Posts Tagged ‘boxing’

John Baker Muwanga and Oscar Joseph Nsubuga: Two Uganda Boxing Legends

October 28, 2015

John Baker Muwanga, one of the best regarded of Uganda’s boxing champions, was born on April 2nd 1956 in the vicinity of Kampala, growing up in Nsambya. Joseph Nsubuga, another of Uganda’s renowned former boxers, was Muwanga’s older half-brother.

Equally unique and fascinating is how Muwanga started boxing, how he progressed, and why and how he hang up his gloves.  His pathway to boxing started when his half-brother Nsubuga who was born in Kenya in the early 1950’s showed up in 1963 at the family home in Nsambya while accompanied by his sister and mother.  The father of the children had been employed by East African Railways and Harbors where he worked in Kenya. Muwanga was delighted to have an older brother around. Nsubuga had dabbled at boxing. Soon, Muwanga would accompany Nsubuga to the Police Boxing club in Nsambya, a few times. But Muwanga was not impressed with the sport. Also, Muwanga’s mother would soon vacate the house, taking with him Muwanga and one of his sisters to live elsewhere. He soon ended up being a pupil in Mugwanya Preparatory School (Kabojja), a boarding school; and thereafter he was transferred to the sister school St. Savio Primary School on Entebbe Road.

At Savio in 1969, Muwanga ended up fighting a bully who happened to be the son of a politically prominent person. Muwanga was expelled from school as a result. His father was very furious, and assured him that he would never amount to anything. Meanwhile brother Nsubuga was making steady boxing progress, Muwanga got the attention for just happening to be the brother–although he was put down as comparatively weak and not  as tough as his boxing brother. It is here that Muwanga decided to try boxing. He was matched with play opponents, he was badly beaten and laughed at. People from northern Uganda were reputed to be good fighters, and Muwanga was discouraged from continuing with boxing on the grounds that such boxers would, “kill you for nothing.” But the taunting just made Muwanga the more determined to disprove skeptics.

Muwanga dared to enroll in the national junior championships which were held at the Nsambya Police shed. He would represent Nsambya Boxing Club. At that place and time, those days, medical tests were not up to standard and were not taken seriously. Muwanga was allowed to box. He was matched with an opponent Tilima from Naguru boxing Club. In the fight, Muwanga did not prove himself; his opponent who was much better than him did his best not to humiliate him. Tilima even pretended to be knocked down, even when he had not been hit.  Muwanga writes (Personal communication, 10 June 2014):

“What a show!!! This guy tried everything not to humiliate me but failed people laughed until tears run down there cheeks. The guy even pretended to be knocked down by the air of a punch I had swung some 10 inches away from him. He got a warning for that. I lost and the crowd laughed.”

Muwanga’s associates would laugh at him because of that fight.  This caused him to strive the more to become a good boxer.  Early on a Sunday he decided to go to Kampala Boxing Club in Nakivubo. Muwanga writes, “I went to KBC in Nakivubo, determined to learn how to box or die” (Personal communication, 10 June 2014). The club was closed.

Muwanga returned to KBC early the next morning. There a fellow James Bond Okwaare made fun of how Muwanga had boxed. Okwaare was quickly rebuked by the national coach Erias Gabiraali. Muwanga started training there as he got to know some of the national boxers who dropped in.  These inclued Ayub Kalule, Cornelius Bbosa Boza-Edwards, Mustafa Wasajja, Ben Ochan,  Alex Odhiambo, Ochodomuge, and David Jackson. Even Muwanga’s brother Nsubuga would drop in. In concluding words Muwanga writes  (Personal communication, 10 June 2014):

“One day I was shocked to hear that my brother was going to Scotland [Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, 1970] to represent Uganda. I could not believe, not only that other urchins from the ‘village’ were also going, to make the pie sweeter boys from the slum next door which was Katwe Kinyoro, the likes of John Opio were also in the team!!! There was justice in honest sweat, hard work and discipline…the rest is history.”

