There are various massive names competing at UFC 271 in Houston (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV), however no title is extra attention-grabbing than the one which appeared within the opening battle of the evening.
Whereas the MMA world waits for a rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whitaker, the middleweight champion’s Metropolis kickboxing (CKB) teammate and digital “brother”, Mike Mathew, will lastly make his UFC debut.
However the title of Mike Mathetha is not going to be introduced by Bruce Buffer inside the sector. As a substitute, you will solely hear Blood Diamond.
The time period “blood diamond” carries with it a reference to elements of the historical past of the diamond commerce in Africa and the blood shed to acquire them. A blood or battle diamond is one which has been stolen or illegally mined after which bought to lift funds for insurgent militias or terrorist teams. Regardless of its controversial historical past, it has turn into greater than only a nickname for Mathetha, who has requested the UFC to refer solely to her that method.
Understanding the origin of the title looks as if an apparent start line, doing so is not going to do the story of the Zimbabwean-born New Zealander justice.
“Zimbabwe had a tricky time on the time, and it was slowly getting worse,” Blood Diamond tells ESPN of her childhood. “However fortunately my dad understood this and moved his household to New Zealand earlier than issues obtained actually unhealthy.
“There have been occasions when going to highschool was scary. There have been a variety of riots they usually needed to cease us from going to highschool,” he says. “Once I left the nation I used to be glad it was over. I attempted to not assume an excessive amount of about it, however it was scary at a younger age. I feel that is what makes you stronger.”
Leaving Zimbabwe triggered combined emotions, most notably due to the tight bond he had along with his grandparents, who had been instrumental in his upbringing. It was exhausting to depart him behind, however he was fully shattered, simply because the dream of coming residence started to come back true.
“I grew up in Harare, however I used to be born in Bulawayo, the second largest metropolis,” he says. “I grew up with my grandparents [as well]However I spent a variety of time in Harare. There was one other space the place my dad and mom lived, Hwange, and I at all times traveled there on trip.
“My grandmother remains to be alive, however my grandfather handed away virtually a 12 months earlier than I deliberate to depart and go to her. It was one of the vital devastating occasions of my life, it comes again that you’d have been given one thing.” However it may be simply taken away.
“I used to be so excited as I began working as a result of I may lastly make sufficient cash to go and go to my grandparents. However a month after my job, I obtained the information that my grandfather handed away. Gone. It was unhappy.”
Adjusting to life in New Zealand had its challenges. However his love for all sports activities – he had performed hockey, basketball, soccer and tennis in Zimbabwe – offered no less than one nice alternative to forge new friendships, ultimately seeing him strive New Zealand’s nationwide ardour: rugby.
“Everybody at school is speaking about rugby, so I let it go,” he mentioned. “I wasn’t the very best, I used to be the man who obtained the final 5 minutes of the sport and if I used to be fortunate I might contact the ball. So I did that all through highschool, I wasn’t that good however it was a great way to make buddies.” was the way in which and with a few of them I’m nonetheless good buddies.”
His first foray into battle video games was not born out of a need for friendship. In reality, it was the precise reverse.
“I feel it was due to the bullying that occurred in highschool that impressed me,” he says, noting how comparable his previous is to that of Adesania. “Once you’re a child lots of people get into martial arts due to Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee films and you are like ‘I might wish to study this,’ however they did not have a variety of amenities at Blenheim, I The primary metropolis got here to New Zealand.After which once I moved to Auckland I believed possibly I did not must find out about martial arts as a result of no one would bully me.
“However sadly, I am nonetheless bullied in college. I could not stay my life in concern so I believed let me strive a preventing sport.”
Emphasizing on his personal experiences with bullying, the story of Blood Diamond is one more instance of the disaster that exists in society.
“I felt like if I did not have my brother with me, if we did not go to the identical school, it might be actually horrible for me,” he says. “Fortunately, we had one another’s backs. It began with simply teasing you and choosing you up, and generally among the different children who have been raised by older children would take their frustration out on me. And I simply by no means understood why.
“I feel simply rising up, it made me wish to steer clear of folks; I do not go to social occasions and if I used to be going to exit it might be with my brother or a very good pal. I do not socialize Exit of my solution to do as a result of I might be chosen, and I simply did not wish to take care of it.
