UNKNOWN to many Nigerians, Efe Ajagba, one of the top heavyweight boxers in the world, started his career as a footballer in Ughelli, Delta State, before he veered into boxing.
Unbeaten Ajagba who holds a 14-0 record with 11 KOs last month hit the headlines when he declared that he has what it takes to floor reigning WBA, WBO and IBF champion, Anthony Joshua.
After embracing boxing in 2011, Ajagba gave Team Delta a silver medal at the 19th National Sports Festival, Eko 2012 having lost to home boy, Segun Ibrahim Body on points in the men’s super heavyweight final.
On that fateful day, Segun had the majority of spectators at the National Institute for Sports (NIS), Lagos hall behind him during the last bout of Eko 2012.
Save for a few Team Delta athletes at the hall to cheer him, Ajagba, fought in the enemy’s territory on the day, but he used his boxing prowess to keep Segun and his drumming fans on the edge of their seats while the four-round bout lasted.
Segun, raced to a 2-0 lead and towards the closing exchanges, Ajagba, recorded a point but the day wasn’t his as the former grabbed the gold eventually.
Ajagba, later in 2013 established himself in Nigerian amateur boxing as he won the national trials held at the Brai Ayonote Gym inside the National Stadium, Lagos.
He proved unstoppable in his weight category in the country, and it didn’t take him time to rule the continent.
Ajagba first won the super heavyweight bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow after he lost to Joseph Goodall of Australia in the semi-final. He had defeated Junior Fa of Tonga in the round of 16 and Paul Schafer of South Africa in the quarterfinals before the loss to Godall.
Ajagba showed a remarkable improvement after the Glasgow 2014 as he won the gold at the 2015 All Africa Games in Brazzaville, when he floored Seychelles’ Keddy Angnes 3–0 in the final.
Ajagba did not disappoint as well at the 2016 Olympics qualifying Tournament in Cameroon, as he emerged the only Nigerian boxer who qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
After his triumph over Ugandan Michael Sekamembe, Ajagba floored Tunisian Aymen Trabelsi in the semi-final and Moroccan Mohamed Arjaoui in the final.
Compatriots Efe Apochi and the UK-based middleweight boxer, Umar Sadiq, missed the Rio 2016 tickets.
At Rio 2016, Ajagba fought like a trojan to return with at least a bronze medal, but he was stopped in the quarter-final by Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan on points.
He had sensationally won his first fight with first round TKO against Trinidad and Tobago’s bulky Nigel Paul.
Ajagba made his professional debut on July 30, 2017, and he spent only one minute, 29 seconds to stop Tyrell Herndon in the first round. Since then, 13 other boxers had fallen victims to his boxing prowess.
On August 24, 2018, Ajagba fondly called The One and Only recorded the fastest victory in boxing history at the expense of Curtis Harper, winning via one-second disqualification after Harper walked out of the ring.
Ajagba won his last fight against Jonathan Rice on September 19 in Nevada, US by unanimous decision, a few days after he had boasted that Joshua would be his prey if they clash.
Today, Ajagba (1.98m) is ranked 12th by the World Boxing Association (WBA) being ruled by Anthony Joshua and rated 14th by the World Boxing Council (WBC), being ruled by Tyson Fury.
JOURNEY INTO THE RING
“I was playing football while in Ughelli and even played for a an amateur team before I quit in 2010 based on the advice of a friend who made me to realise that it will be difficult to make it through football without connection. He also said that with my height and strength, boxing will be better for me.
“I actually love football but lack of connections made me to embrace boxing though, I have the strength to be a boxer. In fact, I used to cut firewoods and also work in a bakery then in Ughelli. In 2011, I went to the stadium and the coach I met encouraged me a lot. He asked me to start training the following day without asking for a kobo which I did,” Ajagba had recalled his journey into the punch-for-punch trade in an interview.
Ajagba met a brick wall right from day one as a boxer saying: “My father never wanted me to become a boxer from the outset, he wanted me to face the bakery work because all the responsibilities in my family were on my shoulder.