At the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh,  on July 18th 1970,  16 year-old Joseph Oscar Nsubuga (lightweight) was defeated by points decision by Olympian Kenneth Mwansa of Zambia in the preliminary round.

At  the Commonwealth Games of 1974  held in Christchurch, 20 year-old Nsubuga now a light-welterweight defeated Philip Sapak of Papua New Guinea. This happened in the preliminary first round on January 27th  when the referee halted the fight early after Nsubuga had quickly overwhelmed his opponent. However, in the quarter-finals that were held two days later, James Douglas of Scotland defeated Nsubuga by points and thereby halted Nsubuga’s quest for a medal.

Months later, in August 1974, Nsubuga, fighting as a middleweight, would win a bronze medal at the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championships in Havana. Nsubuga had moved up to the middleweight division.

The TSC Tournament was held at the Dynamo-Sporthalle in Berlin during October 3-7, 1974. In the quarter-finals, Nsubuga fighting as a middleweight beat Zaprianov (Bulgaria) by points. But in the semi-finals he was beaten, by points, by Peter Tiepold of the German Democratic Republic. He settled for the bronze medal. here Ugandans performed remarkably well: James Odwori (flyweight) and Ayub Kalule (light-welterweight) won gold; Vitalish Bbege (welterweight) won the silver medal.

Nsubuga would debut as a professional in May 1975 whereby he moved to Finland then to Norway; he would mostly fight in Europe. Nsubuga stopped competing in 1981 after he was knocked out by famous future world champion Davey Moore. Nsubuga’s most signified fight was his spirited gladiator battle (non-title bout) with renowned Panamanian Roberto Duran on January 13th 1980 in Las Vegas. The Panamanian seemed to be tiring, but Joseph “Stoneface” Nsubuga was knocked out at the end of the fourth round. He retired from boxing in 1981 with an impressive record of 18 wins and 3 losses. Nsubuga passed away in Helsinki on May 4th 2013, aged 59.

During the 1970’s while at Namasagali College in Kamuli District in Uganda, Muwanga displayed himself as a skillful, dreaded, and popular boxer. At the amateur national level, he is said to have defeated renowned future world champion and fellow Ugandan Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa) twice. In April 1973, the annual Golden Belt Tournament took place in Bucharest. Most of the winners and silver medalists turned out to be Cubans and Romanians. It was here that Muwanga, aged 17, first participated in international competition. Here Muwanga, together with his accomplices on the Uganda team–Ayub Kalule, Vitalish Bbege, and James Odwori–all won bronze medals in Romania. Later in the same 1973, Muwanga fought for Uganda twice in two Urafiki (Kenya vs. Uganda) tournaments; he was victorious. Muwanga soon became overwhelmed when the veteran Ugandan boxing legend Alex Odhiambo, who had heretofore been so critical of the younger boxer, subsequently gave him the nod and the thumbs up!

At the local level and during training, Muwanga did fight Odwori and another famous Uganda boxer “Kabaka” Nasego several times, but he did not win. Among the Ugandans he beat were Vincent Byarugaba, and several others. Muwanga’s stint as a national amateur boxer were from 1973 to 1977 when he was also a student at Namasagali College; thereafter he attended Oslo University while he fought as a professional. Muwanga recalls that at training camp, where behavioral attitudes varied from boxer to boxer, as admired example the skillful Odwori was particularly talkative, whereas Ayub Kalule preferred action to words (Personal communication, 29 October 2015):

“…guys like Ayub Kalule…preferred action to talk, a phenomena in my opinion. James Odouri talked a mile a minute but, had the rare ability to back up whatever he said. A very rare quality. We called him ‘Kasuku’ [parrot] behind his back.”