“But it surely will get actually unhealthy if you go to school and you are feeling like all this childishness is over, after which if you meet somebody who nonetheless has a highschool mindset and likes you. sure, then I [thought] I can not stay my life below the shadow of concern and I’ve to make some modifications.”
However there was additionally a silver lining to his deeply private ache: He discovered his calling.
“For some time I used to observe Metropolis Kickboxing and sooner or later I made a decision to stroll and practice and see what it was like,” he says. “I simply began studying the method, however I used to be slightly massive on the time, about 110kg, so I wished to get in form. I began doing that and [CKB coach] Eugene Bearman noticed the potential in me and he mentioned ‘Do you wish to attempt to battle?’ And the remainder is historical past.”
Bearman additionally noticed potential in Adesanya and plenty of others who’ve made CKB one of many high gyms on the planet. Blood Diamond shares a powerful bond with the middleweight champion, a lot of which comes from their shared experiences preventing in China.
“I used to be simply trying round and I had by no means seen every other African preventing and I used to be coming to assist one other African boy who was preventing in the primary battle,” he explains. “And I simply noticed [Adesanya] Hitting pad and I believed ‘Okay cool, attention-grabbing’. After which he jumped within the ring and I used to be identical to ‘Whoa, oh rattling. And I even stole a few of his strikes from that battle, I nonetheless use a few of them right now.
“After that we got here to the health club, and we simply hit it off. In relation to sparring, we have recognized one another for therefore lengthy… and we assist one another loads to turn into higher fighters.” do. For me, I’ve some strikes and he will get it, so he is ready to assault that and that forces us to get higher and take new strikes. It is a very robust bond, me extra Israel.”
Recalling the interval, when he was fully centered on kickboxing, offers him nice pleasure. He says he misplaced rely of what number of kickboxing fights he had in each New Zealand and China, however is happy with his efforts earlier than switching full-time to MMA, the place he holds a 3-0 report.
Impressed by Adesanya’s success and sweating buckets on the CKB mat, the UFC contract lastly arrived.
“I did not know, the way in which he arrange that entire dialog, I had no clue,” Diamond says of the video through which Bearman introduced that the welterweight was formally becoming a member of the UFC. “as I mentioned, [Adesanya] And I too have had an analogous journey, like [Bareman] Speaking and standing subsequent to him, I used to be like ‘Okay, I do know the story, nothing can occur that surprises me.
“So Eugene was speaking and I used to be preparing for the following sparring session. [with Adesanya] And I used to be simply considering that after this I will decide you up. However then as quickly because it occurred, I did not know what to say, I used to be like ‘Hey, that is me, that is cool’. However on the similar time my thoughts was nonetheless considering that we needed to compete to do extra… however this was particular. I’ll at all times cherish it.”
On Saturday, he’ll take the following step in his profession when he takes on Jeremiah Wells (9-2). When Bruce Buffer sometimes introduces a fighter, he’ll drop a surname between the individual’s first and final title. However Blood Diamond has instructed the UFC to be recognized precisely as he’s, and never as Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha.
“I have been referred to as a blood diamond all through my profession,” he mentioned. “It is so loopy, earlier than my first worldwide battle my coach was like ‘By the way in which, what’s your title once more’ as a result of it is simply been Blood Diamond and I used to be like ‘You realize, let’s preserve it that method’.
“So I will trip that practice for so long as I can; it is one thing particular to me, that is my title. If somebody has an issue with it, they should take care of it. There is no loopy story in it.” . That is the way in which I began preventing. Staying robust, robust as a diamond. And my fights, they’re bloody fights… I am robust as diamonds and I will go away you a bloody mess.”
His nice associate and fellow African-born Kiwi Adesanya goes to do one thing whereas scaling the identical heights. Nonetheless, Diamond is proud to symbolize each Zimbabwe and New Zealand, and plans to hold each flags when his hand is hopefully raised in victory in Houston.
Who is aware of, the welterweight title could also be rooted in his destiny, although Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman is ESPN’s No. 1 pound fighter for a cause. Overthrowing Leonardo DiCaprio may be a straightforward job certainly.
“It is to depart a legacy, that is my objective,” he says. “When it is all mentioned and finished I would like folks to be like ‘Blood Diamond, that is the reality’.
“One other objective of mine, that is certainly one of my greatest objectives, is that the following time you Google “Blood Diamond,” I will be the primary one to indicate up earlier than the film.