Gorimbo: From small-time diamond thief in Chiadzwa to Las Vegas glitz

Gorimbo: From small-time diamond thief in Chiadzwa to Las Vegas glitz

By BBC News

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Themba Gorimbo’s journey from Zimbabwe’s diamond mines to the UFC is remarkable.

Adversity has been a common theme throughout the 33-year-old’s life and he is using his growing platform to help others.

“My life has already changed tremendously,” Gorimbo told BBC Sport.

“These things that I’m doing, like now I’m in the process of building a library [in Zimbabwe] – it’s just something I enjoy doing, helping where I can with what I have.

“When I’m happy I’m dangerous as a fighter.”

Welterweight Gorimbo is looking for his third successive win in the UFC when he makes his fourth trip to the octagon to face Ramiz Brahimaj on 18 May in Las Vegas.

“My main focus, besides becoming UFC champion, is to inspire other African kids who grew up in the same circumstances,” Gorimbo said.

“If you choose a path and work your ass off then you can become anything.”

The “circumstances” Gorimbo speaks of are harrowing.

Aged 13, he had lost both parents and was left to fend for himself.

With opportunities scarce, Gorimbo was drawn to the diamond fields and organised crime.

“It’s a typical diamond place, there is death in there, there are gangsters there,” he said.

“It’s not like the mafia we see on the TV, but in Zimbabwe any place where there are minerals it’s going to bring bad people.

“I’m not shy to say I was stealing diamonds and smuggling them. It was normal then.”

Zimbabwean UFC Fighter Themba Gorimbo
Zimbabwean UFC Fighter Themba Gorimbo (second left)

Danger was rife on the Marange diamond fields – and not just from the gangs.

Gorimbo regularly ran into problems with the police and was attacked by dogs, still bearing the scars on his arms and torso.

‘I was kept hostage’

Gorimbo thought his luck had changed when, aged 17, he found a 12 carat diamond and seized the opportunity to move to South Africa in the hope of getting a job as a gardener.

But the road was far from smooth.

“I made my way to South Africa and had a couple of hiccups,” Gorimbo said.

“I got deported once and the next day I was back in South Africa doing my thing.

“I was kept hostage by the guy that brought me back the second time for two weeks because my cousins wouldn’t pay the money that the guy was asking for.

“Everything that happened in my life led me to be who I am right now – a mentally tough guy from Zimbabwe, doing well in the UFC and going to become the champion. All those things are part of my story and it’s a good story when you look at it now, but when it was happening it wasn’t nice.”

It was in South Africa that Gorimbo discovered mixed martial arts (MMA), after watching the film Never Back Down.

He spent time at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu gym in Cape Town before finding a home at Panther Fighting Arts.

“I was paying 150 rand (£6.42) for the first month, but it was a lot of money for me because I was only earning 80 rand (£3.43) a day,” Gorimbo said.

“It was very tough but I had to make that sacrifice because I really wanted to become an MMA fighter.

Themba Gorimbo criticizes ex-opponent Kiefer Crosbie’s trash talk

‘I had $7.49 in my bank account’

“The coach eventually felt sorry for me and I didn’t have to pay. It was a blessing.”

Gorimbo had his first amateur fight in 2010 and turned professional in 2013.

His UFC debut in February 2023 did not go to plan, though, losing by submission against AJ Fletcher and the odds were stacked against him when he returned to the octagon to face Takashi Sato three months later.

“I woke up sick that day and had $87 (£69.50) in my bank account and I had to buy medicine,” Gorimbo said.

“I double-clicked by accident and it went to $7.49 (£5.98) in my bank account and I thought ‘damn, I need to go and fight hard tonight’.

“I had flu but I couldn’t pull out of the fight because I needed the money – I was broke.”

Despite battling illness, Gorimbo managed to secure a unanimous decision win and he took to social media to post an image of his bank account – a moment that would change the trajectory of his life.

WWE superstar and actor Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, felt inspired to help.

Johnson is the founder of Seven Bucks Productions, a reference to the time he was released from the Canadian Football League in 1995 and had just $7 to his name.

He made a surprise visit to Gorimbo in August and gifted the Zimbabwean a house in Miami, Florida.

“I was going home to do a project where I was building a water well in my village,” Gorimbo said.

“He could have just sponsored me but to get me a house, where I’m staying right now, and to be here, I think there is a bigger picture and reason.”