Lewis Mataya: Meet the fighter wrongly imprisoned who’s set to become an MMA legend

In a sport as unforgiving as MMA, it takes a certain level of mental fortitude to make it to the top, and having overcome so much, Lewis Mataya has the minerals to dismantle any opponent who dares set foot in the cage with him.

Born in Zimbabwe, the natural born-fighter lost his parents at an early age and consequently grew up under the eye of his sister, who had the difficult job of running a house of 13 people.

Having gone through a life-altering tragedy, Mataya could’ve easily gone down the wrong path, falling into an almost inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy of a less-than-memorable life. But in a testament to ‘Porcupine’s’ never say die attitude, he maintained a positive mindset, knowing he was destined for greatness.

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As the years rolled by, the charismatic character found himself desperate to explore new challenges, and the one that fell into his lap changed everything.

Mataya stumbled into the taekwondo gym, and while he didn’t take to the art like a duck to water, he remained dedicated, confident that he could develop his skills far beyond anyone else in the country.

And it didn’t take long for his kicks to do the talking, winning the national championships, which solidified his overwhelming belief that his life’s purpose was to become a world champion.

Following his heart, he moved to South Africa, battling spells of homelessness en route to winning the 2022 IMMAF Africa Championships.

As his country’s sole representative, Mataya dazzled, showcasing a fantastic array of strikes and an unrivalled fighting spirit.

His crowning moment caught the attention of fans from across the globe, with many excited to see what he’d do next. But rather than seizing the opportunity, the prospect was dealt one of his toughest hands yet.

Lewis Mataya wrongly goes to prison

With the world seemingly at his feet, the bushy-tailed warrior headed to South Africa, where corruption reared its ugly head.

Speaking exclusively to Sporf, Mataya explained: “Oh, I’m laughing now, but honestly, a few months ago, I did not even have it in me to laugh. I deleted myself from social media, and I was a little depressed turtle in my shell. So after the African Championships at the end of April last year, I got injured badly.

“I couldn’t even walk to the podium that day. They had to give me assistance to climb onto it. I injured my ankle, which set me back for months, and then I had to wait until August to return to health.”

“I trained and prepared for my fight in Zambia, where I got called to go and compete. On my way to Johannesburg, I got stopped by the immigration officers. They said, ‘Hey, your visa is fraudulent. I was like, ‘What, how’? and they said, ‘Yep, it’s a fraud; you are gonna be in big trouble for this?’ So my journey to Zambia to fight in the Zambia National League was cut short. They had to detain me.”

In reality, Mataya had applied for a visa through a Home Affairs Agent a friend referred to him. Assuming everything was above board, he paid R20,000 for the necessary documents. Little did he know, he’d been scammed and subsequently charged with breaching Section 49 of the SA constitution.

He was locked in Kempton Police station with a Malawian Christian stuck in a similar position. And rather than listen to his explanation, the authorities performed a highly controversial form of legal practice.

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Lewis Mataya lifts the lid on one of the most challenging experiences of his life

Mataya revealed: “I could feel it coming to an end. I could feel everything. Just the whole world crashing down on me. I didn’t get a fair trial. What kind of trial is it when you get called up to court, and you’re in there for 10 seconds, and you’re told to leave and sign a guilt admission form? I mean, where have you ever heard such a thing?

“It’s just a very unfair system. The lawyer I paid about R13,000 to didn’t even attend court. He sent his intern to the courtroom; He was not there for the hearing. All he did was send an officer to me outside the courtroom to say, ‘Hey, you’ve been found guilty. Just sign here and pay the fine. And you can leave the system of criminals’.

“You know how I got the lawyer’s number? It was from the detective who was supposed to handle my case. She was the one at the airport, meaning he worked there. They all know each other—everyone from the judge, the lawyers, the detectives, and the police. Everyone is just corrupt, and all they want is to milk money from foreigners. I was not the only one who was there. There were a lot of foreigners.”

What happened when Lewis Mataya left prison?

Despite eventually leaving his cell, the road didn’t get any easier for the talented athlete as he continued to get abused by the system.

He remembered: “They forced me to buy my own plane ticket and deport myself because they won’t allow you to use buses for fear that you get back to the country and expose them for what they did. They will give you an officer to escort you. That’s what they do.

“They have this thing with the Home Affairs Agents, where they ask you to pay like R2500 if you don’t want your passport to get banned, so I spent that.

“I spoke to the guys, they didn’t put a ban on my passport, but the ban was on the system. I was not aware. So they deported me back to Zimbabwe, and I thought, ‘Hang on, my passport is not banned, so I can still travel back to South Africa to clear the issue and go to the Supreme Court’.

“I took a bus to Beitbridge border, and the immigration officer there informed me, ‘Hey, your passport is blocked from the South African Home Affairs system for five years’. This meant they had banned me from South Africa. I was like, ‘What’? I went through the trouble, I paid for it, but then I was asked to pay another fine so I wouldn’t get banned.

But no, it was banned, and those lawyers and Home Affairs offices just faked the whole thing. I’ve been stuck in Zim since then. Sorry. Really long. But hey, you asked for it, and I get to tell you.

“That’s it. That’s the story.”

What is the craziest thing Lewis Mataya has ever seen?

When pushed into a difficult situation, human beings go to lengths that would shock even the most well-travelled of men. Therefore, despite living an incredible life, what Mataya witnessed on his way to jail shook him to his core.

In a terrifying moment, a man tried to convince him to shove a phone up his bottom.

Mataya confessed: “Oh, funny story. Obviously, I didn’t have my mobile phone with me, so I had to borrow one of the inmates.

“He said, ‘Hey, you can use this one’. I kept using it to call my friends and say, ‘Please arrange money. Please help’. This guy, I thought, he’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart. But no. When they were transporting us from the coach area, where the police station was, he kept coming close to me. I thought, ‘What is going on here’?”

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The Zimbabwean continued: “I saw the dude wrapping drugs; it could’ve been cocaine or something else. He wrapped them in the shape of a carrot, put them in plastic, burned the edges, covered it in Vaseline, and shoved the whole thing up his a*** hole.”

“You could see the look on his face. He was in pain as he was doing that. He pulled his pants up and sat down as if it was nothing.

“Now he says, ‘It’s time to pay back the favour’. He wrapped his phone in Vaseline and said, ‘It’s your turn next’. And I was like, ‘Nope. No way I am not doing that’. Never. I refused. And he insisted, and he was beginning to threaten me. Like, you know, saying, ‘Shove this up’. And I was like, ‘No, not today’. I refused.”

What does the future hold for Lewis Mataya?

After everything he’s been through, a weaker man would’ve understandably folded, but not Mataya — it’s simply not in his nature.

On April 13, he produced a stunning performance, defeating Joseph Mwanza at Fist of Valor, and he can’t wait for what’s next.

The skilled striker said: “I’m a man who’s looked into the abyss. I grew up tough. I’ve seen the worst of the world. I’ve been to those kinds of places, seeing my fellow countryman in there like me, innocent but locked up.

“To witness such things in one’s own life, it changes you. As I grow up, I’m becoming something else. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and just reflect. It’s just tough. The person I’ve become is not the kind of person you would want to face in a cage.

“I’ve seen poverty, and I know the way out of it is to work and to invest. It’s to engage in the business side of everything I do. I’m starting a fight equipment brand here in Zimbabwe. You will see it when I fight; I’ll have it on my social media.

“I have to build my nation. I have to build my family’s future. No one in my family has ever or is ever going to go through what I went through. This is the type of person I’ve become because of my life experiences. A businessman and a monster.”

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Featured Image Credit: Lewis Mataya