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Themba Gorimbo Went From $7.49 Left in His Bank Account to Rising UFC Star

From digging diamonds and near-death encounters to winning big in the UFC.

Chronicling the inspiring underdog story of UFC fighter Themba Gorimbo
Credit-UFC/Getty/Joker Mag

Hundreds have questioned him, but for Themba Gorimbo, “The Answer” has more often than not been a simple one.

Himself. 

Born in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, Gorimbo faced challenges at an early age that few could imagine.

At the age of nine, Themba’s mother passed away and just four short years later, he lost his father.

As an orphan without much money or direction, he dropped out of school at 16 years old to work the fields digging for Marange diamonds.

Despite having success finding the jewels, it came at a cost.

“We were not allowed to dig these diamonds, but we did it anyway…I was very lucky in the fields because you are chased by dogs and horses, by the police and the army. I’ve seen people die in front of me at a very young age. I almost got killed by the German shepherds and I’ve got scars all over my body.”

One week after nearly being killed, Gorimbo – with no money – returned to the fields, coming away with the biggest diamond he had ever found, a 12-carat rock.

Shortly after hitting the jackpot (at least it was to him at this point), the seventeen-year-old moved to South Africa as a major drought left Zimbabwe with little to no food.

Entering the country illegally, he nearly got himself killed.

“When you cross illegally into South Africa it’s not just the police you are running from, you are also running from criminals – they rob people crossing because they know you have money,” he explained.

“The criminals saw us and trapped us. I remember seeing this big knife and I passed out. It’s like a movie. I fell on the ground and the rest of the guys ran away. The guys who were robbing us ran after them and left me there…I ran towards the police to get arrested, not killed.”

Although he now had money, he found himself spending a week in jail as a refugee. Fortunately, that hard-earned cash helped him bribe his way out.

But it put him back to square one: broke.

A quote from Themba Gorimbo: "My motivation to succeed was fueled as I watched future competitors train along the beachfront in Cape Town whilst I fought to make ends meet as a gardener."

From Johannesburg to Cape Town, Gorimbo was often homeless and made what little money he could handing out pamphlets on the streets and working odd jobs.

Inspired by the 2008 mixed martial arts flick Never Back Down, Gorimbo went from doing yard work to winning his first fight in a matter of just three months.

“I saw a poster for a gym and three months later I won my first fight with a knockout after seven seconds. But really, my amateur record was terrible. Eight wins, seven losses, because I was also working full-time as a gardener and security guard. I didn’t have much time to train, but I learned a lot from those losses.”

Like many untrained fighters, Gorimbo did what he could to make ends meet while training tirelessly and honing his skills at various gyms. He quickly discovered his love for MMA.

He eventually found a gym he could call home, training at Panther Fighting Arts and Fitness Academy.

Five years later, on June 15th, 2013, Gorimbo made his professional debut against Sydney Mokgolo at Imagine Fighting Championship 3.

Competing with a dislocated shoulder, Gorimbo came away victorious in his first fight and the four proceeding matches.

“My motivation to succeed was fueled as I watched future competitors train along the beachfront in Cape Town whilst I fought to make ends meet as a gardener. During this time I was competing as an amateur, pushing for my first big win in order to get to the EFC Hexagon. You cannot curse hard work, I have worked very hard for this. I want to be the best welterweight fighter.”

Gorimbo’s first taste of defeat came on October 2nd, 2015, when he submitted in the second round to Leon Mynhardt as part of the Extreme Fighting Championship 44 card.

But by winning two of his next three fights, Gorimbo found himself squaring off against Luke Michael for the EFC Welterweight Champion on September 28th, 2019, at EFC Worldwide 82.

At the 2:48 mark of the first round in a five-round fight, Gorimbo found his journey all worthwhile as he claimed his first championship by TKO (punches).

Six months later, he successfully defended his championship in what would be his final fight under the Extreme Fighting Championship banner.

