Ajose v Chebah
Olusegun Ajose’s dream sport was basketball. He opted for boxing only after he was beaten up by a girl. Ajose speaks with KUNLE ADEWALE after losing his recent bid to win the WBC Light Welterweight title to Argentine Lucas Martin Mattysse
Segun Ajose was born into a family of three in Shomolu, a Lagos community popular for producing many boxers including Obisia Nwanpa amongst others.
“I really never wanted to be boxer; my ambition was to become a basketballer when I was a kid despite the fact that my father was a boxer, who later became a coach.”
What eventually made him to put on the boxing gloves was when he was beaten up by a girl.
“My dad never planned that I’ll become a boxer; my becoming one was just by accident when I went to the gym one day and I was beaten up by a girl who happened to be a boxer and I was tricked into having a sparring session with her, not knowing the girl was already training for boxing and she beat me to stupor and I cried like a baby. So, two weeks later I returned to the gym and that was how it all started,” the former Commonwealth featherweight champion recalled.
At the age of six Ajose was already a boxer in the making and each time he returned from school as a primary school pupil he would go to the boxing gym to train.
“During weekends I would go to the ring to train and I was doing the same till I got to secondary school. Though along the line I was into football too and I almost abandoned boxing for football but my father felt I was a better boxer than a footballer. That was how I concentrated all my efforts on boxing,” he said.
Unlike most mothers who would not want their children to have anything to do with boxing, Ajose’s mum gave her support and would in fact come to watch some of his bouts.
“My mother had no choice with regard to my boxing career because in the African setting the man rules the home. Since my father had given his blessing to my taking into boxing my mother was left with little or no choice and moreover she was married to a boxer. She was always coming to watch my fights. When I won the Eagle Belt she was there by the ring side,” Ajose said.
Most athletes usually have people they looked up to as a child and wish to emulate; Ajose was no exception. In fact, he had two people as his role models.
“There were two boxers I was always looking up to – one a Nigerian, Moses James and the other an American, Sugar Ray Leonard. James, who interestingly fight in the same weight category as me was a terrific boxer and represented Nigeria in many competitions and won a lot of laurels for the country. He won gold for Nigeria in both the Commonwealth and African Games. He also won bronze at the World Championship. He was under the tutelage of my father for so many years. I really looked up to him and I used to visit him whenever he was in camp in preparation for national competitions. He was a wonderful boxer.
“As for Sugar Ray, I love the way he boxes, dances and entertains. He does not just use power, but skill and brain. He was an extraordinary boxer and I tried to combine both his style and that of James. I did not really copy them but I like to showcase my talent and entertain the crowd too. The two of them no doubt are my role models and they affected me a lot in my career,” he opined.
But when reminded that his fighting style is not quite similar to Leonard’s, he said: “I can dance, move and manoeuvre better than Sugar Ray but because I was boxing in the United Kingdom and the British does not like that, all they are interested in is for you to win, so I had to put away my dancing shoes and box rather than entertain. In the UK it is called ‘showboating’. At some point I was angry that I had to do away with all that I learnt over the years. But really I love to entertain the crowd,” he said.
Shockingly, the former African and British featherweight champion said he never wanted to become a professional boxer, but had rather wanted to remain an amateur. But the disappointment of Sydney Olympics changed his plan.
“I really never wanted to turn pro; my plan was to win gold medals in the Olympic Games and other international amateur competition then quit boxing. But it was not to be after I was robbed at the Sydney Olympics. Everybody including myself believed I was going to return from Sydney with the gold because I had beaten almost everybody in my category at one competition or the other prior to the Games including the Cuban that won the gold. Even the Algerian that won the bronze, I had earlier beaten him at the All Africa Games final some few months to the Olympics.
“So nobody really doubted my ability to win a medal at the Sydney Games. But I was robbed against my American opponent and my medal hopes were shattered. I was then torn between waiting for another four years and turning pro. And I reasoned that if I waited for another four years what was the chances that I would not be robbed again; that would mean another four years have been wasted. So I opted for the latter with the belief that in the next four to six years I will win a world title which will compensate for my dashed Olympic dream and that is the reason why I’m still pushing hard in my resolve to win a world title,” the army staff sergeant said.