John Muwanga, as a light-flyweight represented Uganda at the inaugural world amateur championships held in Havana in August 1974. Notably Kalule and Nsubuga here won gold and bronze, respectively. Muwanga was eliminated in the preliminary round by a points decision in favor of Bejhan Fuchedzhiyev (Bulgaria). Quite notable is the aspect that a massive six of the Uganda contingent in Havana had studied at Namasagali–one of the few schools in Uganda that embraced boxing. In addition to Muwanga, those boxers that did attend Namasagali included Nsubuga, Odwori, John Byaruhanga, Vincent Byarugaba, and Shadrack Odhiambo.

Muwanga’s national status continued to rise and at age 20 he was selected to represent Uganda at the summer Olympics in Montreal.  Most African countries, twenty-eight of them, boycotted the Montreal Olympic Games of 1976 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to bar from the Olympics countries from which athletes had participated in sporting events in apartheid South Africa. The New Zealand Rugby team was then touring South Africa. Countries like China, Iraq, and Guyana also withdrew; although with China it primarily had to do with a political name recognition issue–non-recognition of “Republic of China” vs.  “Peoples’ Republic of China.”

The Uganda boxers withdrawn from participation because of the boycott included Baker Muwanga (bantamweight) alongside Venostos Ochira (light-flyweight), Adroni Butambeki (flyweight), Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa) (featherweight), David Ssenyonjo (lightweight),  Jones Okoth (light-welterweight), Vitalish Bbege (welterweight), and John Odhiambo (light-middleweight). Non of these pugilists had represented Uganda at the 1972 Olympics held in Munich. Vitalish Bbege had won gold at the Africa Boxing Championships held in Kampala in 1974.

Muwanga started his professional career in Norway in April 1978, and ended it in October 1982. He mostly boxed as a lightweight. All his bouts took place in Norway, aside from the final two that took place in Finland. He did not lose any of the bouts but he likely would have liked to be exposed to more intensive competition and to also box in western countries where there are more top contenders and champions. A factor was the banning of professional boxing in Norway, this officially effective from the beginning of 1981.

Muwanga ended as undefeated as a professional boxer with 15 wins, 0 losses, with 6 knockouts ( He regrets to some extend that he did not flourish as much as he would have wanted to as a boxer, but at the same time he is grateful that boxing took him to places and opened to him many advantages. He writes, “…my boxing career, in my opinion was not as exciting as I wanted it to be but I’m not complaining it opened a lot of doors for me and got me into places I never thought I would see…” (Personal communication, 10 June 2014).

Jonathan Musere


John Munduga: Famous Uganda Boxing Champion

October 26, 2015

Pugilist John Munduga, a Lugbara of northwestern Uganda ancestry was one of the nation’s top boxers during his amateur career of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He was conspicuous for his lean build and tallness. Though he was in the lower weight classes, he was slightly over 6 feet tall. He has been regarded as one of the most skillful of Ugandan boxers. He would dabble as captain of the Uganda boxing team as he represented Uganda in several regional tournaments. Munduga competed at the summer Olympics that were held in Moscow in 1980, and he was there the national captain. As a professional, he fought in Europe and the United States where he brawled with several famous and top boxers. Munduga had a very high knockout ratio, and he remained undefeated for a relatively long time. He now resides in his native Uganda (in Naguru where he was born) where he is a high school coach and trainer–notably at Kololo High School near Kampala. During 2000, he was the national coach of the Rwanda boxing team.

Munduga was born on January 15th 1961 in Naguru near Kampala in Uganda where he studied at St. Jude Primary School where he played soccer. But he, early in life, became interested in boxing when he hang out at the Naguru Community Center near Kampala. He became a school boxing champion for several years, and then a national junior champion at age 11.

In 1977, Munduga represented Uganda at the annual Kenya vs. Uganda Urafiki Tournament. He won in the fight. He was summoned by national coach Grace Sseruwagi to get into residential training with the novices. Munduga excelled by beating his opponents then he was selected as the youngest on the team of Ugandan boxers to Thailand to fight in the international King’s Cup. Munduga impressively won a bronze medal.

In January 1978, at a Uganda vs. Poland match in Kampala, Munduga defeated Roman Gotfryd after the bout was stopped.

