A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Eternal MMA 61 at Southport Sharks, an eventful night marked by excellent fights and capped off with a title change.
For those who haven’t been to an Eternal MMA show, the experience is vastly different to what you see on television. There is an energy inside the building which can’t be replicated at home – the brisk sound of the mat; the sound of leather hitting flesh; the intensity of the crowd.
My only other live MMA experience was watching UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium in 2019. Though it had all the bells and whistles that come with a UFC show, particularly a stadium show, the scale of the stadium meant good seats were few and far between, (and ridiculously expensive too boot) and for most of the night I was stuck watching a screen.
And though there were screens at this event, I didn’t use them much. Why would I have to? The intimate atmosphere of the venue, the Southport Sharks Event Centre, meant regardless of where you sat, you were close to the action – good seats all around.
When I first entered the venue, I happened to find the then-lightweight champion and one half of the main event, Dan Hill, relaxing at the back of the room, relaxing watching the preliminary fights unfold. It was an unusual sight.
Then I grabbed my seat and found Dimp Gillies, one half of the co-main event, sitting with his family watching the fight.
A reminder that these fighters are fans just like the rest of us, and a visual reminder of who these men fight for.
On a regional show, one might think that the quality of fighters might be lacking. I can assuredly tell you that this is not the case.
Top to bottom the fights were competitive and compelling encounters, especially the fight between Diego Pereira and Abdalla Eltigani, where Eltigani appeared to be coasting before falling into Pereira’s heel hook in the second round which ultimately stopped the fight.
In the week leading up to the fight, I had a chance to sit down with Pereira and discuss his bout with Eltigani. He told me it was the perfect fight to showcase his ground game, something he hadn’t had the chance to do in previous fights.
The card wasn’t without controversy either, which occurred in the main event when Jack Becker finished then-Eternal lightweight champion, Dan Hill, in the first round with a barrage of punches, followed up by an unfortunate knee to the head which appeared to land after Hill collapsed into the cage.
Though Becker is returning to defend his new lightweight championship in November against Brentin Mumford at Eternal 63, it would be fantastic to see a rematch.
Of course, being stopped in the first round never bodes well for a rematch claim, but there were variables which support Hill’s case. For one, it was his first loss – a controversial one at that. And secondly, the late replacement Becker was arguably a tougher opponent than the previously scheduled, Mumford. That’s certainly a fight I’d like to see again.
The highlight of the night was Dom Mar Fan’s – who also won Performance of the Night – performance against Tasar Malone on the preliminary card. It was a smooth and dominant performance capped off by an excellent triangle choke submission in the second round. Certainly someone to keep an eye on.
Eternal MMA is Australia’s premier MMA promotion for a reason. The matchmaking is excellent, the events are well-organised (kudos to Cam, Ben & co. for persevering through the setbacks) and the production is top notch too.
And for MMA fans living in South-East Queensland who haven’t attended an Eternal show, I have to ask: what on earth are you waiting for?
Here I sit in my travel jail cell, more on that later, with an abundance of time to reflect on a crazy two weeks, for me, for Jack Della and for Eternal. Let’s start with the latter, Eternal 61 took place on September 11th at the Southport Sharks. This card was a testament to the never say die attitude of the Eternal team and the flexibility and understanding of the fighters and teams involved. This pandemic is certainly challenging and without wanting to get too political, I will later, a pain in the fucking arse! If Cam had any hair he would have yanked it all out with not one but two postponements but after many changes to the card and the restrictions etc we had a sold out show. What a show it was too, as always the amateurs brought it, three first round arm bars on the bounce is unreal skill in modern MMA, a couple of third round finishes and only one decision it set the scene perfectly for our stacked main card. What a card too, with Jack Becker taking Dan Hill’s title with some brutal striking, not without controversy an illegal knee as the referee was stopping the fight means that Hill will get a re match when COVID allows so that’s something to get excited about. Obviously as head coach of Scrappy MMA I was super pumped for Jack as I know how hard he works, and has worked for the last decade so to see him achieve his goal was special for me and the perfect start to our big week as a gym. Before we get on to that Eternal 61 was the first show I’ve taken my working hat off and sat back, in glorious Las Vegas, and enjoyed the event as a fan. Damn it was good to watch, well done to the team and all the fighters and coaches for the effort that went in to it.