Nearly one month to the day later, Gorimbo vacated his title after signing a contract with Abu Dhabi’s UAE Warriors.

Following a loss in his first fight with the new company and a unanimous third-round decision victory in his one and only appearance at Fury Fighting Championship 65, Gorimbo found himself reaching the upper echelon of MMA when he signed with the UFC.

He was expecting to battle Billy Goff in a welterweight match. But Goff later dropped out of the fight, leaving Gorimbo to fight his replacement, A.J. Fletcher.

Although Gorimbo notched an early first-round takedown, he would ultimately submit to a guillotine choke in the early minutes of the second round.

Not waiting long until his next match, Gorimbo agreed to a fight scheduled for three months later as part of the prelim card for UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Hill.

Until that time, he trained in Miami, sleeping on a couch in the MMA Masters gym because money was sparse.

On May 20th, 2023, Gorimbo’s life changed yet again.

With just $7.49 left in his bank account after having to purchase medicine to help battle the flu he was facing, Gorimbo headed into the fight uncertain about what the future held.

Of his fourteen previous fights, Gorimbo used his earnings to cover his own expenses, but also sent money back home to his family.

Knowing that he was taking a risk by fighting sick, Gorimbo also knew that if he didn’t fight and didn’t win, he would almost certainly be forced to head back to his home country with no chance of returning to the UFC.

Three rounds and multiple bruises later, Gorimbo not only posted the pre-match balance of his bank account online, but he also successfully defeated Takashi Sato with a unanimous decision.

While he would pocket $4,000 at the end of the night, Gorimbo’s good fortune didn’t end there.

Not only was his social media post picked up by ESPN, but Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also chimed in on Gorimbo’s story (Warning: the video is a tear-jerker).

As he had done in the past, Gorimbo not only sent money back home but also auctioned off his fight night gear and used the proceeds to help build a clean water pump for his village.

Knowing what life was like having less money than the cost of a McDonald’s combo meal after he was cut from the CFL and before becoming a WWE / Hollywood megastar, Johnson gifted the Zimbabwean fighter with bags of his “Project Rock” Under Armour gear…and a house.

Yes, you read that right.

During a surprise visit by “The People’s Champ”, Johnson noted Gorimbo’s selflessness, despite his financial situation.

“Because you could have taken the money and put it down on a car, on an apartment, but you didn’t. You took care of your people, and that just says exactly who you are,” Johnson said.

“And that’s why I flew all the way in. Just to look you in the eyes and tell you, I got your back.”

Gorimbo promised Johnson that he would do everything in his power to win a UFC title before the end of 2024, a promise he also made to himself.

Themba Gorimbo quote: "Money is not something that drives me...what drives me is setting goals and going after them, taking risks and taking chances, and becoming what I know I’m destined to be."

“People might look at this and be like, ‘Oh, maybe now he has nice things and isn’t working,’” Gorimbo said.

“But, trust me, I actually work maybe four times harder than I used to do because with this great support comes great responsibility, and that’s how I see it.”

Several months later, he took another step toward his goal with a convincing first-round knockout of Pete Rodriguez.

On Saturday, May 18th, Gorimbo will square off against Ramiz Brahimaj at UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Murphy. Currently sitting on a 12-4-0 record, he has a long way to go before challenging Welterweight Champion Leon Edwards.

Whether that fight comes to fruition remains to be seen. But Gorimbo has already proven that he has won in life – a championship belt around his waist would just be icing on the cake.

“Money is not something that drives me,” he said.

“For me, what drives me is setting goals and going after them, taking risks and taking chances, and becoming what I know I’m destined to be.”

RELATED READ: How Francis Ngannou Went From Poverty & Homelessness To The Most Intimidating Fighter In The UFC

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Written By

Life-long sports fan and avid basketball junkie in every sense of the word. The same passion I have for the Lakers translates to my extreme dislike for the Duke Blue Devils. As much as I cheer for the favorite and the dynasty, I appreciate and applaud the underdog and the grind whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional, both on and off the field.

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