African mixed martial arts is definitely on the rise. Nigerian-born Kamaru Usman just defended his UFC welterweight title against Colby Covington, and fellow countryman Israel Adesanya unified the middleweight title by defeating Robert Whittaker just two months ago.
Now, Italian-Cameroonian Simon Biyong (6-1 MMA) will look to continue that trend of success in his Rizin Fighting Federation debut on New Year’s eve in Tokyo, Japan.
“I’ve signed [with Rizin FF] a two-bout deal”, Biyong told BJPENN.com. “I’m making my debut on December 31 and I’ll probably fight in Japan again in July, but I don’t know just yet.”
“Hemlé”—that means “Lionheart” in Cameroonian language—is also the current Extreme Fighting Championship belt-holder, and it’s not on his mind to relinquish that.
“I’m more than happy to fight for the South African promotion EFC, in my native continent. Thanks to my management, the Calibian Sports Management, I’ve signed for a six-bout deal with the EFC. I have five bouts left on the contract and I’m defending my light heavyweight title in 2020.”
This last year has been an explosive year for Africa’s MMA scene. Two African World champions, as aforementioned, many other African native athletes signed to the UFC, in the likes of Francis Ngannou and Sodiq Yusuff, and a brand new European-African promotion has just been launched.
Simon Biyong is happy to play his part in this new trend.
“Africa has always been full of talents, not only in the martial arts. It was just a matter of time before the world noticed fighters like Francis Ngannou, Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, and finally starting to pay attention to our beautiful continent that it’s always been snubbed. I’m glad to be part of the African MMA rising movement. Other African mixed martial artists will emerge, I’m sure. On the other hand, though, I live in Genoa, Italy, and train at X1 Boxing. Wherever I go, wherever I fight I represent my home, these colors, as well”.
Hemlé is not fighting in Africa, nor in Italy on December 31, though. He’s competing at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan in the well-known Rizin FF year-ending show.
“It’s a dream come true to fight in such a big organization”, Biyong said to BJPENN.com, “Winning the EFC title gave me this opportunity, so I’m going to represent EFC, Cameroon, and Italy walking out to the Rizin’s ring. It’s a huge honor and I can’t wait to come back home with another scalp. I don’t feel any pressure, anyway. I’m just enjoying these moments.”
On New Year’s eve, the Cameroon-native will lock horns with Russian veteran Vitaly Shemetov (23-10 MMA), who will be returning in the Rizin ring for the second time, this after suffering a TKO due to some slashing elbows in his first bout.
“I’ve always faced more-experienced opponents in my career, so that’s not new to me. With my coach Mauro Salis, we always study our opponents and prepare the best gameplan. I fully trust him and his plans. That’s up to me, then, to make those work during the match.”
Although this is his first fight with the Japanese organization, the Italian-Cameroonian rising star already has big plans for his future.
“I’m going to face any opponents Rizin decides to put in front of me, but I can’t deny my goal is the Rizin strap.”
How do you like all these Africa-native fighters taking their chances and help the growth of the African MMA scene?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 12/23/2019.