On why he opted for the UK in his quest for a professional career as against the United States of America that is more famous for boxing and where the game is more lucrative.
“The reason why I left for the UK was that I thought boxing was as big in England as it is in the US. Moreover, I got a sponsor for training to the UK by Kronk Gym and my late manager convinced me that I’ll be well taken care of in the UK, which prompted my move to England. I also had the opportunity to go to Australia and America but I felt Australia was too far for me as I always love to visit Nigeria at the slightest opportunity. America is far away while Australia is further away but London is just about six hours away from Nigeria by flight. Like I said earlier, turning pro was never a priority; all I wanted was to win everything as an amateur and become a coach. Because of the way Nigeria prepares for the Olympics I cannot be sure of winning a medal at the next edition. I have the talent no doubt but talent alone is not enough, one needs to work hard. Though working hard has never been my problem but we have to prepare which is not easy for the individual alone to do. The government needs to fund the athletes’ preparation. I knew how we prepared for the Sydney Olympics and all other competitions, that was how I decided I had to put my destiny in my hand and turned pro,” he said.
On the claim that the Nigerian government did not assist him in his preparation for his failed bid to win the WBC Light Welterweight fight against Lucas Martin Mattysse of Argentina, which he cited as the reason for his loss, Ajose said: “In a lot of big countries government don’t in a way but most countries of the world support the preparation of their boxer for a world title fight. Argentina does it for Mattysse, so also Ghana, Togo, Brazil, Mexico; all these countries fund their boxers because at the end of the day it is their country that they are representing. They are carrying the flag of that country. The money I spent in the last two years preparing is enough to build two bungalows in Lagos provided I want to build it in Ikorodu and not Victoria Island. But I want to win a world title for Nigeria and that is the reason for my continuous investment in my preparation. It’s the pride of the nation at the end of the day,” Ajose said.
Despite the fact the onset of age has set in and a world title has yet to be won, the pugilist said he’s not feeling any pressure. “Age is just a number. You are as old as you feel. With my life style I can box for a long time, but I’m not going to box for ever though. I have set my retirement target and I pray that I achieve my aim before I retire. And I will do everything to win a world title before I retire. I can win a world title today and retire the next day, but what is paramount is the title. Between three to five years I’ll quit, before which I hope to have won the world title and even unify it,” he said.
Ajose paid glowing tribute to the Nigerian Army for their support.
“The army is one organization that has been very supportive to my ambition, without the army I will not have been where I am today. Joining the army gave me a lot of confidence, the army gave me a lot of support and I use its facilities to train. I trained at the Army Sports Centre for the world title fight. Some of the equipment there I bought them myself, while the army provided the rest. You can see where I trained for a world title while my opponent trained in the best gym in the world. So it was really hard but the army has been tremendous in their support. At some point they gave me return ticket to go and train in London and even gave me some allowances then. I praise the army for giving me that great opportunity, without which my life won’t be the same,” he said.
The soldier-boxer said if he had is way he would want his son to take after him. But the 13-year-old boy had opted for football.
“These days everybody wants to play football and I think he’s got some talent for football. But if I had my way I would have preferred he chose boxing which is more of an individual game unlike football that is a team game. If you are a good boxer you can go to the ring and show how good you are to the world, but in football it does not always work like that. And with my experience in boxing I can always put him through. But maybe he should stick to his football because he’s not as tough as I am. But you never know, he’s still young and he can still take to boxing,” the 1999 All African Games gold medallist said.
Even though he rues the lack of support from the Nigerian government, Ajose remains proud of his country.
“As an amateur a lot of other countries tried to woo me to box for them but I turned down their offer. I’m a Nigerian and I remain one. I always have a passion for Nigeria and that is why anytime I travelled abroad I usually don’t spend much time. My assets are in my country and I always want to do something great for my country,” he concluded.