Local MMA fighter Callum Ellenor is determined to put Sunderland on the map when he battles for the Extreme Fighting Championship interim bantamweight title in Cape Town on Saturday.
Ellenor (7-1) will face South African Luthando Biko (4-1) on the main card of EFC 75 at GrandWest Arena, with the winner set to earn a crack at 61kg champion JP Buys (6-2).
The 27-year-old, who is from Grindon and trains under coach Andrew Fisher at Team Fish Tank MMA, has no shortage of motivation.
“It is a motivating factor that I’m representing England, of course,” Ellenor said.
“It is always good to represent your country, where you come from. But more so than that, the thing that motivates me the most is representing Sunderland.
“I feel like the little place where I come from back home, we don’t get backing as far as like the bigger places like London do. We kind of get overlooked.
“I think people don’t really expect there to be as much talent in the North East as there is. But in Sunderland, the little place where I come from, there is so much talent, so many world-class fighters.
“I just want to keep going and keep getting bigger and bigger, and just show everyone the little place where I come from is actually a breeding ground for great talent, and that’s what motivates me the most.”
Ellenor says he’s had a great training camp at TFTMMA, which boasts KSW heavyweight champ Phil De Fries (16-6) in their stable among other high-calibre fighters.
Ellenor added: “The spirit in the camp is great, everyone there is so positive now. It’s such a good gym, it’s such a great team to have around you. Phil De Fries just defended his KSW heavyweight title.
“Lewis Monarch, fighting in the four-man tournament for the Cage Warriors world title.
“He’s me sparring partner on a regular basis every day. We have fantastic fighters around us every day. It’s just preparing us to be the best, which I feel I am.”
Ellenor, a dangerous submission specialist with strong boxing, expects a war against the powerful and compact Biko, who has a background in judo.
“It would mean the world to me to win the world title in the EFC. Interim or not, that doesn’t matter to me. The way I see it, this is the belt,” he said.
He added: “I think it’s gonna be a really entertaining one though, because we’ve got such different styles and we both do so many different things so well.
“He’s an awesome fighter, but I believe I’m the best fighter in the division, so it’s a perfect match-up.”