By Frank Bonada
Ever since the first IMMAF Africa Championships was held in 2016, the talent coming out of the continent has continued to flourish. IMMAF Africa competitors have thrived, with many now signed for major professional MMA promotions.
As the 2023 IMMAF Africa World Championships loom ever closer, we look back at some of the former standout IMMAF Africa athletes, and where their careers have progressed to today.
First up is one of IMMAF’s most decorated Africa Championships athletes, Eliezer Kubanza.
Starting his IMMAF career as a welterweight, the Democratic Republic of the Congo athlete won gold in the 2017 IMMAF Africa Championships. It was in this tournament that he was matched up against Ramazan Gitinov, one of the most successful athletes in IMMAF history. However, Kubanza flipped the script, finishing Gitinov in the third round via KO. To this day, he remains one of only two losses in Gitinov’s 30+ fight MMA career.
In 2019, Kubanza would once again compete in the IMMAF Africa Championships, this time at middleweight. The Congolese standout made short work of his opposition, claiming gold for a second time. He also competed in IMMAF World Championships on two occasions, just coming up short on both attempts.
He spoke with IMMAF about his time competing in the Africa and World Championships, stating:
“It was a game changer for me. It took my belief in myself to the next level. I started to really see myself as being a fighter who could fight outside of Africa, see the world and display the talent of African MMA fighters to the world.”
Kubanza has since made the switch to professional MMA, having been signed by BRAVE Combat Federation. Having picked up an impressive promotional debut at BRAVE CF 72, he now prepares to build on his success, with his sights set on the welterweight title.
In 2022, Lewis Mataya became the first athlete representing Zimbabwe to win gold for his nation. In a year where African MMA was at its all-time highest level to date, the talented lightweight ran through his division, defeating three highly touted IMMAF athletes, and claiming the gold medal.
Lewis Mataya recently announced that he has made the decision to go pro, having signed for French promotion, ARES Fighting Championship. Whilst he does not yet have his debut booked, Mataya appears poised to take the world of professional MMA by storm.
Mataya stated: “I think IMMAF African championships is the best thing to ever happen to myself and Africa as a whole. We athletes can now get international recognition and ranking as amateurs.
“For me personally, I’m more popular than some pro fighters and I’m yet to make my pro MMA debut. All thanks to IMMAF.”
Another former IMMAF Africa champion now competing under the BRAVE CF banner is Nkosi Ndebele. In 2017, Ndebele competed in the IMMAF Africa Open Championships, defeating Bahrain’s Nayef Fikey to claim gold for South Africa.
Now a top contender in the BRAVE CF bantamweight division, Ndebele boasts a solid professional record of 6-2. His most recent outing saw him compete against fellow IMMAF alumni, Jose Torres, for the bantamweight world title.
As well as the aforementioned Mataya, there were several stars forged at the 2022 IMMAF Africa Championships. Osvaldo Benedito and Nicole Van Wyk stood out from the pack, with a series of highlight victories that resulted in them both claiming gold, for Angola and South Africa respectively.
Benedito spoke on the significance of becoming an IMMAF Africa Champion, in relation to himself and the entire nation of Angola:
“Being a champion, and African Champion, is a demonstration of all the work done by my former teachers, the Angolan MMA team. It’s a work of eight years, of a lot of internal training… Being an IMMAF Africa MMA champion is a milestone… No one has ever believed, besides our first coaches, that it would be possible to be champions or win medals.”
Since their Championship winning performances in 2022, both have been signed by one of Africa’s top MMA promotions, EFC. Benedito made his pro debut for EFC in April of 2023, claiming victory via first-round KO/TKO. One month later, Van Wyk would follow suit, picking up a second-round finish at EFC 103.
With the 2023 IMMAF Africa Championships set to take place from the 15-17 of September, MMA fans will no doubt be watching with bated breath to see which athletes will establish themselves as the next stars of African MMA.
The 2023 IMMAF Africa World Championships will take place in Luanda, Angola. Those interested in competing must be pre-registered for the event using the IMMAF Online Registration System: smoothcomp.com. The deadline for Pre-Registration is September 7. For those wishing to watch, the event will be streamed live worldwide on immaf.tv.