At the All-Africa Games of 1978, held in Algiers, Munduga lost in the second round to Kenyan Steve Muchoki who is renowned to have in the past beaten James Odwori, and having become am amateur world Champion. He tehrefore failed to move into the medal bracket.

Munduga represented Uganda at the Feliks Stamm Memorial Invitational that was held in Warsaw from November 9-11 in 1978. In the quarter-finals, the Ugandan defeated Jose Luis Rios of Cuba by 4:1. In the semi-finals Munduga beat Yuriy Prokhorov of the Soviet Union by 3:2. In the finals Munduga triumphed by beating Leszek Kosedowski (Poland) by 4:1. Here again, he won the gold. Out of the five Ugandan boxers at this venue, only Munduga was victorious.

At the Poland vs. Uganda Dual of February 1979, held in Warsaw, Munduga triumphed over the Pole Kazimierz Adach. Here boxers like Mugabi, Odwori, Butambeki, and Siryakibe were defeated.

Still in February 1979, Munduga was triumphant in the town Schwerin in German Democratic Republic where a dual match was held against Uganda. Munduga here defeated Lutz Kaesebier. Of the other Ugandan boxers, only Adroni Butambeki was triumphant.

Munduga was a 19 year-old when at the 1980 Olympics held in Moscow he was pitted against 25 year-old Nelson Jose Rodriguez of Venezuela in the first preliminary round of the light-welterweight contest. At just 5’5″, Rodriguez was about half a foot shorter than Munduga. The Ugandan triumphed on this July 21st 1980 by winning on points.

Munduga’s next Olympic battle would happen on July 26th, and here in the second preliminary he would box against Farouk Chanchoun Jawad of Iraq. Though much shorter, 25 year-old Chanchoun who was more experienced, would knock out Munduga in the second minute of the first round. The Ugandan claims that he started well, but then was unfairly punched in the neck and fell unconscious. Chanchoun is famously known to have been the Asia champion thrice. Munduga would take the position of 9th overall in the light-welterweight division.

But though Mugabi would win Uganda’s sole medal at the Olympics in Moscow, Munduga clearly stands out as the Uganda amateur pugilist that triumphed most for Uganda during the late 1970’s. He comes to mind as a very hardworking, skillful, dedicated and disciplined during a time when Uganda’s significance in boxing was quickly slipping down. After the Olympics in Moscow, Mugabi left for London to train as professional under the management Mickey Duff. There, Mugabi would recommend Munduga to boxing officiants, and during a training session in Uganda in preparation for the traditional annual Urafiki dual between Uganda and Kenya, Munduga escaped camp that was under the tutelage of national coach Grace Peter Sseruwagi and took off for Europe. The rest is history. Sseruwagi was undoubtedly not pleased.

The World Boxing Council (WBC) rankings of July 24th 1987 ranked two Ugandan “Johns,” who had also represented Uganda at the Olympics, as among the top ten contenders for the world Super welterweight crown. Lupe Aquino of Mexico was the champion, John “the Beast” Mugabi was the top contender, while John Munduga was ranked as the sixth top contender. Apart from theoretically being rivals for the crown, the two were probably sparring partners given that they were both managed by Mickey Duff in Tampa in Florida. Mugabi, as a welterweight had won Uganda’s only medal haul at the Moscow Olympics–a silver in the welterweight division. On the world professional scene, Munduga would get to be nicknamed, “the Matador.” Munduga would talk of his boyhood friend Mugabi as one who “had a big punch early…at 9, 10 years, he used to knock boys out…was the only one that age who could” (Berger 1986).

Munduga started boxing as a professional in Germany, in November 1981, where he fought the first fourteen of his professional fights. Here he fought a cross-section of boxers from near and far, and he established an 85% record in these fights from 1981 to early 1984.

