Dubbed by UFC president Dana White as “the future” of the sport, 21-year-old Cameron Saaiman (6-0-0) is on a mission to prove him right on his debut at UFC 282 in Vegas on Dec. 10.
The South African, a protégé of Dricus “Stillknocks” du Plessis and coach Morné Visser, will fight Steven Koslow (6-0-0) in a bantamweight bout after securing his UFC spot with a Contender Series win over Josh Wang-Kim, via KO/TKO at 2:52 of Round 3.
This prompted White to say: “Dude you are impressive. For 21 years old, the way you kept your composure in there … absolutely a professional man. Your new nickname is ‘The Future’.”
Saaiman was the youngest active male UFC fighter until then-17-year-old Raul Rosas Jr. (now 18) won a contract a month later. Rosas Jr. will also be making his full UFC debut on Dec. 10, against Jay Perrin.
The South African told ESPN: “It’s an absolute compliment and it’s an honour to be called that by the boss man himself.
“If anything, I think it added a lot of motivation, because since I started as a professional, I turned pro when I was 18 and there was a lot of criticism because of that and I had to prove myself every single time.
“All I’m going to do on Dec. 10 is just prove Boss Dana right. I’m going to prove him right and I’m going to show people that I am indeed the future.”
Explaining how he fell in love with mixed martial arts, the Pretoria-born Saaiman said: “My father actually worked for Carnival City, which hosted the EFC events — the local events here in South Africa.
“He was a project manager there and I actually just happened to be there with him at his work and that’s basically how I fell in love with the sport. I watched a few fights and then I went to my father and told him: ‘I want to do this. This is really cool.’
“As a 12-year-old kid, you can get tired of many sports. I did skateboarding for about a week and a half before stopping that, so I really jumped around doing a lot of sports, but this one really stuck.”
Being taken under Du Plessis’ wing took Saaiman’s love for the sport to new heights and the pair will fight together at UFC 282 — the first time South Africa will be represented by more than one fighter at a UFC event. Du Plessis will be up against Darren Till in the middleweight division.
Although they are close now, Saaiman revealed that it took time for 28-year-old ‘Stillknocks’ to truly become enthusiastic about mentoring him.
Saaiman explained: “I had a great sponsor — Q4 Fuel was an absolutely amazing sponsor that helped me since I was a kid, just helping with basic equipment and stuff like that. I didn’t come from a very financially strong background, so having a sponsor helped in terms of paying for equipment and competition fees. It was an absolute blessing.
“When their business was looking to sponsor a bigger team, they actually gave me an opportunity then to shift gyms. As part of the business deal, they would sponsor the gym, but Dricus had to coach me.
“I think at some stages, especially at the beginning, he didn’t really want to do it, but it was a massive asset to the team. We quickly developed a coach-student relationship — and then later [a relationship as] training partners and friends.”
For both South African MMA and the UFC bantamweight division alike, the event in Vegas could represent a ceremonial passing of the baton.
“It’s an absolute honour [to fight with du Plessis]. I think that’s the first time ever that South Africans are not only one guy on the main card, but a team of two going to the UFC to represent not only South Africa, but Team CIT. I’m very fortunate,” Saaiman said.
“We’ve been having a great year. In terms of our team’s momentum, it’s been absolutely amazing. I really am looking forward to showcasing our skills and showing what we have left. I think we did that well in the Contender Series, but I think we can do it even better now in the UFC debut.”
With regards to Koslow, a fellow UFC debutant who is four years his senior, Saaiman spoke with respect, but certainly not fear or deference.
“He is a great opponent,” Saaiman said of his opponent, who hails from Jacksonville, Florida.
“Obviously, he has a good ground game, but the result will stay the same. My hand will be raised come fight night.”
Dana White called Cameron Saaiman ‘the future,’ and he wants to prove it at UFC 282