The 1970 Uganda vs. Soviet Union Boxing Dual in Kampala

On December 12th 1970, an international dual boxing match between the Soviet Union and Uganda, was held in Kampala. Uganda had become an established boxing powerhouse by notably emerging as the leading Commonwealth of Nations’ boxing nation. The Commonwealth Games had been held in July. Uganda’s boxing gold medal wins were courtesy of James Odwori, Mohamed Muruli, and Benson Masanda and the others were silver medals won by Deogratias Musoke and 1968 Olympic bronze medallist Leo Rwabwogo.

The population of the Soviet Union in 1970 was approximately 240 million and Soviet amateur boxers were rated as among the best in the world. The dual boxing match-up was intriguing given Uganda’s recent boxing victory at the Commonwealth Games; and the growing tradition of boxing in the two nations. The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was a superpower, while third world country Uganda had a scanty population of approximately 10 million.

The first bout was that of light-flyweight James Odwori who had recently won the Commonwealth Games’ title, against Russian Anatoli Semenov. Odwori is rated as one of the most skillful and most exciting of Uganda’s boxers. He won many medals and would represent Uganda at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich where he was placed 5th. This time at the Kampala tournament, Semenov was awarded the victory by points. Semenov had represented the Soviet Union at the European Amateur Boxing Championships held in Bucharest in 1969, but had been beaten by points by Roman Rozek of Poland.

Uganda’s flyweight contender Leo Rwabwogo had won a Commonwealth Games silver medal in July, and he had won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico City. He would also win a silver medal at the forthcoming Olympics in Munich. His haul of prestigious international medals is impressive, and he was one of the best of Uganda’s boxers during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. At this tournament in Kampala, sturdy and strong Rwabwogo disposed of P. Ershov of the Soviet Union by a knockout in the first round. Ershov had participated in an International friendly, the Leningrad Tournament , in November 1969. He was beaten by points, by fellow Soviet Yuriy Fedorov, in the quarter-finals’ round.

Uganda’s bantamweight Eridadi Mukwanga became Uganda’s first Olympic silver medallist during the venue Mexico City in 1968. Unfortunately, Mukwanga was beaten by points in the very first preliminary round at the recent Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. This time in Kampala, Mukwanga was again disappointing. He lost to Nikolay Novikov of the Soviet Union, by points. Novikov was placed 5th at the Olympics in Mexico City as a flyweight. Other merits include a silver medal at the European Boxing Championships in 1969, and the Merited Master of Sports of the USSR award.

Soviet featherweight Valerian Sergeyevich Sokolov was set to challenge Uganda’s Deogratias Musoke. Interestingly it is Sokolov who, as a bantamweight, had won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics by knocking out previously mentioned Eridadi Mukwanga in the second round. In this Kampala tournament, Sokolov again established himself as a knockout artist by stopping Musoke in the first round. At the Commonwealth Games in July, Musoke had settled for the featherweight silver medal after being outpointed in the final by Kenyan boxing legend Philip Waruinge. At the summer Olympics in 1972, Waruinge would be awarded the silver and the gold to Boris Kuznetsov of the Soviet Union by points. Waruinge felt that he had been robbed. In the same Olympic featherweight bouts, Deogratias Musoke was disappointedly placed 17th after becoming defeated in the second round. The featherweight boxing competitors numbered forty-five. As for Valerian Sokolov, he is credited for winning 196 boxing fights out of the 216 amateur bouts in which he contested. In 1968 Sokolov was bestowed on the Honored Master of Sports of the USSR and the Order of the Badge of Honor in 1969. Fighting as a featherweight, Sokolov was placed 5th at the European Boxing Championships in June 1971.

