For two days last week, the Indoor Sports Hall of Ilorin’s Kwara Stadium Complex brimmed with young boxers, coaches, sports administrators and fans. Also in attendance were the President and Secretary-General of the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control (NBB of C), Dr. Rafiu Ladipo and Remi Aboderin respectively. The complex was hosting GOtv Boxing NextGen 5, the fifth edition of the programme developed to find and incubate the next crop of Nigerian professional boxers.
The boxers, not older than 25, sat still in their boxing gears as they waited for the flag-off of the sparring sessions through which their readiness for the professional boxing cadre would be assessed by judges, who included coaches Joe Mensah, Obisia Nwakpa and NBB of C officials. Their eyes flickered with anxiety and no less hope, elements common to auditions. The benefits, as the boxers were aware, are potentially immense. They include the offer of the sponsors to pay for their professional boxing licences, pre-licensing medical examinations and, importantly, the opportunity to make their professional debut at GOtv Boxing Night and kick on from there. They had seen it happen with previous graduates of the programme, which began in 2016 as an initiative to replenish the country’s pool of professional boxers, which had almost dried up in about two decades of the sport’s neglect. Among GOtv Boxing NextGen Search graduates are Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, current West African Boxing Union (WABU) champion, who is due to fight for the African Boxing Union (ABU) in the next one month; Opeyemi “Sense” Adeyemi, a hugely promising bantamweight fighter on the cusp of a national title; and Tope “TP Rock” Musa, who is also about fighting for the national featherweight title. Many others are making progress and have had serial opportunities to exhibit their talents at GOtv Boxing Night, thereby drawing the attention of promoters around the continent.
With the progress made by graduates within so short a time, it was no surprise that the sparring sessions, over the two days, in Ilorin were as competitive as title bouts. At the end of the sessions, the judges’ panel selected 13 out of the 44 participants considered ready to move into the professional cadre. Of those selected, three were deemed outstanding, with Alaba Omotola emerging the best boxer, while Chibudom Okafor and Abolade Akintunde as runners-up. Each of the three boxers received a GOtv decoder in recognition of their performances. All the boxers selected will have their licenses and medical examinations paid for by the sponsors in addition to enjoying pre-fight camping once they have been selected to fight at GOtv Boxing Night.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, the NBB of President thanked the sponsors, saying they are the reason that Nigerian boxing has returned from the brink. He noted that GOtv Boxing NextGen Search is a commendable initiative, as it provides a platform to discover young boxers that could be nurtured to greatness. While praising those selected, Ladipo advised those who did not make the grade not to despair and seek ways of improving with the hope of returning for the next edition.
The first two editions of GOtv Boxing NextGen Search held in Lagos, with the third and fourth editions holding in Ibadan and Abeokuta respectively.