Rivalries: Frans Mlambo

Frans Mlambo could be peaking at just the right time in the Professional Fighters League.

The 32-year-old SBG Ireland mainstay will face Moktar Benkaci in one of two PFL Europe 3 bantamweight semifinals this Saturday at Zenith Paris La Villette in Paris. The winner advances to meet either Ali Taleb or Khurshed Kakhorov in the final, with a spot on the PFL’s global roster hanging in the balance. Mlambo enters the cage on a career-best six-fight winning streak. He last appeared on July 8, when he was awarded a split verdict over Rachid El Hazoume at PFL Europe 2.

As Mlambo moves ever closer to his high-stakes affair opposite Benkaci, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped chart his course to this point:

Felipe Efrain

Mlambo emerged as the No. 1 contender for the Brave Combat Federation bantamweight championship when put away the Chute Boxe export with punches in the first round of their featured BCF 10 attraction on March 2, 2018 at King Hussein Sports City in Amman, Jordan. Efrain bowed out 2:52 into Round 1. Mlambo kept the Brazilian off-balance with feints and stance switches, relied on his potent jab and sent out occasional feelers with his lethal right hand. He followed mean body kicks with powerful right crosses and largely avoided return fire from Efrain, calling upon evasive movement while under duress. Mlambo sat down the Diego Lima protégé with a crushing right a little more than midway through the first period and swarmed with follow-up punches to prompt the stoppage.

Stephen Loman

Takedowns, suffocating positional control and steady ground-and-pound carried the Filipino star to a unanimous decision over Mlambo, as he retained the Brave Combat Federation bantamweight title in the BCF 13 headliner on June 9, 2018 at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The victory moved Loman to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with the dangerous SBG Ireland rep. As the taller and longer fighter, Mlambo dictated the terms in the vast majority of their standup exchanges. He floored Loman with a clean counter right hand in the first round and gave chase with punches but could not finish the job. The tide slowly but surely turned from there. Loman lulled “The Black Mamba” to sleep with leg kicks and changed levels at opportune times, completing at least one takedown in all five rounds. He put Mlambo on the mat a minute into Round 5 and never again allowed him to return to an upright position, battering him with short punches, forearm strikes and sharp elbows, one of which opened a cut near his right eye. It was a fitting exclamation point to an excellent performance.

Ricky Bandejas

The American Top Team product handed Mlambo his first and only defeat under the Bellator MMA banner when he punched out the John Kavanagh protégé in the second round of their Bellator 240 bantamweight showcase on Feb. 22, 2020 at 3Arena in Dublin. Bandejas drew the curtain 1:25 into Round 2. Mlambo seized the reins in the first round, where he pushed the New Jersey native onto his back foot, countered effectively and even mixed in a side kick to the chest. He decked Bandejas with a right hook on the end of a multi-punch combination, scrambled to the back and threatened with a rear-naked choke. However, Mlambo failed to procure the submission. Bandejas bought valuable time with his subsequent escape and the respite between periods. Still, Mlambo appeared willing and able to pick up where he left off in the middle stanza—until he caught a kick from the Nick Catone disciple and exposed his chin. Still on one leg, Bandejas clipped his opponent with a devastating right hook that sent him crashing face first to the canvas and resulted in a stunning finish.

Kevin Cordero

Mlambo beat three opponents in one night under the Combate Global flag to win the 2021 Copa Combate bantamweight tournament on Dec. 12, 2021 at Univision Studios in Miami. Cordero was the last to fall, as he dropped a split decision—29-28, 28-29, 29-28—to “The Black Mamba” in the $100,000 final. Mlambo nearly submitted the Spaniard in the first round, where he bit down on a tight guillotine and clung to it for roughly a minute. Cordero withstood those efforts and answered in the middle stanza, where he struck for a takedown inside 90 seconds, advanced to the back and made several passes at rear-naked chokes. None panned out. He applied maximum pressure down the stretch but often walked himself into power punches, sometimes two or three at a time. Mlambo stayed disciplined and scored with a variety of attacks: traditional one-twos, spinning back kicks to the body and even a few backfists. It had the desired effect on two of the three cageside judges, which was all that was required for him to claim his six-figure payday.

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