Danie van Heerden opens up.
By Edrich Pienaar
“What a nice guy to deal with” was my first thought as I started arranging our interview. Can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Danie ‘Pitbull’ van Heerden, the former EFC Heavyweight Champion, took some time to answer a few hard questions and he was as real as it gets. See for yourself.
If you haven’t read our previous article on Danie, check it out here.
How did being born into a family of boxers influence your career choice?
My dad pushed all of the boys quite hard to take up boxing. I wanted to keep him happy, but sometimes it felt like a job. I was never really passionate about boxing and wanted to try other sports.
Did the fact that your brother Chris was a world champion boxer add to the pressure to perform?
No, my brother’s success motivated me to get my own title. He’s 5 months and 16 days younger than me, we loved the competition.
What made you decide to become a pro wrestler?
Two things. Hulk Hogan, my childhood hero! Plus, wrestling struck me as one of the few sports you can continue doing for quite a few years, even as you get older.
Then what changed?
Pro wrestling wasn’t competitive enough for me. In my mind it’s really more about entertainment. I was raised to be quite tough and competitive “you snooze you lose”. This is also why I don’t enjoy team sports as much as individual challenges.
So how did we get into MMA?
Knowing that I never really took to boxing, my dad showed me a newspaper article promoting a James Vermaak Ring of Fire (ROF) event. It looked like fun, and my dad backed the idea saying “this might be the sport for you”. The rest, as they say, is history. As a point of interest, in Primary School, I started Karate under James Vermaak and went full circle doing MMA under him again now.
What does it feel like winning the EFC Heavyweight title?
Building on a career (sometimes winning, sometimes losing) for 7 years and then winning the title? I can’t describe it. Only feeling better in life? Becoming a father.
How did you lose the title?
As fighters we are strongly encouraged and even incentivised, by the EFC, to generate hype around our fights in our personal capacity. This very often means publically (on social media specifically) promoting the competitive nature of the sport by showing some healthy aggression towards our opponents. This is not only widely accepted but, as mentioned, a requirement of the job. After posting one of these social media posts, in this case about Elvis Moyo, I realised that what I have posted might be misconstrued. I removed the post almost immediately. The EFC, without any written notice to myself, publically announced that I was suspended, stripped of my title and that my fight with Moyo was cancelled. I made an honest mistake and I apologised. But there was no turning back.
How did your family, friends and fans respond when you got stripped of the title?
My wife, Schanny van Heerden, has been incredible. Her support, day in and day out, has been overwhelming. In terms of the fans, I didn’t actually know I had so many supporters worldwide?!?! The support from my ‘real’ fans were unwavering. I will never be able to thank my family, friends and fans enough for the calls, messages, and motivational posts. Mind blown.
Have you spoken to Elvis Moyo since?
Elvis and I were team mates at one time. We are still friends and speak from time to time. I wish him only the best.
Legal proceedings between myself and the EFC are still underway, which means I can’t talk to the details of “what next” in terms of legalities. To be honest, I can’t really see myself working with the EFC again after everything that’s happened. I do hope that we will someday be able to bury the hatched. I’d love to get a chance to fight their top athletes again, but I am not optimistic about appearing on an EFC card in the near future. If I do, I’d like to have that fight Elvis Moyo and I never got a chance to have.