Cape Town - Jared Vanderaa is unsure if he can out-grapple former EFC heavyweight champion Ruan Potts, but believes he is the better striker.
American Vanderaa (7-3) will fight home star Potts (11-6) for the interim heavyweight strap in the co-main event of EFC 76 at Time Square in Pretoria on Saturday night.
Vanderaa comes from a wrestling background and is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so he is no slouch on the mat.
But with Potts being a BJJ black belt and sporting six submissions on his record, Vanderaa is wise to be wary.
“This is hard to say,” Vanderaa told mmaengage.com when asked to compare his ground game with Potts'.
“I never had use to my jits against anyone from South Africa, so I can’t really give an educated answer. But what I can say is I am coached by world-recognised jiu-jitsu artists. My coaches are Joe ‘Daddy’ Stevenson and Tom Gallicchio. If you know these two gentlemen they are notorious for their ground game.”
He adds: “I have to respect his ground game. It would not be smart of me to think it would be a walk in a park. I have to respect him. And naturally you always have to respect the power of a heavyweight's hands regardless.”
‘The Mountain’ feels the odds are more clearly in his favour on the feet, pointing to his second-round TKO of Elvis Moyo (8-6) at Sun City in September to back his claim.
Vanderaa confidently traded blows with the decorated boxer in the opening stanza before taking the Zimbabwean down and pounding him out.
“Now when it comes to striking I would have to say I have the edge. If you look my last fight, Moyo was considered one of the best strikers on the continent but my stand-up forced him to try to take me down ... you saw how that ended.”
Vanderaa is determined to show he is a UFC-calibre fighter against Potts, who is one of the few South Africans to have graced the octagon; although he suffered three straight losses in the Las Vegas-based promotion from 2014 to 2015.
“Well, of course the UFC would be the next step after holding the title, but the goal is to succeed in the UFC and not just get the call-up. I think I’m already at that level and will display it with Potts. And after beating him hopefully the UFC will agree and give me the call, and add a young, hungry, and very skilled and entertaining fighter to their roster.”
At 26, Vanderaa is 14 years younger than Potts. But with ‘Fangzz’ riding a three-fight winning streak, Vanderaa is not entertaining thoughts his opponent is past his prime.
“In any other weight class I would agree. But with heavyweights, that script is flipped. Often times their prime goes well into their mid/late 30s. So I’m not banking on age playing any role in this fight. He is still in this game for a reason.”
Vanderaa trains under Corey Grant in Temecula, California at Team Quest, a gym owned by retired MMA legend Dan Henderson (32-15). He says UFC fan-favourite 'Smilin'' Sam Alvey (33-11) helped him prepare for this weekend’s encounter among others.
“With this fight I got Jamal Pogues and 'Smilin'' Sam Alvey. Jamal is a great boxer, high-level brown belt, just overall well-rounded. And then there is Sam. What can I say about him that can’t be found online, though the personality is better on a day-to-day level. Both are very high-level training partners along with some surprises in there.”
Like Alvey, the playful Vanderaa is not the mean-mugging type, as evidenced when quizzed on his predicted path to victory.
“If I were a betting man I would say a finish with a spinning, flying triangle choke. Seems like the realistic way to win this fight. Better get to that Keith Ho BetXChange before word gets out,” he says with a smile.
Vanderaa, who lost a questionable split decision to Andrew van Zyl (19-4) on his EFC debut, enjoys coming to South Africa, and plans to put on a show once again.
“Ruan, let’s go out there and beat each other up, and show the world that we are true gladiators! To the fans, South Africa has become a second home to me. This will be the third time in 11 months I’ve been there to fight. I know I am not a native South African but you all have made me feel welcomed and beloved. In turn I want to thank you all and give you a champion that will continue to forge their way through the highest ranks of MMA and beyond.”