EFC Founder Graeme Cartmell on Dricus Du Plessis Reaching the Promised Land and 2024 Surge

EFC Founder Graeme Cartmell on Dricus Du Plessis Reaching the Promised Land and 2024 Surge

Jarryd Westerdale
updated at January 29, 2024 at 6:46 AM
  • The EFC crowned their first UFC champion 14 years after the promotion was founded
  • EFC co-owners Graeme Cartmell and Cairo Howarth were at the momentous UFC 297
  • The pair accompanied Dricus du Plessis to Toronto where he made South Africa proud

An ambitious vision has delivered worldly riches.

Dricus du Plessis is South Africa's combat sports golden boy but his rise to UFC championship gold could not have been possible without the men who built the temple at which legions now worship.

Along with the Howarth brothers, Graeme Cartmell founded the Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC) 14 years ago sensing that one day they would walk among the world's elite.

EFC, Extreme Fighting Championship, Graeme Cartmell, Cairo Howarth, Dricus du Plessis, UFC.
Graeme Cartmell (centre), with Dricus du Plessis, Hennie Engelbrecht, Morne Visser and Cameron Saaiman. Photo: EFC Media.
Source: Original

Cartmell is Vice President of the promotion and is also in charge of matchmaking, essentially crafting the fight cards with guile and nuance to ensure an entertaining product that forges ironclad fighters.

Recalling the first time the new UFC Middleweight champion stepped into his office, Cartmell recalls a driven teenager with greatness in his stars. Cartmell told Sports Brief:

"When he was 19, he walked in, you know a strong kid and said 'Look, I'm gonna be a champion'. I said 'OK, well let's make it happen."

Just over a decade later, the EFC executives were ringside as Du Plessis overcame Sean Strickland by split decision at UFC 297 in Toronto, Canada. As the gruelling five-minute rounds wore on, Cartmell could barely restrain himself as he and Howarth crept seconds closer to their holy grail. He recounts, with a fraction of the fight night emotion,:

"Going into the fifth, I literally grabbed Cairo's head and I was slapping and shaking his whole body because I saw that Dricus was cleaning all four rounds up until then. I was just like 'We are actually gonna bring this thing home."

As the years have rolled on, Cartmell has grown into the matchmaking role, developing a sixth sense for what fight fans want as well as creating matchups that allow the fighters a chance to develop. He admits it was not all plain sailing though, saying:

"There was no manual for it. It started off with these fantasy-style matchups and moved to more of a structured approach, aimed at growing the division from card to card, to us asking 'How are we going to grow careers?'. It is definitely a science now."

With a winning formula tested, Cartmell and the hierarchy will continue their relentless push. The promotion already has a continental footprint with 20 terrestrial broadcasters promoting the product and several fighters from across Africa.

Cartmell states that elevating those fighters to Du Plessis's status as well as unearthing talent across the continent is now the priority:

"Dricus has kicked the door wide open now and the world will be asking to see what else we have here. That's our job, to try and get as many African athletes into the UFC as possible."

EFC, Extreme Fighting Championship, Graeme Cartmell, Dricus du Plessis, Morne Visser, UFC.
Graeme Cartmell, Dricus du Plessis and Morne Visser in conversation at EFC 110. Photo: Jarryd Westerdale.
Source: Original

Du Plessis's homecoming was reminiscent of the Springboks' return from France, with an arrivals terminal heaving with delirious national pride. This wave of MMA enthusiasm will only flood fight clubs across the country and Cartmell is earmarking 2024 as a seminal year for the EFC:

"It's January and we've won the equivalent of a Rugby World Cup. Can you imagine what's gonna happen this year with the sport? It's going to explode so you're going wanna be a part of the EFC journey."

EFC's first fight night of the year is on March 7 when Gift Walker defends his Flyweight title against Nkazimulo Zulu at EFC 111.

EFC fighter on growth and commitment

Sports Brief recently reported on the story of former EFC fighter Wade Henderson's journey through MMA.

As the EFC continues its exponential growth, fight nights are adorned with legends showing their appreciation.

Henderson was on the card for EFC 1, returning to South Africa after a successful combat sports career in Asia.

Jarryd Westerdale photo
Jarryd Westerdale
Jarryd Westerdale (based in Johannesburg) joined Sports Brief after four years in the community journalism sphere. He is a two-time Alet Roux Award winner and was a finalist in multiple categories at the Forum of Community Journalism Excellence Awards.