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At least one UFC fighter is in a better position than most to weigh in on the bad blood between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and divisional rival Dricus du Plessis. Hailing from South Africa, du Plessis has made identity a key part of his campaign for gold. Notably, he’s made the claim that he and his teammate Cameron Saaiman are the only ‘real African’ fighters in the world’s largest MMA promotion. And that men like Kamaru Usman, Francis Ngannou, and Israel Adesanya can’t claim that identity, because they left the continent to live, compete, and train elsewhere.
At the point he first made that claim, however, it seems he was forgetting at least one person; recently signed welterweight fighter Themba Gorimbo. Born in Zimbabwe, Gorimbo has spent much of his career fighting, living, and training in close proximity to du Plessis, as a competitor on the South African MMA scene. Now 1-1 inside the Octagon, Gorimbo recently took the opportunity to share his thoughts on du Plessis’ narrative and why it bothers him.
Themba Gorimbo says Dricus du Plessis’ narrative is wrong
Gorimbo recently sat down with MMA Mania to talk about his first victory inside the UFC, a unanimous decision win over Japan’s Takeshi Sato. Alongside revealing that he won his bout while dealing with the flu, he took some time to go into detail about being broke heading into the fight, before the topic got on to du Plessis and his feud with Adesanya.
“I saw that interview… What Dricus said was wrong, right? Firstly, at that time and point when that interview was done, him and Cameron were not the only African who breath and smell African air; who wake up in an African sun, with an African address. I was in Africa too, and we trained 30 minutes away from each other. He knew about me, he talked to me a week before, when I lost my fight. He talked to me, and I’m like, ‘Okay, bro. Thank you so much.’ He’s like, ‘Sorry about your loss,’ whatever. At that point in time, he was wrong.
“All he said, I didn’t stand up, because I didn’t have a foot to stand on, because I was coming off a loss. You can’t come off a loss and come in and claim, ‘Hey, what about me too, bro?’ People will be like, ‘Hey, no way you’re standing, you’re just coming off a loss. Get out of here.’ So, I kinda took a back step on that. But it ate me too, to be honest.
“It ate me that the guy is saying, ‘Myself and Cameron are the only African fighters who lives and breathes African air; who wake up in Africa.’ Everyone can try to say whatever they say, go and listen to that interview, that’s exactly what he said… That was not cool.”
Gorimbo can’t dismiss Dricus du Plessis’ point entirely
Despite his feeling that du Plessis has no real claim to being the ‘only African’ fighter in the UFC, Gorimbo wasn’t entirely willing to dismiss the point ‘Stillknocks’ was making about fighters who live overseas claiming their African heritage. After all, it’s a point he himself has made—and regrets making—in the past.
“And then the story with Izzy and Kamaru and those other guys? He was right, but he was also not right. Because the belts have gone to Africa. Ngannou took his to Cameroon, Adesanya went to Nigeria, Kamaru went to Nigeria. But do they live and train Africa? No. For those belts, they didn’t live and train Africa. Which also comes back to infrastructure, things we don’t have in Africa.
“As Africans, we don’t have some things, and we should accept and say, ‘Okay, cool.’ They didn’t willingly go to these countries. I’ve also said stuff about Usman, when I won my championship in EFC. I said, ‘That man left Africa when he was six.’ Yes, I did my research! Kamaru left Africa when he was six. When I say that man can’t represent Africa? I know what Africa is about. I know how to live and survive in Africa. I said that with my own mouth. And you know what, do I feel proud of saying that? No. Because, you know what? It was wrong. We should accept when we are wrong.
“I was wrong in some way. It’s because, in saying that, ‘That man can’t represent Africa,’ that’s wrong, man. He’s African, he’s a brother. But he left Africa when he was six, you know? Me being the guy that knows what Africa is about, surviving Africa, know the suffering of Africa, I was correct. So, that was not cool.”
Israel Adesanya is the fighter African kids idolize
Whatever definition fighters or fans want to place on the idea of African identity, Gorimbo wanted to make one point clear. As far as what he’s seen from young fighters on the rise and MMA fans in Africa, if there’s an athlete that people are connecting with, it’s Israel Adesanya and not Dricus du Plessis. To hear him tell it, the ‘Last Stylebender’ is the fighter that African fans see as a reflection of themselves.
“And the whole beef with Izzy? Izzy is the guy that any African kid in Africa looks up to, that is doing MMA. No matter who says what, most African kids in Africa—including myself. I’m in the UFC, I look up to Izzy. Few looks up to Dricus. He’s great. We can get inspired by him, but not a lot of kids look really up to him, to be honest and fair.
“I don’t want to go deeper within it, but their suffering is different. Like, the small African kids would probably be looking up to me than they would to him, because the suffering is different. He’s coming from a rich family. I grew up without a father, no mother, and I kinda had to fight my way through life…”
“I’m not throwing shade at him, it is what it is. It’s life, it’s all life. We all have different avenues in life. God bless his path, God bless my path.”
Whatever narrative he wants to spin, for the moment, du Plessis has a more serious obstacle in front of him. If he wants to make his way to a UFC title shot, he’s going to have to go through former title holder Robert Whittaker to get there. There’s only one fighter the ‘Reaper’ has lost to in the last 9 years, that’s Israel Adesanya.
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