Mohammed Ali: A Sharp Mind in a Quick Body


Prof. Herbert Orji

It is my pleasure to be among practitioners of the Sweet Science, as Bert Sugar, the foremost American boxing historian named and wrote about boxing. Here, I will discuss the ultimate combination in boxing and other sports: A Sound Mind in a Quick Body.

I started boxing in 1962 at age 10½ years, my first year in secondary school, then called college. My main attraction was Cassius Marcellus Clay, who eventually achieved global boxing and socio-political fame as Mohammed Ali, ruling the heavy weight Boxing world for two decades. He was one of the first Boxing Champions in the 60s & 70s to obtain a high school diploma (WAEC equivalent) before turning professional. He is a good example of a Sound Mind in a Quick Body.

I participated in championship 440 yards; 120 yards high hurdles, Discus and High Jump while taking particular interest in boxing and soccer (goal-keeping) at Ngwa High School, Aba. The Principal and Games Master will cut your events and training time, if your academic performance declined significantly for two consecutive terms. The lesson is simple. That is, the primary objective of sports is to produce men and women with sharp minds and quick bodies.

In 1965 in Enugu, capital of former Eastern Nigeria, I reached the finals of the Steve Jaffra Cup Boxing Competition in the Welter weight class, having defeated eight boxers who represented schools including Government Colleges Umuahia, Owerri, Afigbo; Holy Ghost College, Owerri, Stella Maris College P.H, Hope Weddle Institute Calabar, DMGS Onitsha, Holy Family College Abak, CIC Enugu and C.K.C Onitsha over four months of Competition organised by Jerry Enyeazu, Director of Sports in Eastern Nigeria.

My opponent was in upper 6th and I was in class four; two years his junior in class and four years junior in age, He looked stronger with better formed muscles and had more experience.

To cut a long story short, I won each of the three rounds/no knock downs, no head butts and no bleeding of any type but swellings on both of our faces, lips and ear lobes. There were no mouth-guards and head gears in those days but we fought smartly with a lot of youthful exuberance. I retained the championship, crossing over from lightweight to welterweight in 1966 (in class five) and 1967 (in lower sixth) at Government Colleges Owerri.

With determination, three of our top boxers passed the Cambridge School Certificate in grade one, including yours truly, while the other five top boxers passed in grade two. There were no grade threes, no referrals and no failures. One of us, Col Emeka Okai, became a military governor after serving the Nigerian Army as a field engineering commander for many years. He was a first class graduate engineer and a champion boxer, a good example of a sound mind in a quick body.
Every sport, be it softball, baseball, track & field, throws and puts, soccer, rugby, swimming, marathon and decathlon all require a sharp mind in a quick body to excel.

You must therefore, be prepared to train your mind and body. In boxing, the critical areas of general training are similar to those of other sports. These include training for endurance, stamina, strength, speed and the psychological ability to conquer and eliminate irrational fear of defeat or injury. As a full contact sport, there are some additional specific expert tips for training. These include proper stance, proper breathing, skipping of rope, staying fit with regular exercise and eating right with little or no alcohol and avoiding excessive sexual activity.

Mohammed Ali blamed his 1959 loss in the Golden Gloves Amateur Championship Boxing Finals in Chicago to such an act two days before his bout. He never made that mistake ever again!

Trent Singleton, a top heavyweight boxer is a University graduate. Many boxing champions passed their high school diploma either in regular schools or in the armed forces, like Ken Norton in the U.S Marines, and George Forman in the U.S Job Corps. Nearer home, Hogan Kid Bassey, first Nigerian World Champion in the Featherweight class and Dick Tiger, the second Nigerian World Champion in the middleweight class all completed their WABC equivalency certificates in New York City.

I met Dick Tiger in action during the civil war and he was a Major in the Training Command. He spoke, led and gave his training command as if he was a University graduate. Hogan Bassey became the national boxing coach and produced very remarkable results nationwide. These are good examples of sound minds in quick bodies.

I watched a CNN interview of the General Overseer of the RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. I always knew that he was an accomplished mathematician (a sharp mind) and a good boxer (a quick body). He typifies one of the best and brightest in that category. If we dig deeper, more names like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, U.S President Theodore Roosevelt and Max Schemelling, the multi-millionaire German industrialist who in his youngest days fought two very historical bouts with the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, the longest reigning heavy weight boxing champion ever.

Schemelling went on to become the Coca-Cola franchisee in Germany, built an industrial empire and become Joe Louis’ closest friend until Joe Louis died in his early seventies and Max died in his early eighties. These were strong and brilliant people; high achievers of no mean streak. Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard fit into this category also,

The Sweet Science, boxing, is perhaps the only well-regulated full contact sport that makes a young boy grow up quickly and become his own defensive expert. This is why it is popular in institutions like the Armed Forces, Police, YMCA, Boys Clubs, some Girls Clubs and many community centres. In each case, the sharp mind in a quick body always prevails.

To be a recipient of the pre-eminent programme tenable only in Oxford University, Rhodes Scholar/Rhodes Scholarship you must be a very mind in a very quick body. Thank you for your attention.

– Prof. Orji OFR, Chairman, National Broadcasting Commission, former Welter Weight Champion, All Eastern Nigeria Colleges (1965), Global Investment Banker, and Award-winning author wrote this paper from Cula, Los Angeles California and presented it at the Boxing-Sports Conference in the RCCG Sports Centre, Lagos, recently