October 7, 2022

Why Nigeria is retrogressing in boxing —Obisia Nwankpa

October 19, 2016

OBISIA Nwankpa no doubt is a household name in boxing in Nigeria. The Golden Gloves as he is fondly called by his admirers spent 27 years in the ring from amateur boxing to professional boxing before he retired into full time coaching in 1992.

After becoming the national lightweight champion in 1970, he represented Nigeria at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and lost in the quarter-final, but went further to claim four gold medals at the 1973 All Africa Games, 1974 Commonwealth Games, All Africa and Latin America Games and the Commonwealth versus America Event.

His second attempt to win the Olympics medal was dashed in 1976 following the decision of the Federal Government which ordered the boycott of Nigeria from the Games after its arrival in Montreal, Canada.

As a professional boxer, Obisia won the national title as well as the African Boxing Union (ABU) light welterweight title.

His dream to rule the world was dashed in 1981 in Lagos as he lost the World Boxing Council (WBC) light welterweight title fight to Saoul Mamby of Jamaica by unanimous decision.

Obisia, 62, who retired as national boxing team coach in 2013 in this interview with Tribunesport’s GANIYU SALMAN, reveals some of the wrongs in Nigerian boxing and the way forward.

GOtv Boxing Night

The coming of GOtv Boxing has been a blessing to the game in Nigeria, it has elevated the standard of professional boxing. In fact, it has become a platform for energetic youths to embrace boxing which is now gradually regaining its lost fame in the country. I thank God today that GOtv has come out to bring these boxers out. If not, we would have known that some of our professional boxers can no longer cope with the rigour of the game.

Rio 2016 Olympics and Nigeria

Efe Ajagba did his best at the Olympics, getting to the quarter-final, that was what he could offer but coaching too played a part in his performance. It is difficult to advise a boxer technically before a bout, the only person who can do it is the coach who knows the strengths and weaknesses of that boxer. The reach of any boxer depends on his level of fitness. If you advise a boxer on tactics, it depends on his strength to carry it out well. It is the skill that can easily make a boxer to lose. If a boxer tries a skill he has not perfected with adequate fitness in the ring, he will be knocked down easily by his opponent.

State of boxing in Nigeria

The standard of amateur boxing in Nigeria is retrogressing. Imagine, only one boxer, Ajagba made it to the Rio 2016 Olympics and this should be a source of worry to boxing stakeholders in Nigeria. In the past, up to eight boxers had represented Nigeria at the Olympics.

Immediately I retired as national team coach in 2013, the standard of boxing began to fall to zero level and this is because the sports ministry did not assign younger coaches to understudy me. There was no any provision for me to train any coach when I was in charge. They didn’t even believe in me and anything you did without the approval of the sports ministry was an offence. They didn’t see good qualities in me and so when I retired, nobody could continue with my programme.

Since 2013, we have been having ‘inexperienced’ coaches handling our boxers in the national team. We must go for the coaches who have the capabilities to handle the job well. You can’t just upgrade a former boxer to a coach one day because he once boxed at the Olympics, that was what the authorities did in 2013. Being a former boxer does not make the person a good coach, one must go through the rudiments of coaching for one to do the job perfectly.

You can become a coach after the Olympics and also, you have retired as a professional boxer with records, that is understandable, but you must also acquire the theoretical knowledge of coaching. The case we have now is like comparing a secondary school certificate holder with a university graduate.

Yes, there are still experienced coaches in this country who are good enough to handle the national team.

I started coaching in 1973, when I was still an amateur boxer and it was coach Joe Mensah who recruited me for the Lagos State Sports Council. I was posted to Palm Groove Area as a student-coach. Boxing is dynamic. The position of the national boxing team coach is the highest in the country as far as that sport is concerned and it must be occupied by a well qualified professional.

I went to the University of Hungary for a coaching course apart from the several AIBA-organised coaching courses I did.

Boxing politics

There is little politics in amateur boxing and part of the factors that help a boxer when a fight is so close is that those at the helm would now consider the frequency of his country at world championships. How many times do we attend AIBA-organised international championships? We hardly attend international championships and that is affecting the performance of our boxers aside the coaching issue which remains the basic thing because the impact of coaching matters as well in boxing. It is not like football which is a team sport, this is an individual sport and there is no solution once a boxer is unable to cope in the ring. I spent 27 active years in the ring as a boxer and I know what is wrong with boxing in Nigeria. When the standard of boxing was falling in the United States, the authorities brought both professional and amateur boxing legends to a roundtable to proffer solutions to the problem and they came out with the idea of potential power which the American boxers lacked then. Their input eventually revived the game in US. So, we should try the same method in Nigeria, boxing legends would surely suggest the way forward. I will not be surprised if the programme I used then is what is still being used to train the boxers in the national camp now, every programme has a lifespan.

National middleweight title defence

I watched the title defence between Sunny Iyere ‘Hammer’ and Abolaji Rasheed ‘Afonja Warrior. Hammer proved that he was ring-rusty. I was ashamed of myself that day seeing the quality offered. Tell me, how can a boxer who calls himself a champion fail to defend it for three or four years? It is unspeakable.

His performance against Afonja Warrior was shameful and did not portray him as a good boxer. I was at the ringside and I said it that day even my wife could have beaten him.

Afonja overrespected Hammer and that was why he didn’t win the bout even before round six. He is a young boxer and was afraid of Hammer. He didn’t do the right thing. It was obvious Hammer had run out of stamina after five rounds but Afonja too could not do the needful, he allowed the fight to drag till the end. He had overrated Hammer.

What Afonja demonstrated that night was his level as far as I’m concerned. I know that if Hammer were to be in his usual form, Afonja wouldn’t have withstood him at all. Whether a promoter comes or not, a professional boxer must struggle to fight. During our days, I, used to tell my promoter at times that don’t worry, you can pay me when money is available, let me fight first. I need, to defend my title and maintain my form. If Hammer has had regular fights before that title defence, it would have been a different story. As I said, Afonja would have seen a different Hammer in the ring. You as a boxer must make a sacrifice to save your career by fighting even when money is not readily available but thank God that the situation now is better for boxers financially. During our time, we always entertained the crowd in the ring, we were not just boxing.

Survival

I am retired but not tired. I don’t have a gym of my own yet. I live on commercial coaching and I can’t coach for free any longer. I don’t have boxers to train for now and if I have, they must be ready to pay me because that is what I depend on. I prefer to coach mainly professional boxers because I don’t have any salary to bank on again except whatever I make through coaching. So, I am very much available for coaching.

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