On the eve of a make-or-break UFC fight, Themba Gorimbo stared in disbelief at his laptop screen. He was thousands of miles from home, and he knew his contract could be ripped up if he lost the fight. Worse, he was down to his last $7 in the bank. He was determined to make a better life for his family, though, and happily his story caught the attention of a celebrity who, having experienced similar hardships himself, wanted to help.
An incredible story
“My life is a movie, directed by God. I’m just the main character in this life story of Themba,” Gorimbo told The Guardian in August 2023, without a hint of irony.
“Everything that happened to me, the good and bad, led me here.” To the uninitiated, this may seem like a far-fetched thing to say, but these people probably don’t know Gorimbo’s truly incredible story.
An unlikely inspiration
For starters, try this on for size: the pro UFC fighter didn’t even know about the sport until he watched the not-particularly-well-reviewed 2008 movie Never Back Down! At that time, the Zimbabwe native had been a 17-year-old laborer living in Johannesburg, South Africa.
This job was an improvement on his previous status, though: he’d been a refugee who’d bribed his way out of prison to work as a homeless leaflet distributor at traffic lights in Cape Town.
Diving headlong into fighting
Gorimbo remembered, “I didn’t know fighting was a sport until I watched that movie. I thought fighting was just violent. I was working as a gardener when I saw a poster for a gym."
He continued, "And three months later I won my first fight with a knockout after seven seconds.” Interestingly, Gorimbo isn’t bragging here: he fully admits he got into amateur fighting far too quickly.
Working his way up the ranks
“Really, my amateur record was terrible,” confessed Gorimbo. “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 the losses.”
Over the subsequent five years, Gorimbo worked his way up step by step from the amateurs. Finally, he reached his goal, turning pro for South Africa’s Extreme Fighting Championship in 2013.