Congo suffered one of the most brutal civil wars in history and Mwekassa did not escape its effects. He has on separate occasions been stabbed, shot and kidnapped by rebel soldiers who intended to execute him for refusing to join their militia.
As if all that were not enough he has also survived being bitten by one of the world’s most venomous snakes and having to run for his life when a previously dormant volcano suddenly erupted. No wonder he has captured the hearts and minds of fight fans across the planet and been described as “the most interesting man in combat sports” by Bloody Elbow’s own Stephanie ‘Crooklyn’ Haynes.
The last Tuesday in May finds him sitting in the departure lounge of the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, waiting to board a flight to Amsterdam. He will be spending a few days at a gym in the Netherlands before making the several-hour drive to Lille, France to commence fight week.
“I am feeling good. I have had a good preparation, my fitness is good, mentally I am good,” says the ever-enthusiastic light-heavyweight over a crackly cellphone connection. “I am looking forward to this fight. It is my first fight since November and I am going to bring the bombs and the drama like always.”
‘Bombs’ are a Mwekassa specialty. The former professional boxer has some of the most dangerous hands in the whole fight game at present, perfectly evidenced by his flattening of Pat ‘HD’ Barry in his GLORY debut last year.
He followed that with a stoppage of Brian Collette in the final of GLORY 18 Light-Heavyweight Contender Tournament but was stopped himself by Brazil’s Saulo Cavalari in the final.
The transition from boxing to kickboxing has a been a steep learning curve for Mwekassa, though early in his career he did train his kickboxing with the late Mike Bernardo, himself a former boxer turned kickboxer in the K-1 organization’s heyday.
“I was very disappointed with the loss in Oklahoma but it showed me some things that I need to work on and I have been working very hard at addressing those gaps. So I am looking forward to showing those improvements in this fight and putting the disappointments behind me,” he says cheerfully.
His opponent Brooks is a karate stylist who trains under the legendary Tiger Schullman in New York City.
A veteran of Chuck Norris’ World Combat League, he shares some stylistic similarities with the GLORY welterweight Raymond ‘Real Deal’ Daniels, himself a veteran of the World Combat League. Mwekassa doesn’t know a lot about him and hasn’t seen much video.
“I don’t need to,” he says. “I go out there to do my thing and impose my game on the fight. All I need to know about an opponent is does he have two arms and two legs. If he does then he is just a man and I know how a man can be beaten.
“Like always I am going out there to finish him. My job is to knock him out and put on a spectacular show for the fans and that is what I am going to do.”
Few things can dent Mwekassa’s cheerfulness, even the fact that his area of Johannesburg suffered an electricity blackout the previous night and left him unable to charge any of his electrical items in preparation for his marathon flight along the entire vertical length of African and thence to northern Europe.
Mwekassa tries to maintain an ever-positive mindset; his social media followers will be familiar with his philosophies on focusing energy on the best life has to offer. But there is at least one thing which does get him down: the social upheaval that South Africa’s lower classes frequently have to endure.
“I think outside of South Africa it does not get widely reported and so people in Europe and America are unaware of how bad things can get here. Recently there have been a lot of problems, a downturn in the economy means that immigrants are being blamed for taking jobs and housing and so on,” he sighs.
“There have been so-called ‘retaliations’, very brutal, which I have posted about on my social media pages.”
As the most developed and westernized country on the continent, South Africa has long been a magnet for other Africans looking to improve their employment prospects and position in life. Their presence has often been resented by native South Africans, with periodic eruptions of unrest. In a cruel irony, while racism plays a central role, both sides of the dispute are black.
“Even though the other Africans coming here are black, the native black South Africans see them as different. They are a different tribe or a different race. They end up living alongside one another but the native blacks hate them. Sometimes it gets very violent: machetes, people covered in petrol and set on fire, things like this,” he says..
“I don’t understand it. First and foremost, for me, I am a human being. Even now, I am in the airport and the South African authorities are making a very close inspection of my passport, like I am from another planet or something.”
Recently Mwekassa’s social media posts indicated that he feared for his own safety as the incidents of violence reached a particularly nasty peak. It has led to him contemplating leaving South Africa, something he never previously countenanced. He has no concrete plans as yet and in the meantime is doing what he can to raise awareness.
“I try to keep the two things separate, my career as a fighter and my life as a human. I try not to let one affect the other, but sometimes it is hard. As well as being a fighter I am a human rights activist and what I see happening around me is painful to witness,” he says.
“Some people said maybe it could be dangerous for me to talk about it the way that I do, if I brought some attention on myself because of it, but as a professional sportsman I believe it is my duty to speak out about these things because I have a platform.”
(Note: The pictures and videos Zack refers to can be found on his Facebook page but be warned they are EXTREMELY graphic and very likely to prove upsetting; significant violence has been visited upon the individuals Mwekassa has featured.)
GLORY 22 FRANCE takes place Friday, June 5 at the Stade Pierre Mouroy in Lille, France and is headlined by a World Heavyweight Championship fight between Rico ‘The Prince’ Verhoeven and Benjamin ‘Mr Gentleman’ Adegbuyi.
Rounding out the card is a four-man Lightweight Contender Tournament which will see the winner get a shot at the world title. Former champion Davit Kiria leads the pack; he faces Thai champion Sitthichai in the semi-final stage. The other semi-final has Josh Jauncey facing Denmark’s Niclas Larsen in a battle of bright prospects.
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