Thereafter he started competing in the United States whereby his first battle here was with Tommy Rogers in Tampa. He knocked out Rogers, then continued with his typical trend of knocking out most of his opponents up to when he battled Leland Hart whom he beat by points in Atlantic City in May 1986. At this stage, Munduga had a clean and imposing record of 24 wins, 0 losses, with 18 knockouts.

The next fight would be a scheduled 10-rounder with renowned American Mark Breland, a very 6’2.5″ welterweight who had won Olympic gold at the Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1984. He was two inches taller than Munduga. A very popular figure, 23 year-old Breland dabbled as an actor, and he had a very impressive streak as USA amateur champion. On June 21st 1986, Breland was pitted against the Ugandan who was two inches shorter. This happened at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in New Jersey. Munduga was then ranked as ninth on the list of contenders for the welterweight crown, by the World Boxing Association (WBA), and sixth on the list of junior middle-weight contenders, by the WBC.

Munduga believed that it would be advantageous for him to land punches on Breland because the two were about equal in height. Munduga added that Breland had never fought an opponent as skillful as himself and he added that this was a big fight for which he had trained hard for. Breland, stating that he had fought many tall fighters during his amateur days, most of whom he had stopped, opined that it was tougher to fight short boxers. He had to bend lower to fight them, and bend even lower when they duck. Breland also regarded Munduga as the typical European fighter who would not be much of a problem, one who stands erect and comes right at you. According to Breland, Munduga had a good jab and looping right, but he was not much of a good puncher. Breland fought his first professional fight, only two months after he had won the gold medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles. He was touted to be “the next Sugar Ray Leonard,” an image that he would eventually not measure up to.

The first round revealed that both were right-handed, conventional style boxers. The taller and longer-armed Breland used these too his advantage of keeping Munduga at bay with these advantages though Munduga keeps attacking. In the first round the two were mainly feeling each other out for the pattern, the round was roughly even, but Breland uses the arm advantage to win.

In the second round, Munduga is rocked with a hard punch in the first few seconds, and he stumbles. Breland is very aware of it and he gradually moves in to attempt a knockout punch. Munduga has slowed down and he is indeed slightly hurt. But Munduga keeps attacking while the opponent’s typical reach keeps him away from scoring much. Breland’s height, slenderness, stance, and rocking blows remind one of a younger Thomas “Hitman” Hearns.

In round three, Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, Don King, and Jesse Jackson are seen in the high capacity 15000-audience that has come to see an Olympic celebrity box. At this time Breland was undefeated in 12 fights, but his knockout ratio was far less spectacular than that of Munduga. In this third round, Munduga is perplexed as to what tactics to use, but he courageously keeps going after Breland though he keeps running into the long-range punches of Breland.

In the fourth round Munduga becomes much more aggressive, but he is getting tired. However, Breland is apparently more fresh and gradual, like he is waiting for the chance to deliver the onslaught. Still, in this fourth round, Munduga delivers his best punches of the round, and they seem to slightly rock Breland off balance.

In the fifth round, Munduga displays more courage and confidence. He even rocks Breland when he is against the ropes, and he goes on to speed up on the attacking.

In the sixth round, the slugger Munduga is again the aggressive one and he keeps attacking Breland as he hopes to get through teh opponent’s longer arms. Breland displays patience but awareness of his opponents rising confidence. He seems to wait for Munduga to become reckless and careless and leave his head open to blows. Indeed the moment comes in the sixth round. As Munduga further delivers powerful blows, Breland takes the upper hand and delivers solid killer uppercut and right-left-right bows to Munduga’s head that knock him down senseless on his back. The medical team quickly moves into the ring to attend to Munduga whose left eye is quickly closing up. The fight is decisively over; the referee Paul Venti did not bother to count him out. Munduga was hereby defeated for the first time in his boxing career. The boxing world mostly remembers Munduga because of this fight in which he displayed courage and skill against a famed and seasoned boxer.

Confident and victorious Breland remarked after the fight (AP 1986: 32).

“His plan was to come forward, hit and get hit. I knew he was a good puncher, but I punch pretty good too. His game plan was taken away and you can’t adjust in the ring unless you are real smart.”

