Henry “Herculeez” Fadipe – Rattling the Lion’s cage – talks growth, EFC, self-promotion, title shot, Dino Bagattin, fighting words, switching camps and Ayo Daly

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Eyeing his May 1 showdown at EFC 29 with welterweight champion Dino “The Lion” Bagattin in Carnival City, Johannesburg, Henry “Herculeez” Fadipe spoke to PETER CARROLL about his journey so far with the EFC and how he has grown in the fight game.

Since his EFC debut in April of last year against African legend Tumelo Maphutha, Henry “Herculeez” Fadipe has looked a new man. Reinvigorated by a drop to welterweight, the Ryoshin Fight Academy prospect has made exciting finishes his calling card, the result of which have materialised in a title shot to be contested in Johannesburg on May 1 against champion Dino “The Lion” Bagattin.

Although his rapid progress seems like a well thought out plan, the career changing trajectory of “Herculeez” under the EFC banner began through the common practice of channel hopping.

“My coach, Tony Carrick, was just watching EFC on the Extreme Sports Channel one night,” explained the welterweight contender. “He liked how the event looked and he got in touch with them and I ended up getting a fight.”

Strangely, despite the aggressive style and knockout power of the Nigerian born fighter, it appears a certain swagger was lost on some of the Irish crowds until Fadipe’s emergence in the EFC. However, according to the Lucan man, not all that much has changed in how he approaches competition.

“It’s not that anything’s changed,” said Fadipe. “I was a young guy when I started out. I was a little timid and I didn’t feel like I could open up in front of the cameras. Nothing specifically happened, I’ve just grown out of some of the nonsense I was into.”

Fadipe’s growth in the sport hasn’t been limited to his physical capacities. Sporting a novelty leprechaun’s beard and hat at his first EFC weigh in, he immediately captured the attention of the crowd.

Coupled with his impressive finishes, the Ryoshin man’s self-promotion forced the hand of EFC president Cairo Howarth. After Fadipe disposed of former champion Michiel Opperman at EFC 26 in December, Howarth publically recognised the star power of the Irish product, endorsing him as the next contender to the 170 crown over Francois “The Frenchman” who is currently riding a five fight winning streak with the promotion.

“It’s not all about win streaks,” said Howarth at the post-fight press conference of EFC 26. “You see the way Francois fights, he wins but he doesn’t finish. He’s not actually trying to finish these fights and it’s not that exciting.

“My job is to put on the most exciting fights we can and if you asked the people here what they want to see, Francois vs Dino or Henry vs Dino, most people would say Henry vs Dino. It’s not just about win streaks. “

Under no illusions that he has been fast tracked to the title shot, Fadipe showed his flair for marketing when the fight was announced last week, changing his Twitter profile image to a picture of an lion with a black eye, a clear jibe at the champion’s alias. Tweets have been fired back and forth, but Fadipe appears unconcerned, believing he has already made ground on Bagattin.

“As a fighter you have to be able to market yourself. People don’t just want to watch the fight, they want to see two guys go at it that don’t like each other. It’s not a planned thing, but this is a business and it makes it easier when you know you’re getting to you opponent,” he said.

“Bagattin’s coach has even started to send out tweets and things now. You don’t hear about coaches getting involved usually, so I know I’ve got to him. The guy’s putting up pictures of mistakes I made in fights when I was 18. That’s great, if that’s what he’s expecting on May 1st, he’s in for the shock of a lifetime.”

With Howarth gifting the shot to Fadipe on account of his exciting and often violent finishes, some might believe that his style for the showdown has already been predetermined. According to the Dublin trained knockout artist, no expectations present a problem to him.

“No, I don’t feel pressure to perform in any particular way, but this is very natural to me – I love to fight,” he laughed. “I got this far by doing what I do, so I don’t think there’s any need to change it.”

Confidence can sometimes be mistaken for a lack of caution, but Fadipe seems more than familiar with Bagattin’s style, already working on a game plan that he hopes will see his hand raised on the all-important night.

“I’ve seen Dino fight, the night I fought van Staden he won the title. One thing I’ll say for the guy is, he comes to bang and that suits me just fine. He’s got a smaller frame than me and I expect him to be faster than me, but I don’t think it will affect me that much,” he acknowledged.

“I’ll be smart though and I’m very confident in my stand-up. I know I’m going to win.”

With the recent news of Fadipe’s friend and two time opponent, John Redmond, moving camps from Rush Fight Academy to Team Ryano, the title contender outlined his thoughts on fighters switching gyms.

“It does make sense and I understand where he’s coming from,” said Fadipe. “You’ve got to go and train with other guys from different teams, you can’t just stick to the guys you’re used to – you’ll never learn anything new.

“As much as I see where he’s coming from by doing that, I don’t see what he had to leave the gym he was in. I’ll go and train in as many different places as I can and spar as many different bodies as I can, but I would never leave Ryoshin.”

In an exclusive interview with SevereMMA.com in December, Ryoshin team mate and amateur champion Ayo Daly spoke about his respect and admiration for Fadipe and the possibility of fighting for EFC in the future. With Daly eyeing a second amateur title and a professional debut in 2014, Fadipe highlighted how he holds his fellow welterweight in the same regard.

“Ayo is an inspiration to me, the guy is just an animal,” he complimented Daly. “I literally can’t believe how good he is and I envy him because he trains the way I really should. I look up to him, I really do.

“When he turns pro he’s going straight to the top. Whatever promotion it might be, he’s got the work ethic to be a world champion, he’s got amazing technique and he has cardio for days.”

Bearing down on a chance to claim an international title, Fadipe could possibly attract attention of other promoters. With the UFC set for September date Dublin, hopefuls have been understandably clamouring for the nod to compete in the Octagon. “Herculeez”, however, is happy to bide his time.

“I’m not really looking at it that way,” he confessed. “People are crazy to get there but it’s all about timing. If you get the UFC shot too early you could have a bad performance and that could mess you up further down the line. I’m taking my time and when I do get a call-up at the right time, I’ll make sure that I perform to the best of my ability.”

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.