Vegas, Vegas, Vegas! I have had many trips to Vegas over the years and this one was very different:
I no longer drink and
Because we isolated ourselves to avoid a positive COVID test which could have spelt the end to Jack’s UFC dreams without the gloves being donned.
It was amazing to have two weeks to do nothing but train, eat healthy food and relax in preparation for a fight. That pro fighter lifestyle that many only dream of, jack included until this camp, is so helpful in the lead up to a big fight. Training every day at the UFC Performance Institute, using the recovery tools there and generally living the life was all instrumental in Jack putting on the performance of a lifetime and getting his UFC contract. I must give a shout out to Ange Loosa as he brought the best out in jack and wanted that contract badly. He took everything Jack threw at him and gave it back but Jack’s class shone through in the end. It’s been a long road, not without its challenges but the ten fight win streak is real and the goal set after Jack’s last loss, to win ten straight, has been achieved. Jack is a testament to the pathway Eternal provides and it shows if you can become an Eternal Champ you have got the skills to hold it down at the highest level. First Casey O’Neill proved that and now Jack has strengthened the fact that if you trust the process at Eternal and win the belt you have the stuff to make it anywhere in world MMA. I am one very proud and lucky coach to have had an athlete willing to make the sacrifices and put the work in to achieve greatness. Watch this space because I see a shiny gold belt in Jack Della’s future.
We knew when we signed up to leave Australia we would need to quarantine on the way home and although it’s definitely not ideal it is what it is. However, having done almost three days here in hotel hell I feel like the treatment of a law abiding citizen is in humane. Our only ‘crime’ is leaving Australia and we are now locked for two weeks in a twin hotel room, zero fresh air, zero sunlight and today we asked for fresh towels as we have been training twice a day and ours are sweaty. We cannot have fresh towels until Day 6! To wash clothes is $40 for ten items so we are reduced to hand washing clothes and hanging them to dry in the shower room, but with no light or heat in there they never dry. I am definitely not seeking sympathy, like I said I knew what I was getting into but never in a million years did I think I wouldn’t even have the luxury of fresh air. I have just returned from a country where COVID is rife, it is open and I have been out and about there. I have had six COVID tests in the last two weeks, all of which returned negative. Surely there is a better solution than locking law abiding citizens in essentially cells, in fact in jail you at least get to leave your cell and have access to air. I can’t imagine sitting here with Jack having been unsuccessful in his quest for a UFC contract as it’s taxing enough on the old mental health as it is.
Anyway, we shall endure. It’s a funny old game, from the highest highs having Dana sing Jack’s praises and walking the Vegas strip as a newly signed team to the UFC to languishing in a 5-star jail cell without even fresh air being afforded to us. Welcome to 2021 and communist Australia. I love this country, I am a proud citizen but fuck me the government has lost it!
Diego Pereira (6-4) is a natural performer. Need proof? Just watch any of his past fights. The Brazilian fighter who now calls Australia home holds the record for the fastest knockout in Eternal MMA history, finishing Nix Agulto nine seconds into their bout with a vicious kick to the head. His last performance in the cage – a spirited loss to Jack Jenkins for the Eternal featherweight championship – was voted Eternal’s best fight of the year and the first fight in the promotion’s history to see a fourth round.
But in a year halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent fight cancellations, ‘El Pantera Negra’ (The Black Panther) makes his return to the cage this weekend when he fights Abdalla Eltigani (2-0) at Eternal MMA 61, a fight which he hopes will put his MMA career back on track.
Conventional wisdom would assume that Pereira has an easy task ahead of him on Saturday night – a consequence of his opponent’s relative inexperience – but there are dangers to fighting untried opponents. For one, tape on Eltigani is scarce, making him an unknown quantity to a degree. This is also the biggest fight of Eltigani’s young career, a prospect which makes him a dangerous opponent.
But Pereira understands this conundrum better than most and is preparing diligently for Eltigani by formulating a game plan based on the little tape available.
“We’re solid. There’s a few fights on Fight Pass, a few on YouTube. And though I haven’t fought any one as a professional with his physicality – being tall, lanky, a kickboxer – but as an amateur I have. And I feel like my IQ is on another level right now.”
Pereira also expects to finish Eltigani. “I think I’ll finish it inside two rounds, but I’m ready for everything. I’ll be ready if the fight goes the distance, but I have too many weapons, too many ways with which to win the fight, and though he’s a very talented young man, he’s never faced the high-level guys that I have, and he doesn’t have the experience that I have.”