He will even tell the coaches to stop me from boxing and when my coach realised the pressure, he too advised me that I should always go for bakery work early and then come for training as soon as I close at work.”
FIRING SALVO AT JOSHUA
Ajagba is earnestly eyeing a face off with brother, Joshua, especially staging the fight in Nigeria.
“The people would support Joshua because he is the heavyweight champ,” Ajagba told Sky Sports.
“Skill would beat Joshua, not power. Me and Joshua both have the power. But skills control the power. I have more skills.
“I don’t think so [that Joshua is skillful]. The best weapon of Joshua’s is the left hook and right uppercut. He doesn’t have a good jab.
“I respect him. He is the heavyweight champion. I respect everything about him – his talent and his potential. He is a humble guy.
“People are saying that I talk Joshua down. But I don’t want to do that.
“Joshua is from Nigeria so he is a part of Africa, too.”
Ajagba said facing Joshua on African soil “would be perfect” adding. “Two Nigerian warriors fighting in a title fight.”
PROSPECTS OF BECOMING WORLD CHAMPION
Does Ajagba have what it takes to follow the footsteps of Samuel Peter and Anthony Joshua? Secretary of the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control (NBB of C), Mr Remi Aboderin, bares his view.
“Let’s take nothing away from Ajagba, he does have the prospects to rule the world in boxing, but sincerely he still has a long way to go,” Aboderin told Tribunesport.
“This is not the time for him to be calling out the likes of Anthony Joshua, AJ is way above his class at present.
Looking at his opponents so far, he’s been fighting journeymen in the heavyweight class, the only two names he’s came up against in the heavyweight class that can be said to be real heavyweight boxers are Razvan Cojanu and probably Jonathan Rice. Against these two, he faltered a bit. His former manager Shelly Finkel guarded him right with the opponents chosen for him. His last fight under Shelly was the Cojanu fight and he was only able to scale Cojanu by sheer strength. His shortcoming was laid open in the fight against Cojanu who’s is way older than him with more fight records.
“Against Jonathan Rice who was picked for him by the Top Rank big shot Bob Arum, he went the distance and he was actually rocked silly. Stating all this I am sticking out my neck to say boxing is not all about brawn which he Ajagba possesses. But in heavyweight boxing, skills and endurance count most and these two qualities he’s just starting to master.”
Aboderin, who is also the president of the West African Boxing Union (WABU) believes Ajagba can’t floor Briton-Nigerian Joshua at the moment.
“AJ is way ahead of him at present. So for him not to end his growth in boxing, he doesn’t need a face off with AJ for now. AJ will beat him blue black. Calling out AJ is like him calling out Deontay Wilder whom Shelly Finkel was trying to build Ajagba to take over from. Shelly manages Wilder and his plan was to get Efe to step into Wilder’s shoes immediately after Wilder retires, but now that Ajagba has jumped ship pitching his tent with Kay Koroma and Bob Arum, it won’t be an easy ride any longer. All this been enumerated in boxing we can never say never because sometimes, luck equally comes into play,” he told Tribunesport.
But 1988 and 1992 Olympian, coach Sabo Mohammed, differs saying Ajagba holds the ace should both black warriors clash.
“I believe Ajagba can beat Joshua because both of them possessed boxing structure. I mean they have the height, the reach, the brain and they are both disciplined. Ajagba is always ready to learn, he once trained under me, and this quality is what makes Joshua what he is today. So, it depends on how a boxer prepares for a fight, nobody is a permanent champion. If Ajagba has a very good team with well structured strategies, he can beat Joshua. Sport has become scientific, so, winning depends on your planning,” the 1990 Commonwealth Games bantamweight gold medallist told Tribunesport.
However, president of the Nigerian Boxing Coaches Association, Daniel Adekunle Coach Ashimota, the bout could go either way.
“Ajagba has a big chance to rule the world in boxing because of his height and prowess, but Joshua is more polished in terms of technical aspect. Politics will also play a part and the roles of promoter/manager would also come into play. Boxing is a game that one cannot predict,” the Lagos-based veteran boxing coach told Tribunesport.