We must develop and nurture local talents in the country
British boxer of Nigerian descent, Mr Anthony Joshua recently regained his World Heavyweight boxing crowns after defeating Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jnr, via a unanimous points’ decision. The contest was held on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Courtesy of this victory, Joshua is now a two-time world heavyweight boxing champion, holding the WBO, IBF and WBA titles. The 30-year-old is now part of a small cluster of boxers including the late Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, to have reclaimed the world heavyweight title. While Nigerians have been congratulating themselves on Joshua’s victory, it is worth reflecting on the fact that in the past, homegrown boxers were also winning laurels.
That we are celebrating mostly the victory of Nigerians in diaspora is an indictment on those tasked with the management of our sports. Joshua is the global brand that he is today because the British Amateur Boxing Association, which has the mandate to develop the sport at the grassroots in that country, has proved to be up to the task. Sadly, those who man sporting associations in this country are more particular about pecuniary gains and other individual perks than pursuing the interest of the athletes and what their success can translate for the country. And because of their reputation for not doing things in the proper ways, it is possible that the potential of Joshua might have been blighted had he been raised in this environment. Yet Nigeria used to be a force in world boxing before football became the barometer for measuring our nation’s sporting greatness. In fact, the country was ranked in the same category with such nations as United States, Britain, Republic of Ireland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, among others.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nigeria produced two enterprising boxers in Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger, who etched the country’s name in the history book. Tiger, real name Richard Ihetu, was a two-time world middleweight boxing champion and was once the light‐heavyweight title holder. In his epochal career, he recorded 61 victories, 17 losses and three draws, with 26 knockouts. So good was he that in 1963 and 1966, he was twice honoured by the Boxing Writers Association as the Fighter of the Year.
However, before Tiger was Hogan “Kid” Bassey (MBE), the first Nigerian to become a world boxing champion. Bassey had 59 Wins (21 knockouts, 38 decisions), 13 losses (4 knockouts, 9 decisions) and 2 draws. After winning the Empire Featherweight Championship, Hogan Bassey won the World Featherweight crown by defeating French Algerian Cherif Hamia in Paris in 1957. There was also Samuel Okon Peter, nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare.” He briefly held the WBC heavyweight title in March 2008 after knocking out Oleg Maskaev. But a few months later, in his first defence of the title, he was dethroned by Vitali Klitschko, who stopped him in eight rounds.
Two other Nigerians also come to mind for leaving indelible marks in the annals of amateur boxing. First was Nojim Maiyegun, who won Nigeria’s first Olympic medal, a bronze medal in the men’s Light Middleweight (71 kg) category at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and Peter Konyegwachie, who won Nigeria’s first ever boxing silver medal in the men’s Featherweight (54–57 kg) category at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The likes of Dele Jonathan, Hogan Jimoh, Davidson Andeh, Obisia Nwakpa, Joe Lasisi, Jeremiah Okorodudu, Charles Nwokolo and Bash Ali were also household names that popularised boxing in the 1980s through 1990s.
While we therefore congratulate Anthony Joshua who has always identified with Nigeria despite being a British national, we must also begin to develop and nurture local talents in Nigeria.