This will also be the first time that Pereira has fought in over a year. In his last outing – the loss to Jenkins – Pereira suffered both a broken jaw and a hairline fracture in his right fibula, with both occurring early in the fight.
“We went to war in that fight; we made history; it was the first time that an Eternal fight had seen the fourth round.
“I suffered some pretty gnarly injuries, but I wanted it so bad. I had trained so hard, but it got to a point where my jaw was so loose that any touch to it hurt… I wanted to keep going but it was an instinct of survival where the body took over and shut down.”
However, the injuries sustained during the fight became a blessing in disguise, allowing Pereira to reset and evaluate the shortcomings in his past performances. He believes a major factor in his past defeats was how he approached the sport. Until now, he had neglected the mental aspect of combat and instead focused on the physical and technical aspects.
“The mind is like a computer: it runs everything, so if you know how to manipulate that feeling before you get to the event through breathing and visualization, it’s going to help the performance a lot more. Technically I was already at a high level, but it’s been about understanding things which help when it comes to situations where it feels like you’re about to jump off a cliff. It’s risky. You have that cold feeling in your stomach like you’re on a roller coaster.”
Growing up in Guararapes, São Paulo, Pereira lived with his mother, grandmother, and siblings. Throughout his childhood, money was always scarce. “Where I grew up in Brazil was a rough area. I come from poverty; we had enough to get by, but it was always a tight situation – we were always living cheque to cheque.”
School wasn’t a priority in Pereira’s life either, instead he left school to work odd jobs to support his family. “At 16 I dropped out of school and my mother told me that if I wasn’t going to go to school, then I would have to work and help around the house which was fine by me.”
Pereira’s first job was working part-time delivering food on a bicycle throughout his hometown, a job his mother had sorted for him. “I thought it was amazing. The restaurant had amazing food and they would feed us too, and at the end of each week I would have some money. Some went to my mother, and some went to myself so I could play video games and eat food we usually couldn’t afford like biscuits and candy.”
As a teenager, Pereira didn’t care for MMA. In fact, he knew nothing about it. He hadn’t heard of jiu-jitsu, nor the Brazilian icon, Royce Gracie. “To me it didn’t exist. I didn’t seek it; I didn’t have friends who did it. I’m sure it was popular, but to me it didn’t exist. I wasn’t watching any TV; I was oblivious to it.”
Pereira was introduced to combat sports through capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art dating back to the sixteenth century, first practiced by slaves during Portuguese rule in Brazil.
The martial art is distinguished by its acrobatic play, its extensive use of groundwork, as well as sweeps, kicks, and headbutts. Though unlike most martial arts, capoeira is more akin to a dance than a fight. As such, music is an integral feature and functions as its soundtrack, to culturally guide its participants through lyrics which acknowledge slavery, spirituality, and the sport itself.
Later, through a government initiative which aimed to keep Brazilian youth off the streets, Pereira was introduced to kung-fu and ballet. “At the time I was only interested in doing kung fu, but to do kung fu I also had to do ballet and as a kid I didn’t want to do ballet. And as a kid you have all these misconceptions about it, but it was amazing.”
Pereira’s journey to Australia began around this time too, a move which irreversibly altered his life. “My uncle was here in Australia already. He moved to work in the meatworks, because at the time Australia needed skilled workers in the area, so they had to outsource guys to come over here and work, and my uncle was one of those people.”
Realising how much the move would benefit Pereira and his siblings as it had for him, Pereira’s uncle planned for Pereira and his siblings to settle in the country. “My uncle was supporting us a lot at the time and figured that we could come to Australia as his dependents. To do so he had to prove that we depended upon him financially, and at first my older brother was able to leave and joined my uncle working in the meatworks.”
Two years later, his uncle offered Pereira the same opportunity as his brother, but it was dependent on Pereira returning to school. “At the time I quit my jobs and went to night school to finish my high school degree. So, I went back, started studying more; I went to a different city and started living with my aunt, and before I could complete my studies, my uncle called me and said I was good to go.”
In Australia, Pereira joined his uncle and elder brother and began working at the meatworks. This is where Pereira first became aware of mixed martial arts. “A guy I was working with told me about Anderson Silva, who was the champion at the time, and whether I was familiar and I wasn’t, and that’s how I got interested in MMA. Then when I got home I started researching and digging, finding out about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and I thought maybe I should do that.”
Once discovering MMA, Pereira began searching for a gym and trained around Queensland for the next few years.
