It is only six years since the then-18-year-old Hayellom Tesfay first stepped foot into a gym to begin training for kickboxing. Since then, the young man who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Auckland, has continued his rise through the ranks of martial arts at home and is now ready to further establish himself on the global stage at the GAMMA Oceania Championships on familiar turf next month.

Tesfay is no stranger to the ring having already experienced 20 fights across the martial arts disciplines, which included making the long trip to Amsterdam in 2022 for the GAMMA World Championships, and it is his passion that keeps him motivated. “The love for this sport comes from the technical aspect. It’s a combination of various fighting styles that require a lot of skill and strategy. I find it fascinating to see how fighters use their strengths and weaknesses to their advantage and how they adapt to their opponent’s style. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and challenge oneself physically and mentally.”

Competing at a major competition at home is a new experience for the young man who was raised in the Mount Roskill area of Auckland, and he is ready to grasp the opportunity. “This represents a chance for me to test my skills and see how far I’ve come in my journey. It’s a chance for me to challenge myself and see what I’m capable of. I know for sure there are many elite athletes coming from all over Oceania for this event and I’m focused on performing to the best of my abilities. I’m excited to step into the ring and give it my all. Win or lose, I know that I’ll come out of this fight a better athlete.”

Attempting to make a career in combat sports has not been without its challenges from within his community, but Tesfay has support from his family and uses that positively. “This sport is a way for me to grow as a person. There’s something very empowering about stepping into the ring and testing yourself against another person. It requires a lot of discipline, focus, and determination, and I think those are all qualities that are valuable in many areas of life. Fighting gives me a sense of purpose and direction, and it helps me to become the best version of myself.”

Credit: Hayellom Tesfay Facebook

This purpose is amplified through the sense of pride he has as a martial artist in Oceania. “I do feel a deeper connection to my fighting spirit and heritage as a martial artist from Oceania. Martial arts have a long and rich history in this part of the world, and many of the techniques and traditions that we use today have been passed down from generation to generation. There’s a sense of honour and respect, and I think that’s something that sets us apart from other fighters around the world. It’s about upholding the values and traditions that have been passed down to us.

“We have some incredible athletes who are making their marks on the international stage. They’ve shown that fighters from this part of the world can compete at the highest level, and they’ve inspired a lot of others to follow in their footsteps. MMA is becoming more and more popular in Oceania, and I think we’re going to see a lot of growth and development in the coming years.”

Tesfay is certainly one of those athletes competing at the highest level and remains focused on his own performances in the ring. “Before stepping into the ring, I try to clear my mind and focus on the task at hand. I remind myself of all the hard work and preparation that I’ve put in, and I try to stay calm. Ultimately, I think the key is to stay present and focused, and to trust in my training and my abilities. It’s a challenging and breathtaking experience.”

His goals are clear going forward, to do himself proud at the Oceania Championships, continue to improve his skills and to compete at the highest level against the best fighters in the world and perhaps one day become a world champion. With his humble roots and his clear sense of values, Tesfay is certainly a role model for the next generation of athletes and an ambassador for the sport. “I want to use my platform to promote the sport and to inspire others to follow their dreams. I believe that martial arts have a lot of benefits in everyday life and can be a powerful force for good. I want to do everything I can to share its benefits with as many people as possible and promote its values of discipline and respect.”

Follow his journey at the GAMMA Oceania Championships in Auckland from 9 to 11 June.