Yorgan De Castro becomes first UFC fighter from Cape Verde

Following his win on Dana White’s Contender Series last week, Yorgan De Castro says it’s “very special” to be the first UFC fighter from Cape Verde, Africa.

De Castro joined a growing list of Africans on the UFC roster, including welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, interim titleholder Israel Adesanya, Francis Ngannou, Sodiq Yusuff, Kennedy Nzechukwu, and Don Madge.

By Nick Baldwin.

Yorgan De Castro put Cape Verde on the map in the mixed martial arts world with his win on Dana White’s Contender Series last week.

De Castro, an undefeated heavyweight, defeated Alton Meeks by first-round TKO on the premiere episode of the show’s third season in Las Vegas to earn a UFC contract. De Castro was a 6-1 underdog. With the signing, De Castro is the first ever UFC fighter from Cape Verde, an island country off the northwest coast of Africa.

De Castro, who now lives in Massachusetts, said making history for his home country is very important to him.

“Very special,” De Castro told Bloody Elbow. “This is a big deal. If you don’t know, it’s a really small country. We don’t normally do big things. Nothing happens there. For me, it’s big to be able to inspire the generation coming up.

“Not just (kids from) Cape Verde, but kids from all over the place that grew up in a humble place and have nothing. I want them to see me as hope and do what they want to do and believe that anything can happen.”

De Castro, 31, spent his first 18 years in Cape Verde, where he grew up with a single mother. Life was difficult.

“We had to scramble every day,” De Castro said. “Sometimes we had breakfast, sometimes we don’t have the rest of the food. It was tough growing up.

“I use that as a fuel. It drives me to do good and do better and provide for my family.”

De Castro said growing up in Cape Verde taught him several life lessons, including that he has to work hard to “get everything in life.”

“From an early age, I knew if I want something, I gotta go get something, give it 100 percent, and never give up,” he said.

De Castro moved to Portugal in 2005 at age 18 because he wanted a “better life” and “better things.” There, he pursued kickboxing and quickly fell in love with the sport. He trained and competed in kickboxing for five years.

He enjoyed his time in Portugal, but his uncle persuaded him to move to the United States — specifically Massachusetts, where his mother’s family already lived — and to pursue a career in MMA. De Castro moved in 2012. Not long after, his uncle introduced him to the gym Lauzon MMA, where he still occasionally trains today. De Castro, who today trains at Regiment Training Center, made his amateur MMA debut in 2014.

“My uncle told me, ‘If you want to keep fighting and do good things, the United States is the place. In Portugal you don’t really make money fighting, and it’s just kickboxing. Come do MMA, this is what it is about,’” De Castro said. “I came and tried it, and liked it.”

De Castro will never forget his Cape Verde roots, however. His brother and sister both still live there and he said he hopes to visit them very soon.

Right now, De Castro said, there is no MMA scene at all in his home country, but he hopes his success in the sport can change that.

“I hope one day I can go down there and help them out: open a gym, create some type of program, give people hope, and give them a better life,” De Castro said. “We don’t have many resources, so I hope I can go and help the people down there.”

De Castro joined a growing list of Africans on the UFC roster, including welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, interim titleholder Israel Adesanya, Francis Ngannou, Sodiq Yusuff, Kennedy Nzechukwu, and Don Madge.

Due to the success of several fighters native to the continent, there have been increased talks of a potential UFC card in Africa over the past couple years. De Castro would love to see the promotion branch out into the African market and host an event there. And it goes without saying he would want to be part of it.

“That’s a dream come true,” De Castro said. “I had a dream actually that the UFC went to Africa. That would be great. That would be outstanding. … I almost want to cry right now.

“I would be in tears walking to that cage. I can’t even imagine.”

De Castro said if he earns a few wins in the Octagon, he would like to start having discussions with the UFC brass about the potential event and what it will take to make it happen. Meanwhile, De Castro said, he would like to see the African fighters with more leverage than him have that conversation.

“I probably don’t have that power now, but we got guys who can do it: Francis Ngannou can do it, (Kamaru) Usman can do it, Israel Adesanya is a big star right now,” De Castro said. “They all can get together and do it. After I win one or two fights, I can definitely get in there and try to do it. I think that would be amazing.”

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