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South African MMA fighter trains in Brandon for international debut

BRANDON — Know this much about Jeremy "Pitbull" Smith: He'd rather get punched in the face in America than listen to any more vuvuzelas.

"Awful," he said of the notorious noisemakers blown during the World Cup. "Absolutely awful."

Smith, a native of South Africa, arrived Saturday to Brandon's XFC Mixed Martial Arts Training Center in preparation for his international debut July 9 at XFC XI: Next Generation at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"This kid can fight," XFC president John Prisco said. "And he earned his way over here."

Mixed martial arts is very much in its infant stages in South Africa, but the rise in the sport's popularity rivals its appeal here in the United States. Smith, a middleweight, won an XFC sponsored tournament in South Africa. He then beat American veteran Julio Gallegos in Johannesburg, booking Smith a ticket to the United States.

"To win that tournament and then beat a very tough, tough guy in Gallegos, we knew he was ready," Prisco said. "He is, by far, the best fighter over there and the top prospect."

And Prisco should know. XFC, which prides itself on discovering new MMA talent and is based out of Brandon, quickly became the most recognized regional promoter in the country. However, the XFC has recently begun pursuing international interests, including South Africa.

"There's so much undiscovered MMA talent out there," Prisco said.

The company's vision is succeeding, with the XFC drawing more than 10,000 fans for each of the seven cards at the St. Pete Times Forum. Smith said getting a chance to prove what he can do in the XFC will open up opportunities in the states.

"It's a massive accomplishment just to get here, but I want to prove that I can compete and beat the best fighters in (the United States)," he said.

Smith (7-0, 5 KOs) will face Ohio's Victor O'Donnell (8-1) in one of 10 scheduled fights July 9. The 25-year-old Smith, who transitioned into MMA following a successful Muay Thai career, is known for explosive hands. Since MMA is just burgeoning in his home country, Smith wanted to train for nearly a month in the United States to improve his ground game.

"In South Africa, it's a lot of standing toe-to-toe because MMA is still so limited over there," Smith said. "This country is so much further ahead in that area, so to train here has been great."

Prisco said that although Smith hasn't been exposed to world-class training yet, he is "impressed" at how advanced he is.

"He comes from a country where there really isn't anyone top caliber to roll with," Prisco said. "But he has great hands and great stand-up."

Although still learning the area, Smith said he has already taken a trip to Busch Gardens and plans to visit the beach soon.

"They took me straight to Sheikra," said Smith, referring to the roller coaster. "That thing had me cocked."

And even though South Africa might be at the epicenter of the sports world right now, Smith couldn't be happier competing in the United States

"There's too much traffic right there now anyway," he said. "The training here in Brandon has been exceptional, and everyone has made me feel right at home."

Minus the vuvuzelas.

• • •

Haynes to UCF: Brandon shortstop Spencer Haynes, who was recently selected in the 48th round by the Oakland A's during the Major League Baseball Draft, has signed to play baseball next year at Division I UCF, according to his father Bart Haynes.

Spencer Haynes, a three-year starter, previously signed with the State College of Florida, Manatee/Sarasota but switched schools recently when given an opportunity at the D-I level.

Have a local sports story that should appear in the Times? Contact Brandon Wright at hillsnews@sptimes.com for consideration.

South African MMA fighter trains in Brandon for international debut 06/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 3:22pm]
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