The bulging and powerful Uganda Heavyweight boxing champion George Oywello stood at 5’11”. During the early 1960’s, Oywello represented Uganda in several significant national and international boxing competitions, won on many of the occasions. Oywello, will forever be remembered in Uganda sports history as Uganda’s first internationally prominent amateur heavyweight champion; and one of the earliest of Uganda’s foremost inspirations to Uganda’s gaining prominence in the tradition of boxing that became cemented in the 1970’s. Oywello certainly participated in more international boxing competitions than has any other amateur heavyweight champion of Uganda.
George Oywello was born on January 17, 1939 in Gulu in Northern Uganda. He died prematurely, apparently from a road accident, approximately several months after representing Uganda at the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in Japan in 1964.
Oywello’s most significant international presence came with his representing Uganda as a light-heavyweight (81kg) in Rome at the summer Olympic Games games held from August 25 to September 5, 1960. Unfortunately, in just the preliminary rounds, George Oywello succumbed to legendary Gheorghe Negrea of Romania who won by 5-0. Notably, Negrea was the silver medalist at the previous Olympics held in 1956 in Stockholm in Sweden, and he would even go on to represent Romania in the forthcoming Olympics held in 1964 in Tokyo. After defeating Oywello, Gheorghe Negrea did not go far. He was stopped in the quarter-finals by Anthony Madigan of Australia, by a knockout in the second round. In the semi-finals American Cassius Clay (later to become the flashy and flamboyant world heavyweight champion and later to rename himself Muhammad Ali) outpointed Anthony Madigan by 5-0. Cassius Clay would later claim the gold medal.
On October 5, 1962, a friendly dual match took place in Kampala in Uganda between Uganda and England. George Oywello lost to Englishman Dennis Pollard in the light-heavyweight bout, by points. Ugandans J.Kamya, Grace Sseruwagi, Peter Odhiambo, and T. Mwanje also lost to opposing Englishmen. However wins by fellow countrymen J. Wandera, John Sentongo, Kesi Odongo, D. Ochodomuge, and Francis Nyangweso drew national excitement and applause, given that Uganda had boxed to a draw with a mighty foreign power. Kesi Odongo would in the 1970’s become head trainer of the Uganda national boxing. Peter Grace Sseruwagi would become national boxing coach and gain fame for the successes of Uganda boxers in the 1970’s. Francis Nyangweso would become a boxing referee, become a Major-General and a Senior Commander of the Uganda Army during the regime of Idi Amin in the 1970’s, and Nyangweso would for three decades serve as a senor member of the International Olympic Committee. Nyangweso had an illustrious career from the time he was a boxer, and served in several capacities that included stints at being Uganda boxing captain, in addition to the military and political capacities, and the lengthy national and international career in national and international sports administration.
The next significant international opportunity for Oywello came with his representing Uganda as a heavyweight (above 81kg) at the Commonwealth Games that were held in Perth in Australia from November 22 to December 1, 1962. In the quarter-finals, Oywello was pitted against Rocky L. James (Len “Rocky” James) of Wales. James was disqualified in the third round, paving the way for Oywello to take on Holgar Johansen of Fiji. Oywello would win by points. For the finals, Oywello was pitted against William Kini of New Zealand. By beating Kini by points, George Oywello became the first Ugandan to win a gold medal at a major international event! Commendably, other Ugandans (boxers) won medals at the Games held in Perth: John Sentongo and Francis Nyangweso won bronze medals, while Kesi Odongo won a silver medal.
At the African Nations’ Boxing Championships held in Accra in Ghana in 1964, Oywello again displayed his strength and skill by winning in the finals against James Mazhar of Egypt.
The next Olympic Games were held in Tokyo from October 10 to October 24, 1964. Unfortunately, Oywello was knocked out in the first round in the preliminaries by future legendary heavyweight champion and first man to ever beat Muhammad Ali. Oywello was knocked out by none other than Joe Frazier (Joseph William Frazier), in the very first round when the referee stopped the contest. A hard and consistent-punching slugger, Frazier would ultimately become the Olympic gold medal winner, and later in the early 1970’s would establish himself as a legendary world heavyweight champion.
It will never be know regarding what would have become of talented George Oywello, had he not succumbed to a road accident when he was only in his mid-twenties. At the next major international event, the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston in Jamaica in 1966, Heavyweight Benson Ocan who is regarded as Oywello’s successor won bronze. The other two medals won by Uganda also came via boxing: Light-welterweight Alex Odhiambo won bronze, and so did middleweight Mathias Ouma. The sport of boxing was gaining steam in Uganda, and nation’s victories in the amateur ranks would reach their apex in the forthcoming decade–the 1970’s.