More than four million people call Liberia home. It holds the distinction of being the only African country to gain its independence without a revolt. The name literally translates to “Land of the Free” in Latin. While liberty and freedom are all throughout Liberia’s history, combat sports does not have a strong legacy.
Jerome S Paye is looking to change all that. The Liberian flyweight will re-ignite his quest to bring his home nation some much desired fame, and attempt to get his first win under the ONE Championship banner when he meets undefeated Bali MMA prospect Stefer Rahardian at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER.
The event takes place on Saturday Night, 14 January, at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
“When we meet in the cage, I want to put on a show,” the 39-year-old states.
Paye has the skill set and the talent to leave an impression, as well as one of the longest nicknames in recent MMA memory. He is called “Rapid Strike The Predator,” or the tag “RSTP” for short. The moniker pays homage to the disciplines that make Paye the fighter he is today.
“‘Rapid Strike’ is for my my taekwondo, boxing, and Muay Thai,” he explains. “‘The Predator’ is for my Brazilian jiu-jitsu ground game.”
Before the world was introduced to Jerome S Paye the fighter, however, there was Jerome S Paye, the son and brother.
As the oldest of five children, he simply says his childhood in Liberia was “great.” Like many kids, he played football growing up. But it was not soon after that the future predator had a hunger for something more intense.
That revelation was the genesis of Paye’s evolution as a mixed martial artist, who said: “I decided to try taekwondo. I fell in love with it. Now, it is a part of me.”
One common thread that binds a lot of fighters together was learning martial arts as a means for self-defense. When you are worried about being bullied and harassed, knowing how to fight back is more a way of life than a mere hobby.
Similar to many of his contemporaries, Paye fits that profile. However, he went from learning as a means to defending himself to wanting to master the art. After acquiring his third-degree black belt, he wanted to see what else was out there. Unlike his younger years, when the Liberian dove headfirst into taekwondo, he did not pick another discipline. He chose several.
“I was looking to do something tougher, so I started training other martial arts — Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, and wrestling.”
The diversity of training laid the ground work for Paye’s then-budding MMA career. After honing his skills in the gym, Paye took his first fight in May 2011 at a small MMA gym in Jakarta. He made quick work of his opponent, finishing the bout with a series of punches. Though the match was in front of a small crowd, emotions ran high.
“I did not sleep the night before,” he says with a laugh. “But I won and it felt good.”
With MMA still in its infancy in Indonesia, Paye’s career has been anything but consistent. He took another fight a month later, to which he suffered a TKO loss, and then sat out for two years before taking his third professional contest, a winning effort via armlock.
In 2016, ONE came calling and signed him. Almost five years after he found himself fighting in that small Jakarta gym, Paye was walking out on the biggest stage in Asian MMA.
He made his ONE debut in February 2016 at ONE: TRIBE OF WARRIORS against Li Hao Jie. It was a close match, but when the final bell rang, “RSTP” lost a hard-fought decision.
There are no moral victories in MMA, but Paye stepped away with a wealth of knowledge and renewed confidence in his skills.
“That was a tough fight,” he begins. “I was going to lose, but said to myself: ‘This guy will not knock me out. It is going to the judges.’ I also learned that I can fight three rounds under tough pressure, and that it is not fun.”
Now 2-2, Paye has an opportunity to change course in his upcoming scrap with Stefer Rahardian. Rahardian boasts a perfect 4-0 record and, back in August, he won a single night tournament at ONE: TITLES & TITANS to become the ONE Flyweight Indonesian Tournament Champion. Simply put, this lion is on the rise.
Though Paye is nearly 40 and is participating in a sport considered by many to be a young man’s game, he makes it clear that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
“I still feel strong at this age,” he says. “Sometimes, I wish I had started MMA 15 years ago. But the good thing is, I still made it to the top at one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world.
“I know there are a lot of younger guys out there that want to be a part of this, but I am blessed to make it here, at my age, because of my hard work.”
Aside from personal achievement, national pride is also on the line. Paye, who splits his training between the Jakarta-based Synergy MMA and his recently-established RSTP MMA academy, is the first Liberian to fight in a major MMA organization.
Getting the victory would not only cement his place in the international scene, but it would also go a long way in spreading awareness about Liberia in the MMA world.
“I want ONE Championship fans to get to know a little more about this West African country.”