South African native turned Brisbane pro MMA fighter, Justin “The Springbok” Van Heerden (4-3) is gearing up for his maiden title fight at Coastal Combat 7 on February 22 where he meets Brazilian veteran Rodolfo “The Nightmare” Marques (25-14-1) for the promotions featherweight championship.
Since November of 2018, Van Heerden has gone 3-1, training under head-coach Paul Stolyar at Southside MMA. He credits this to staying dedicated to routine, long-term variety in training and taking chances in regards to accepting challenging fights.
This experience has provided vast improvements in Van Heerden’s all-round game and mental preparedness. This is not only evidenced by the four wins over two weight divisions (featherweight and welterweight) but also by his most recent loss.
“It was a split-decision loss but to this date, it is definitely the most fun I’ve had in the cage. The experience is all relevant and accumulates to help me pave my way forward at featherweight,” Van Heerden told Fight News Australia.
Far from disappointed with the loss, Van Heerden explains how he jumped up two weight divisions to take the fight on 13-hours notice.
“My opponent for that fight was Aydin Mrouk at Eternal 42. He used to be a featherweight as well and we knew we would face each-other someday, but then Aydin left the sport.
“Nearly two years later he was making a comeback at a heavier weight class and I was keen to see how he looked. Unfortunately, his opponent fell through at the last minute. I’ve had opponents pull out before and it can be challenging to deal with that disappointment. Aydin worked extremely hard to get back into shape as he had to drop weight to make welterweight. He had also travelled interstate for the fight.
“I had to put my hand up and at least pursue it,” he added.
Learning from the challenge of taking on a larger opponent was evident in Van Heerden’s most recent victory at XFC 43 against Nathan Wilson.
“Again, I jumped in at late notice to take on a welterweight. The experience from getting rocked by a lead uppercut from a bigger guy and then coming out with the win a minute later is something that boosts my confidence and will carry me forward.”
Van Heerden’s latest victory has given him three wins in 12-months with wins in the featherweight and welterweight divisions.
Looking forward to the immediate future, Van Heerden has arguably his toughest test to date, coming against the experienced Brazilian veteran Rodolfo Marques.
“I’m excited about this challenge. I remember watching him back in 2017 when we fought on the same card at ACB 76. It’s crazy to think that before I started my amateur career, he already had twenty pro fights and now I’m about to face him.”
Marques has an impressive pro career spanning 40 fights in 14 years and has been facing quality opponents over that time. Some of Marques’ opponents have gone on to fight in top tier promotions such as the UFC, One Championship and Rizin including current UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
“Rodolfo [Marques] is a third-degree black belt in BJJ and has world-class striking. To go from watching Rodolfo from the crowd to training to fight him is exciting.
“But to then go in and beat Rodolfo for the title. That will be a huge achievement and realisation of our hard work.”
See Van Heerden face Marques for the Coastal Combat Featherweight Championship at the new venue Machjet International (Sunshine Coast Airport) on Saturday February 22.