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After The Rock changed his life, UFC fighter Themba Gorimbo determined to pay ‘head start’ forward

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USA Today


Many of Themba Gorimbo’s dreams have been achieved and replaced with new aspirations of helping others live out theirs.

It’s been a long road for Gorimbo. Despite life’s difficulties, he wouldn’t change a thing. His path led him to success, UFC notoriety, and a friendship with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Rather than bask in the comfort, Gorimbo has made it his mission to pay the kindness forward, helping Africans build clean drinking wells.

“People would think that I’m not grateful for the path that I walked,” Gorimbo recently told MMA Junkie on the red carpet before the 15th Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards. “I’m very grateful for the path that I’ve walked and everything that’s led to be here right now. Whatever happened that led me to be broke on that day, it was a blessing.”

Gorimbo was in attendance at the awards show at Sahara Theater, where he won the Fighting Spirit Award for his charitable efforts. He later received a $10,000 donation from UFC star Dustin Poirier, an athlete known for giving back to the community himself.

Life is good for Gorimbo, but he keeps with him the memories of when times were tough. Gorimbo once told reporters before a fight that he only had seven dollars to his name.

“I won the fight and I shared my story because it was still a win for me,” Gorimbo said. “I wanted to inspire people. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, inspiring people, for me, especially the kids from Africa that come from the same background that I come from, that were orphaned at a very young age, that didn’t have rich parents, that didn’t have parents, that didn’t have the degree, that didn’t have anything to go (do) what’s called the norm in Africa. You have to get a degree. You have a degree and get a job. That’s called the norm there. That’s what’s called success there. I want to give hope to those kind of kids because you cannot be good at everything. Maybe some are good at fighting, which is in part because of me.”

The story attracted the eyeballs of Johnson, who later surprised Gorimbo with an in-person visit and a new house. The emotional sequence was recorded and produced for a video that shortly thereafter went viral.

Gorimbo and “The Rock” still communicate, inspiring each other through their chats. The experience has resulted in new goals for Gorimbo who is determined to improve the lives of others.

“I speak to DJ often,” Gorimbo said. “Every time I speak to him, sometimes, he’s a late night guy. He’ll message me in the middle of the night sometimes. It’s tricky because I want to go and train straight away because of the energy he gives me every time he messages me or calls me or whatever. I feel very energized because I know I have to make him proud. He’s already proud of what I’ve done or what I do. That’s just that extra energy that he gives me every time he messages me. and the support he has given me.

“He has given me a head start in the United States of America, which is a great country. My dream is to give somebody a head start in America from Africa. Until I achieve that, I’m not done.”