the sport, which is great, so it will keep on growing. There’s always going to be fresh and new talent so the African space is also getting new talent coming up, the sport will forever grow. Hopefully, we get to that stage where it’s a mainstream sport like soccer, and then the guys get paid real money.
I’m looking to compete soon. just expect that hardworking guy who always comes out and puts the best performance and does his best. That’s the biggest thing for me I always fight for my life, give it my all and make sure that ultimately I win, they must look out for me, following me on Instagram, and like my page on Facebook Demarte Pena. They must keep on thriving, excelling, and keep on pushing boundaries because everything is possible.
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