Photo: Train Gym/Ronald Dlamini/Facebook
Ronald Dlamini’s Facebook profile picture shows him bare-chested with his fists in the air, an MMA championship belt draped across his body. With his chiseled biceps and triumphant pose, he looks every bit the part of the “Black Mamba,” the name he used to go by as a professional fighter.
But Dlamini hasn’t competed in years. In 2012, he lost his eyesight after a sudden bout with meningitis, effectively ending his MMA career.
“I’m 100 percent blind,” Dlamini says. He sees no shadows or light — just darkness.
But that doesn’t mean that Dlamini has left the cage. The 5’7″, 170-pound (170cm, 77kg) fighter now teaches an MMA-inspired self-defense program for blind people, as well as sighted aspiring fighters.
Photo: Train Gym
Dlamini is used to defying expectations. In 2009, he became the first black mixed martial arts champion in South African history to win the welterweight title. In a country reeling from the effects of decades of apartheid, MMA has traditionally been dominated by white fighters, making Dlamini’s accomplishments even more impressive. “Most black fighters were stepping stones for white fighters to make it to the top,” Dlamini tells Men’s Health.
In 2012, Dlamini started suffering from recurring headaches. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be fine,’” he says. When the headaches got worse, a friend took him to the doctor, who diagnosed him with meningitis. The next morning, Dlamini woke up and started vomiting. He was rushed to the hospital, and the last thing he remembers is being given an injection by a nurse before losing consciousness. He was in a coma for 10 days.
When Dlamini finally woke up, he was unable to see. “I lost my mind. I didn’t know who I was,” he says. The doctors told his family and friends he wasn’t going to make it. “My parents, sisters and brothers, and some of my friends were around the bed, praying.”