It’s not often that a 3-0 fighter gets the call to join the UFC. It’s an even rarer occurrence when that fighter’s bout is one of the most anticipated fights on a pay-per-view card. Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha is a fighter who checks both those boxes.
Don’t let his 3-0 MMA record fool you, Mathetha is not a combat sports neophyte. The 33-year-old has reportedly had more than 100 kickboxing bouts and he is a two-time winner of the King of the Ring kickboxing tournament in New Zealand, where he trains under the tutelage of Eugene Bareman and alongside UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
The champ is high on his training partner’s prospects in the UFC.
“It was pretty much me and him back-to-back against everybody else,” Adesanya told UFC Countdown. “There were times it was just literally me and him in each other’s company, and sometimes, he’d be fighting at a different city and I’d be fighting in another city, and we wouldn’t have each other in our corner, so we’d just get someone as a water boy and corner ourselves. We’ve been through some adventures in China back in the day. So I feel like it’s his time now. He’s done the hard yards for years, so it’s his time now to shine under the bright lights.”
Mathetha’s combat sports career has not been an easy one. As a student, he said he would walk by the City Kickboxing facility and tell himself that he would one day train at the gym, but a lack of funds prevented him from doing so.
Mathetha eventually scored a one-week pass to the gym. He extended that free pass an additional week before he was asked to consider paying for his training. With no surplus cash, Mathetha did chores around the gym in lieu of payment. According to Bareman, Mathetha also had a unique home inside City Kickboxing for one year.
“No one deserves it more than that man there,” Bareman said of the Zimbabwean born fighter. “Over a hundred fights fought all over the world, one loss. Been through many, many struggles in his life. This is a guy who used to live under the cage. We used to have a cage in our ring. He lived under the cage for a year because on the grind, he was struggling, he was trying to make a living. [I’ve] personally seen firsthand all the struggles that he has been through. Nothing made me happier than that moment just announcing ‘Blood Diamond’s entry into the UFC.”
While Bareman feels Mathetha has earned his way to the UFC, the fighter pointed out that his coach and team are a large part of his success.
“Without City Kickboxing I would not be where I am,” said Mathetha, who moved to New Zealand when he was 12. “They have given me a home. When I was down, they helped me up. I owe them a lot. When I think about it, this fighting journey is the only thing I’ve done in my life that I’ve never given up.”
As for the “Blood Diamond” sobriquet, it doesn’t have any crazy origin story. Like the best nicknames, Mathetha’s came about in a simple and natural way, “When I came in, I kind of mumbled my name, I guess, and they probably assumed it was some African name, and ‘Blood Diamond’ was the first thing they started calling out.”
As much hype as Mathetha has, he is the underdog in his UFC 271 matchup against Jeremiah Wells, who is coming off a June 2021 knockout win over Warlley Alves. Wells is a former Cage Fury FC welterweight champion.
Mathetha’s most recent fight was a February 2020 decision win over Dimps Gillies on an Eternal MMA card.
Despite his lack of professional MMA fights, Mathetha is confident that he is well prepared for his UFC debut, “My record shows that I’ve got three fights, but behind closed doors I’ve been working for a long time,” said Mathetha.
Wells vs. Mathetha is scheduled to open the early prelims of the UFC 271 fight card on ESPN+.