A gruelling day of competition, where eight fighters are whittled down to one, across multiple divisions, is what stood in front of Blouberg’s Joshua Ignjatovic, 22, when he tackled some of the country’s finest mixed martial artists earlier this month, as part of a new reality television show, Last Fighter Standing (LFS), which began airing on etv this week.
After grinding out victories in the opening rounds of the Western Cape prelims, the plucky fighter, who carries the moniker of Zeus, found himself face to face with one of the most feared strikers in the Cape Town fight scene, kickboxing and boxing specialist, Kenilworth-based Cristiano Ndombassy.
Not many would have put their bottom dollar on Ignjatovic but he showed that grit and sticking to a game plan are what make champions, not public opinion.
In arguably the most entertaining fight of the night, the two set the Sunningdale Sports Complex alight with a five-round back and forth war that saw fans jumping up and down in support of their favourite. In the end, it was Zeus who had his hand raised in victory.
“For the initial LFS fights I moved camps to Pride Fighting Academy (PFA) in Gardens. The training went well and I did gain some knowledge with the PFA family but during my time there I had some injuries and set-backs but still showed up and did what I needed to do to achieve the goal I had set for myself.
“I can’t give away too much about what we worked on as there is still part of the competition coming up and I’d prefer my opponents to have something to look forward to.
“What I can say is that we centred training on strategic starts and getting comfortable as quickly as possible as the LFS format means time is limited compared to a normal MMA fight. I have now moved to Gi-Baek Taekwondo for the rest of my camp.
“They are trying to achieve more crowd-pleasing, explosive fights with the LFS rule sets and have even limited the ground time, which means you need to just throw all you have at your opponent as soon as they hit the ground and if you want to finish, it has to be quick. It doesn’t really make that big a difference to me,” he said.
The road to the final saw Ignjatovic taking on former teammate Alain Kulenfuka in the quarter-finals before moving on to a determined opponent in Durban’s Tylor McMurtie, who impressed with his aggressive style and high tempo during their bout.
With Ndombassy finishing his semi-final match with a neck choke, it was set to be a tantalising final round in the lightweight division.
“I didn’t really have any trouble dealing with three fights in one day as my fitness is at a peak level at the moment. I actually found it easier and easier each time I stepped in the ring but mark my words when I say the level of competition was really good.
“The fights were tough and the stakes were high,” said Zeus.
“Going into the final fight with Cristiano I was the underdog because he has a lot of professional experience. I think a lot of people thought he would walk right over me but that really gave me strength.
“I look at every opponent as just flesh and blood, like me. If I can get hurt or knocked out then so can the opponent in front of me and for that reason I remember to fear no man but will always respect them and what they can do.
“I think sticking to my game plan and my toughness got me the win,” he said.
Looking ahead, with prelim fights completed in Durban and Cape Town and a final set of prelims kicking off this weekend in Pretoria, all eyes are focused on the finals in October, which will see the top fighters from each division descending on the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, as they try to be crowned the first LFS champions.
Zeus hopes that his skill set will see him going all the way and sees this as just the start of a burgeoning professional career.
“As we approach the finals in Jozi I am looking forward to meeting some interesting people along the way and am excited about being on a reality show hosted by Michael Jai White.
“He is not only a movie star but a legitimate martial artist too so if I can learn something from him that would be great and I mean, how often do you get to meet one of your fight movie idols?
“I am expecting to come up against tough opponents but I am willing to do whatever it takes to be crowned LFS lightweight champion.
“To anyone wanting to walk the same path, I would just say never give up on your dreams even when they seem impossible and it feels like everyone is against you.
“Only you can accomplish what you set your eyes on so don’t blink or turn away. A quote I like to preach is to keep working until your idol becomes your rival,” said Ignjatovic.