With the support of his uncle, Pereira was able to quit his job and dedicated himself to mixed martial arts full time. He ventured back to Brazil to train at the legendary Rio De Janeiro gym, Nova União. Home to some of Brazil’s greatest mixed martial arts talent, including Jose Aldo and Renan Barao.
But having adjusted to life in Australia, Pereira found it difficult to live in Brazil. “I really loved the training, but I didn’t like the environment. I wasn’t living in the slums of Rio, but there was too much traffic, too many people and I began feeling lonely, so I started thinking back to life in Australia and decided I didn’t want to be here anymore.”
Afterwards, Pereira returned to Queensland and became an Australian citizen. This allowed him to begin searching for gyms in the United States to continue developing his craft, something that wasn’t possible in Queensland.
“After looking around, I came across Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had dorm rooms which I thought sounded perfect because I could sleep upstairs, go downstairs and train. So, I figured out how much it would cost, and I contacted them and got accepted because you had to be invited.”
When Pereira arrived at Jackson-Wink, he understood how different his life would be for the next few months. “Every time you go down the stairs you see guys like Andrei Arlovski, Jon Jones, Alistair Overeem, Holly Holm, all of these stars. And then to see Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, all these guys you’d see coaching in the UFC, it was like wow I’ve made it. I’m actually here.
“Living in that environment was extremely new and extremely outside of my comfort zone. For the first month I hated it, sometimes I felt unsafe, there were some weird dudes there, some crazy motherfuckers, but it was a good growth period for me personally. I figured out that I was my own man and that I could handle my shit there.”
In Queensland, the gym Pereira has called home for the past decade is Southside MMA. He credits his coaches Paul Stolyar and Damage Maea – affectionately called ‘Uncle Dez’ – for his development in the sport.
“They’ve influenced me so much, Paul’s such a passionate coach and such a selfless being and we’ve done so much growth together. Those two are the heart of Southside MMA, if not for them the team would have fallen apart. They’ve influenced me so much, not just as an athlete but also a person through how they carry themselves in and out of the gym.
“And Uncle Dez was so supportive. When I was overseas, he would help me out financially whenever I needed it and he always believed. And when I got back he was the first to stick his hand out and help me and start doing pads.”
All these experiences have led Pereira to Eternal MMA 61 this Saturday.
“I’m now reaching my prime, I’m 29 so right now I have everything coming full circle: the mental, the physical; I’m comfortable in my own body. Everything is coherent now.
“I’m constantly running scenarios in my brain: everything from the walk out; the music; the taste; my heartbeat; can I feel those emotions? Can I hear the people screaming my name?”
‘Will there be any signs of rust?’ I ask. “No rust.” Pereira tells me.
Stream the Eternal 61 main card live on UFC Fight Pass – Saturday Sep 11.
It hasn’t been without its challenges, but Eternal 61 is finally upon us. And with that comes a slew of tantalising matchups that promise to have the mouths of fight fans watering.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen some unfortunate cancelations and postponements to several fights, including the push back to a later date for the upcoming event itself.
But with the card now firmly locked into place, one matchup that is sure to produce fireworks is Nick Kepu vs Jack James.
The two exciting middleweight prospects have been tasked with kicking off the main card this Saturday, and both are looking to make a big impression in front of a packed crowd at Southport Sharks.
With Kepu having already made his pro debut against Sam Dobb at Eternal 57 – an absolute showstopper in which he emerged victorious by way of split decision, the hard hitting Muay Thai Mulisha stalwart will be looking to capitalise on his momentum with a big win against Jack James.
“I just don’t see enough power in his striking to take me out” – Kepu told Eternal MMA when questioned about his upcoming opponent. “I just feel like I’m going to walk him down, stalk him, and pretty much take him out in either the first or the second (round). That’s just my honest opinion.”
On his goals with Eternal MMA, Kepu was measured in his approach to the future.
“The goal with Eternal is obviously to fight the champ whenever Cam (Eternal MMA promotor – Cam O’Neill) gives me that opportunity. But I don’t look past my next opponent. My job this weekend is Jack James. I just need to get the job done and then after that we can start talking from there. But until then, I don’t really look too far.”
Making his pro debut on the other side of the cage, Jack James is looking at making his own waves within the Eternal MMA organisation. The young up and comer is ready for the challenge that lies ahead.
When asked of his impressions on his upcoming opponent, James had the following to say, “We’ve got a game plan sorted for him.”
