By Kunle Adewale
In the 60s up to the mid 90s boxing was one of the most popular sports in Nigeria. Names like Dick Tiger, Hogan Kid Bassey, Davidson Andeh, Hogan Jimoh, Obisa Nnwakpa, Joe Lasisi, Jeremiah Okorodudu readily come to mind whenever boxing is mentioned in Nigeria.
Little wonder, the country’s first medal in the Olympics came from boxing- a bronze medal, courtesy of Nojim Maiyegun at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
By the turn of the century, however, boxing had become a shadow of what we use to know. It was no longer an attractive sport and new boxers were not emerging until Flykite and GOtv came to the rescue- a mission to revive boxing in Nigeria.
At the first edition of GOtv Boxing Night, the Managing Director of Flykite, organisers of the tournament was very optimistic that with what his organisation and sponsors, GOtv had mapped out, the face of boxing in Nigeria would change in a short while.
And true to type in four years, GOtv Boxing Night had witnessed its 15th edition, with some of the products winning the African Boxing Union title and fighting for the International Boxing Federation title.
The General Manager, Marketing and Sales, MultiChoice Nigeria, Martin Mabutho, however, said, “Boxing is a very good sport and we are proud to be part of the success story so far; however, were are not there yet, we have to keep going. We have to make necessary adjustments to push the boxers to be at their best and encourage upcoming ones to love the sport and be prepared to make their name in the industry.”
To ensure that there are no paucity of boxers, hence the idea of the GOtv NextGen was muted by Flykite.
“The NextGen programme was set to produce young boxers and no fewer than 100 amateur and semi-pro boxers turned up and use the Gotv platform to prove their worth and launch themselves to international recognition. Rilwan “Babyface’’ Babatunde, a prodigy of the NextGen programme has currently gone ahead to earn his bragging rights emerging the best boxer of the 11th GotvBoxing Night,” Alumona said.
After the successes recorded in Lagos with the GOtv Boxing Night, the organisers felt the need for another state to have a feel of the competition, hence, in March last year, the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan (formerly Liberty Stadium) was the venue and Ibadan fans did not disappoint as they trooped in large numbers to fill the Indoor Sports Hall of the stadium.
Encouraged by the successes recorded during last year’s edition, last Sunday’s edition, which was the 15th in the series returned to Ibadan and the fans showed they were true boxing lovers as they defied the heavy downpour that rained for several hours in the ancient city of Ibadan to troop into the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium.
“Ibadan people have demonstrated their love for boxing the last time GOtv Boxing Night was held there by defying the rain, but that does not say that we were not apprehensive that the heavy downpour that rained for hours could lead to a low turnout. But against all odds, the Indoor Sports Hall of the stadium was filled to capacity,” COO of Flykite, Bamidele Johnson told THISDAY.
Asked if he ever believes that GOtv Boxing Night would have gotten to the level it has reached now when it started four years ago, he reacted thus: “If we are not optimistic that we could revive boxing we would not have ventured into it in the first place. We realised that Nigerians love boxing but poor organisation and funding had always been the bane, and these are some of the things Flykite and GOtv had come to correct.”
Johnson, however, admitted that the competition had grown faster than the organisers had imagined but said it is still not yet Eldorado.
“GOtv Boxing Night has grown faster than we imagined but we are not satisfied yet, though we have seen a lot of progress. GOtv boxers winning Africa and West African titles, and just last Sunday, one of the standout boxer of the tournament, Waidi‘Skoro’ Usman, fought for an international boxing title in South Africa,” Jonhson said.
Meanwhile, the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, who was one of the dignitaries that graced the Sunday’s GOtvBoxing Night said it would “become a centrepiece in Nigeria.”
“No doubt, GOtv boxing is contributing to the development of boxing in Nigeria. I commend that and appeal to other organisations that promote boxing to adopt this initiative,” Adeyemi said.
On a night in which fans were treated to great boxing entertainment, Nigeria’s Oto Joseph retained his African Boxing Union (ABU) Lightweight title by defeating Ghana’s Nathaniel Nukpe, while Ridwan Oyekola, a product of GOtv Boxing NextGenSearch, won N1million for emerging the best boxer of the night.
Oyekola defeated Prince Nwoye in a thrilling Lightweight challenge bout and was wildly cheered by the capacity crowd. Another GOtv NextGen Search graduate, Michael Godwin knocked out Idowu Okusote in a Cruiserweight contest.
Ibadan’s cult boxing hero, Akeem “Dodo” Sadiku, knocked out Franc Houanevgbe of the Republic of Benin in a Middleweight duel, while Olaide Fijabi defeated Kazeem Ariyo in a national challenge contest.
Unlike before when boxers looked shabby and unkempt, Nigeria boxers now look well fed and dresses well courtesy of good payday from GOtv Boxing Night and some of them are now acclaimed millionaires, courtesy of the Mojisola Ogunsaya one million naira prize money for the best boxer of the night.