Zack Mwekassa (10-1, 9 KO’s) might be making his debut for the world’s premier striking league tomorrow night, but he certainly isn’t feeling shy or overwhelmed.
The African heavyweight, a professional boxer and kickboxer with a 90% knockout ratio in both sports, has charmed every media member he has encountered in the run-up to Saturday’s GLORY 16 DENVER event, at which he will fight the UFC veteran Pat ‘HD’ Barry (16-5-1, 10 KO’s).
On Thursday he stole the show at the official pre-fight press conference, turning up in a red crushed velvet smoking jacket and contrasting pocket square. Mwekassa has been enjoying the GLORY media circus and in particular is relishing the chance to set a few things straight about his Congo homeland.
“A lot of people have an idea of Africa which isn’t exactly right. They think it is all trees, forests, snakes, lions. People think there are lions everywhere. Actually Africa is modern, we have universities, colleges, doctors, lawyers, coffee bars, Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants,” he says.
“My father is a chemist. Two of my brothers are lawyers, I am a qualified computer network engineer. Africa is not only this image of small children starving which you see on posters.
“When I first started traveling abroad people used to ask these questions which were mind-boggling – “Oh you have cars in Africa?” or “Do you have swimming pools in Africa?” But then in time I grew to understand, people just aren’t informed, that’s fine.
“So now I am very happy that I get to represent Africa in GLORY and show that Africans aren’t people who are just climbing trees and going around patting lions. Africa is so much more than that!”
Mwekassa’s comment about Africa and the misunderstandings its people endure are amusing, but he also admits that there is a darker side to life there. Many of Africa’s nations have been riven by civil war and Congo is no exception.
The Second Congo War – also known as ‘The Great War of Africa’ – commenced in 1998 and officially ended in 2003, at which point it had claimed around 5.4 million lives, with millions more maimed, disabled, displaced, raped and otherwise affected by it.
“I come from a country of war – I saw people being shot, people being killed, ladies begging for their lives, right in front of me. I saw that. It is not nice,” Mwekassa recalls, soft-voiced and clearly saddened by the memory.
“I saw someone step on a landmine but it didn’t kill him right away. He was screaming and crying for help, ‘Please, don’t leave me’… I am sorry to talk about this because it’s not nice but this was the reality of what I saw.
“In the civil war I wasn’t a solider. In fact I was ‘arrested’ by the rebels many times. They wanted to forcefully enroll me but I refused. I am very much like my mother – she speaks her mind all the time and so do I.
“They told me, ‘Come with us or something bad will happen to you.’ I said ‘No, I don’t want to go out there and kill innocent people and rape women, that is not me.’ They said ‘Oh, you think you are a big-shot? We will show you that you are nothing.’
“They beat me bad. I was ‘arrested’, taken away… I will spare you the details. I escaped and made the decision to leave Congo and go to South Africa.”
It was in South Africa that Mwekassa trained with some elite kickboxers, including the late Mike Bernardo of K-1 fame. Mwekassa says that was “a privileged time” and “an honor”. His trainers intended him for the K-1 circuit but opportunity was scarce, so he drifted into professional boxing.
That was intended to be a temporary measure but his career went well and kickboxing moved into second place. Only recently, when he saw GLORY on television in South Africa and “was blown away”, did he resurrect his kickboxing dream.
He approached the company more in hope than expectation. He sent some videos and some information about himself. Not long afterwards, he got an email with the offer of a date and an opponent.
“I actually didn’t know anything about Pat Barry when GLORY offered me the fight. But I looked at him and I studied him. He is a veteran, a great fighter with many good victories and an exciting style. So I thought, ‘this is a great challenge for me!’ and I accepted,” he smiles.
“People don’t know my name but I don’t believe in fight maths. Just because a fighter beats certain guys doesn’t mean he beats others. Yes I have been boxing professionally, but I have trained with the likes of Mike Bernardo, kickboxing legends. I am not somebody who doesn’t know about kickboxing.”
The obvious route for a kicker to beat a boxer is to go for the legs early and often, destroy his balance and movement then take him out. But Mwekassa is well aware of this and has planned accordingly.
“We didn’t train to beat Pat Barry. We trained with reverse engineering – how does Pat Barry expect to beat Zack Mwekassa? We looked at the routes he would likely use, then start shutting those routes down,” he explains.
“It is a chess game. He has knocked people out, he has been knocked out. I have knocked some people out.
“I have to be clear though, I have nothing against him. This is a sport and a fight. I want us to have a great fight and I hope afterwards we are going to be OK and go back to our families in one piece.”
GLORY 16 DENVER takes place tomorrow, Saturday May 3, and airs live on SPIKE TV at 9pm ET. The card features a four-man Heavyweight Contender Tournament – Sergey Kharitonov is among the participants – and also hosts a World Welterweight Championship Title fight.
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