In terms of highly-touted prospects to emerge from Dublin’s Straight Blast Gym over the course of the previous five years, – Frans ‘The Black Mamba’ Mlambo is arguably the most promising. The 8-4 contender has made a big impression since his Bellator MMA bow back in the summer of last year, and this weekend – on home soil once more, looks to extend his promotional record to 3-0.
The 28-year-old North Dublin based all-rounded has managed victories over fellow prospects, Nathan Greyson, and Dominique Wooding – and off the back of those performances, has earned a massive opportunity against American Top Team trainee, Ricky Bandejas, in a bantamweight tie.
Bandejas, of course, has some rather significant history with team SBG – having handed bantamweight contender, James ‘The Strabanimal’ Gallagher his first professional loss back in 2018. In a recent interview with Markey Martial Arts, I posed the narrative of a possible revenge storyline for Mlambo ahead of this high-stakes meeting, something he definitively distanced himself from.
“I don’t know how this fight came about, but I feel like it was an inevitable bout in our division,” Mlambo said. “Everybody always sees fights like these as revenge fights, but’s that not how I’m looking at it. It’s an inevitable fight to happen. In my eyes, it’s nothing to do with revenge or anything. There are so many fighters in my division in Bellator from SBG – so we’re definitely gonna come across people that we’ve fought before. My last fight – my last opponent beat a guy already, that I train with. One of my frequent training partners, Blaine O’Driscoll, was beaten by (Dominique) Wooding. It wasn’t a revenge fight then, and it’s not now. That’s not how I’m looking at this fight – we’re all fighters like.“
In his most recent outing, last September, Mlambo made the short trip to the 3Arena – and in front of a hometown crowd, received a massive ovation on his way to a unanimous decision triumph over Dominique Wooding.
“Fighting (Dominique) Wooding was amazing like, he was an amazing fighter,” Mlambo said. “Walking out to that crowd was pretty awesome, it was a homecoming fight. Every time I fight in Dublin, it’s always crazy like. The Irish fans, and especially the Dublin fans are known for just lifting the roof off the place and that’s exactly what happened. I walked in there and I felt very welcome to be fighting back home. I got a lot of support. You always appreciate it that and apparently I perform better in that atmosphere and I can’t wait for this one coming up on February 22nd.“
Given Bandejas’ stature within the Bellator bantamweight ranks – and in particular, his high-profile pairings with Patrick Mix and Juan Archuleta, Mlambo spoke of the potential title opportunity awaiting him with a win over the Florida based striker, and how he matches up with the 28-year-old, stylistically.
“Ricky (Bandejas) is apparently a very big name,” Mlambo explained. “It definitely is a big opportunity for me to fight him, and if I do beat him, I’m hearing very good things to come up. It’s a very good start to the year for me to be fighting a guy with his accolades. It definitely puts me up there with the contenders. I’m excited like. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen after this fight. If I do perform very good and beat this guy, I don’t think I’m many fights away from a title shot. So that’s definitely something that’s at reach if I perform to how I believe I can perform and put this guy away.“
“I think I probably heard, but I didn’t keep it on my mind that he was submitted twice,” Mlambo said when I asked how he matches up with Bandejas. “To me, that just kinda means that he will be avoiding the ground at all costs, even though he knows I’m a striker – since he was submitted two times. I’m just kinda guessing he’ll be avoiding going down which is good news for me. I always avoid going down. It seems like it’s going to be a standup fight, but then again, it is MMA and it could go anywhere. I am very comfortable with my grappling and my groundwork in general – my takedown defence. Where ever this fight takes place, It’s going to be very exciting.“