Boris Georgievich Kuznetsov, who would in 1972 win the featherweight Olympic gold, was here in Kampala scheduled to fight Ugandan Peter Odhiambo. This would be a lightweight bout. Odhiambo impressively outpointed Kuznetsov, avenging Uganda’s previous two losses. Odhiambo would move on to win the lightweight gold medal at the African Amateur Boxing Championships of June 1972, in Nairobi. Boris Kuznetsov is regarded as one of the best and famous Soviet fighters. In February 1972, in a friendly with the USA, Kuznetsov won in his bout by stopping Robert Vascocu in the second round. In 1974, at the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championships in Havana, Kuznetsov won a silver medal. Kuznetsov was awarded both the Honored Master of Sports of the USSR and the Order of the Badge of Honor in 1972.

Mohamed Muruli of Uganda won the light-welterweight gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in June. In this Kampala tournament, in the same weight class, he would be pitted against Alexander Zaytsev of the Soviet Union. In the second round Muruli was disqualified. Nevertheless, Muruli remains one of Uganda’s most renowned amateur boxers. In 1974 in Christchurch, Muruli won Uganda another gold medal. His record as the only Ugandan to have ever win more than one Commonwealth Games’ boxing gold medal, remains intact.

Tall 22 year-old welterweight Andrew Kajjo had represented Uganda at the Olympic Games of 1968 and the recent Commonwealth Games, but did not win any medals in either games. This time in Kampala, Kajjo ably technically knocked out Soviet welterweight Alexander Ovechkin in the second round. Uganda’s hopes of becoming the overall winner, were raised.

In the light-middleweight bout, Uganda’s Abdalla beat the Soviet Vladmir Yakshilov, by points–making it the first time in the tournament that Uganda registered two consecutive wins. Vladmir Yakshilov represented the Soviet Union at the Leningrad Tournament in November 1969. At this international invitational, Yakshilov was eliminated in the semi-finals. In December 1969 in Kiev, Yakshilov participated in the Soviet Team Championships. He won in the Russia vs. Belarus dual and. the Russia vs. Kazakhstan dual. He lost in the Russia vs. Ukraine bouts.

Matthias Ouma was among Uganda’s prominent fighters during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. In 1965 he won a silver medal at the 1965 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, a bronze medal at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, a gold medal win at the 1968 Africa Boxing Championships in Lusaka, and later a silver medal at the 1972 All-Africa Boxing Championships held in Nairobi, a silver at the 1973 All-Africa Games in Lagos. Ouma represented Uganda at both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, but did not here win any medals. In this 1970 tournament in Kampala, Ouma as a light-heavyweight, was beaten by a points margin by Yuri Nesterov. Nevertheless, Ouma is still ranked high as one of the best of Uganda’s middle- and light-heavyweight boxers. Yuri Nesterov was a dreaded Soviet boxer, and is perhaps most remembered for being beaten by American Duane Bobick during the dual of February 1972, and beaten by the same Bobick in the boxing preliminaries in September 1972 in Munich. In another dual in January 1973, heavyweight Nesterov was knocked out American Nick Wells.

Ugandan heavyweight Benson Masanda, had easily won the Commonwealth boxing crown amidst a limited number of heavyweight boxers at the Games. This time in December in Kampala, Soviet Vladimir Chernyshev out-powered Masanda, technically knocking him out in the second round. Masanda still maintains his record as having been one of the most prominent of Ugandan boxing heavyweights. Others of his accolades include a gold medal at the 1972 Africa Boxing Championships held in Nairobi, and a bronze medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. In June 1971 in Madrid, Chernyshev won the heavyweight title at the European Amateur Championships. Chernyshev represented the Soviet Union in a dual with USA in February 1972, and was knocked out by Duane Bobick.

Boxers of the former USSR are still considered among the best in the world. In Kampala, the best of Soviet amateur boxers were pitted against Uganda’s best boxers. The result was 6-4 in favor of the Soviet Union. Against such a gigantic superpower and prominent boxing nation, Uganda’s Third World boxers had proved that they were indeed a formidable force in international amateur boxing.

Jonathan Musere


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: