Having been variously tortured by rebel soldiers, bitten by snakes, had to run away from an erupting volcano and forced to flee his homeland for his own safety, Zack Mwekassa (10-1, 9 KO’s) has faced more than a few challenges in his life.
That’s why he isn’t particularly fazed about facing the UFC veteran Pat ’HD’ Barry (16-5-1, 10 KO’s) on SPIKE TV this Saturday as one of the headline features of the GLORY 16 DENVER card. Mwekassa has been through a lot; this fight is more like an adventure for him.
A professional boxer and kickboxer, Mwekassa never expected to hear back when he sent GLORY an email with some information about himself and some links to his fights. He couldn’t believe it when he was contacted and offered a fight with Barry, though he confesses he had to look his opponent up.
“I actually didn’t know anything about Pat Barry when GLORY offered me the fight. But I looked at him and I studied him. He is a veteran, a great fighter with many good victories and an exciting style. So I thought, ‘this is a great challenge for me!’ and I accepted,” says the infectiously upbeat African.
Mwekassa has held a minor world title in the world of professional boxing, where he also boasts a KO rate of over 90% in his victories. He has a similar rate in kickboxing, so he certainly doesn’t feel overawed by Barry’s record or resumé.
“People don’t know my name but I don’t believe in fight maths. Just because a fighter beats certain guys doesn’t mean he beats others,” he says.
“I have trained with the likes of Mike Bernardo, kickboxing legends. I am not somebody who doesn’t know about kickboxing.”
Tactically, a kickboxer will tend to fight a boxer by attacking his lead leg with low kicks. He will try to deaden the thigh, robbing the opponent of movement. Boxers stand much more side on than kickboxers. But Mwekassa has experience in both sports, and also has a brain in his head.
“We didn’t train to beat Pat Barry. We trained with reverse engineering – how does Pat Barry expect to beat Zack Mwekassa? We looked at the routes he would likely use, then start shutting those routes down,” he explains.
“It is a chess game. He has knocked people out, he has been knocked out. I have knocked some people out, so… I have to be clear though, I have nothing against him. This is a sport and a fight. I want us to have a great fight and I hope afterwards we are going to be OK and go back to our families in one piece.”
Just a few minutes in Mwekassa’s company makes it clear he has a great attitude. He is relentlessly positive about everything, choosing to frame his experiences as benefits and lessons rather than the mentally crippling traumas they might have been.
“I moved to South Africa in 2004, I was twenty years old. It was during the civil war in Congo. I was a young boy, thought I was a man but I was only a boy. I left Congo after some problems with the rebels,” he explains.
“I come from a country of war – I saw people being shot, people being killed, ladies begging for their lives, right in front of me. I saw that. It is not nice. I saw someone step on a landmine but it didn’t kill him right away. He was screaming and crying for help, ‘Please, don’t leave me’.
“I am sorry to talk about this because it’s not nice but this was the reality of what I saw. In the civil war I wasn’t a solider. In fact I was ‘arrested’ by the rebels many times. They wanted to forcefully enrol me but I refused. I am very much like my mother – she speaks her mind all the time and so do I.
“They told me, ‘Come with us or something bad will happen to you.’ I said ‘No, I don’t want to go out there and kill innocent people and rape women, that is not me.’ They said ‘Oh, you think you are a big-shot? We will show you that you are nothing.’
“They beat me bad. I was ‘arrested’, taken away… I will spare you the details. I escaped and made the decision to leave Congo and go to South Africa.
“I wanted to study, I wanted to be a pilot but money was a problem, it was expensive. So I studied computers, got a degree along with my training and fighting.
“I have turned my life around. There was war, suffering and pain but also there was hope and faith. I have been through a lot, considering my age. I have witnessed volcanic eruptions, been bitten by snakes, shot… a lot of people can’t say that.
“When I say I have experienced a lot, I mean it. And today I just live life, I try to be happy. That is my journey in life now. Hopefully I can inspire even one person, that would make me happy.”
Mwekassa has another mission as well: he hopes he can use what prominence he has to do a little educating about Africa and what life is really like there.
“A lot of people have an idea of Africa which isn’t exactly right. They think it is all trees, forests, snakes, lions. People think there are lions everywhere. That would be like thinking in America there are bison everywhere. No, you have to go looking for them,” he laughs.
“Actually Africa is modern, we have universities, colleges, doctors, lawyers, coffee bars, Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants. My father is a chemist. Two of my brothers are lawyers; I am a qualified computer network engineer. Africa is not only this image of small children starving that you see on posters.
“When I first started traveling abroad people used to ask these questions which were mind-boggling – “Oh you have cars in Africa?” or “Do you have swimming pools in Africa?” But then in time I grew to understand, people just aren’t informed, that’s fine.
“One of the beautiful things in life is the exposure to different cultures, the traveling and the interaction, it builds tolerance and understanding.
“And now I am very happy that I get to represent Africa in GLORY and show that Africans aren’t people who are just climbing trees and going around patting lions. Africa is so much more than that!”