“I just think once I start picking up the volume and (implement) heaps of movement and get a takedown or two, he won’t be able to keep up.”
When asked if he had a prediction on how he see’s his hand being raised, James gave a confident, matter of fact answer,
“Ground and pound.”
James has lofty goals of his own when it comes to his Eternal MMA career, mirroring the sentiments of his Eternal 61 adversary,
“I want to keep fighting pro, I want to win the belt.” Said James.
“Middleweight 84 kilo champion.”
With both athletes full of confidence and their sights firmly set on each other, as well as a successful run against Eternal MMA’s middleweight elites, this is a fight that simply cannot be missed.
Stream the Eternal 61 main card live on UFC Fight Pass – Saturday Sep 11.
It’s a new opponent, but the same goal for Eternal lightweight champion Dan Hill (5-0).
Due to COVID-19 interstate travel restrictions, Hill will now defend his Eternal MMA lightweight title against Jack Becker (8-2) at Eternal MMA 61.
Originally scheduled to fight veteran lightweight Brentin Mumford, Hill will test his skills against another of Australia’s top lightweights when he steps in the cage with the internationally recognised Becker.
It’s a huge opportunity for Becker who told Eternal MMA,
“I believe I’m the toughest test of his career so far. He’s been tested before by Josh Togo who’s solid but not as solid everywhere as I am.”
On how he sees the fight playing out, Becker expects to finish the undefeated champion.
“I think the fight’s going to be a mixture of everything: grappling, striking. I don’t think it needs to stay anywhere for anyone but I do think there’ll be a finish.”
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Hill accepted the late replacement without hesitation, telling Eternal MMA,
“I accepted the fight straight away. I told them I’d fight anyone.”
The challenge of fighting Becker also excites Hill.
“I think this is a better fight for me. I think it’s a fight that will progress my career a lot more than the fight with Brentin [Mumford] would and it’s something that makes me a lot more excited to get up and train for.”
It’s a huge blow for Mumford whose opportunity will have to wait for now, but promoter Cam O’Neill is hopeful about rescheduling a fight as soon as possible.
“Eternal MMA is committed to ensuring that our athletes get every opportunity to perform as we continue to adapt to the constantly challenging travel restrictions in Australia.”
“Unfortunately for Brentin, these restrictions have ruled him out of this fight but he will get the chance to challenge the winner for the title later this year.”
When asked about the replacement, O’Neill couldn’t be happier.
“We were lucky to be able to secure such an exciting replacement that is definitely worthy of the challenge.
“The Eternal lightweight division is the most exciting division in Australia and Dan Hill sits at the very top. His opponent, Jack Becker, comes into this fight hungry with a huge pedigree and is coming off an exciting win himself. What an exciting fight.”
Buy tickets to Eternal MMA 61 at Southport Sharks RSL club on September 11th (5pm start) OR stream the main card live on UFC Fight Pass.
It’ll be grappler versus striker when former Eternal lightweight champion David Martinez (6-3) meets Dimps Gillies (4-3) at Eternal MMA 61.
Both men will be looking to get back into the lightweight title picture and Eternal MMA co-promoter, Cam O’Neill, believes a victory would do just that.
“The Eternal lightweight division is on fire. It’s the best division in Australia right now and this fight features two of the very top lightweights with very contrasting styles.
“One thing’s for sure: this fight is going to be fun, and the winner will most likely move forward to fight for that number one contender spot in their next fight.” said O’Neill.
With both fighters desperately chasing a victory, this has the potential to be fight of the night. The key to victory for each fighter will be to impose their skillset by keeping the fight in their domain.
As an accomplished striker, the key to victory for Gillies will be to keep the fight standing. Throughout his career, Gillies has shown the ability to make any fight a dog fight by coming forward and throwing strikes indiscriminately.
Former Eternal MMA lightweight champion Martinez will hope to get back into the win column using his patented wrestling skills. Martinez’s wrestling has laid the foundations for the victories in his career thus far, and he’ll hope to mitigate Gillies advantages on the feet by keeping him on the ground.
Eternal MMA co-promoter Ben Vickers expects the fight to be fireworks.
“This is the archetypal grappler versus striker matchup. Dimps is one of the most complete strikers in Australian MMA and David is one of the premiere grapplers.
“It’s one of those fights where each man has a clear route to victory, so the excitement is who can impose their game. I love these old school MMA fights; I can’t wait for this scrap!” said Vickers.