Five weeks before the fight with Munduga, just after he had knocked out Ricky Avendano in the first minute of the first round, Breland was asked about how he rated himself, and he replied (AP 1986: 19).

“I really don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t want to be rushed into a title fight. Maybe a year or a year and a half from now. I want everything to be perfect.”

Between 1987 and 1990, Mark Breland became WBA welterweight champion, then he lost the title to Marlon Starling, then regained it, then lost it to Aaron Davis. Breland retired from the ring with an impressive 39 victories, 3 losses, and 1 draw.

Munduga’s head had been clobbered badly by Breland, he collapsed heavily to the floor. This fight, which is the most attached to Munduga, had virtually desrepaired and destroyed him. It took Munduga nearly six months to contest again. he admits that after this fight he was damaged, no longer himself, and he somewhat lost interest in boxing. In comparison, Uganda’s Mustapha Wasajja was never the same again after he ws knocked out by Michael Spinks; John “the Beast Mugabi” was never the same again when he was knocked out by Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Next, in Las Vegas, he won in a mediocre fight with Alvaro Granillo in December 1986. His very last major fight was with undefeated Darrin “Schoolboy” Van Horn who was a student at the University of Kentucky, and a future International Boxing Federation (IBF) world champion. In Frankfort in Kentucky, more than a year since Munduga had performed in the ring, Van Horn knocked out Munduga in the seventh of a scheduled 10-rounder in February 1988.

Munduga fought his last three professional fights in Germany and Belgium, and he lost all of them by knockout to unheralded fighters. His last recorded fight is of November 1989. He had lost his luster. Munduga is recorded as having won in 25 fights in which 18 were by knockout. However in all the five fights that he lost, he was knocked out in each of them. Many had expected so much more from this formerly high-ranked boxer. Peter Grace Sseruwagi, Uganda’s most renowned boxing coach, describes John Munduga as “the most talented boxer that I have ever coached.”

Between 1987 and 1990, Mark Breland became WBA welterweight champion, then he lost the title to Marlon Starling, then regained it, then lost it to Aaron Davis. Breland retired from the ring with an impressive 39 victories, 3 losses, and 1 draw.

Works Cited

AP. “Breland Wins 12th Welterweight Bout.” The Index Journal. May 16 1986.
AP. “Breland Floors Munduga in Sixth.” The Index Journal. June 22 1986.

Berger, Phil. “Mugabi: At Boxing’s Front Door.” New York Times. March 2 1986.

Jonathan Musere

Jorge “Maromero” Paez: The World Boxing Championship Wins in Mexicali and the “Clown Prince of Boxing”

October 18, 2011

The Spanish word “maromero” is derived from “maroma” (somersaults), and would translate to “acrobat,” “the one who somersaults,” “one who flips his body,” or even “trickster.” Jorge Adolfo Febles Paez, a native of Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico grew up in a family of roaming and struggling entertainers of a circus owned by his grandmother. More than the boxing ring, Paez loved clown and acrobat roles in the circus. In 1989, “El Maromero” Paez is quoted as saying, regarding the more than $100,000 he would receive for defending his International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight title against Lupe Gutierezz in Reno, Nevada:

“I only want to get money, not titles…I came from a down status. Now, I am at the top. It was hard getting there” (“Paez Faces Gutierezz” in “Schenectady Gazette,” December 9, 1989).

Undoubtedly one of Jorge Paez’s motivations to earn money was the upgrading and marketing of the family circus.

The rise to fame of Maromero Paez was unique, spectacular, and significantly historical. Before Paez’s first fight in the United States of America, he was virtually unknown beyond the boxing circles of Mexico where he had earned the nickname “Maromero.” In Mexico Paez had mostly fought in Mexicali (which is the state capital, and a portmanteau for “Mexico” and “California”) and Tijuana in the state Baja California. He occasionally fought in places like Mexico City and San Luis Colorado. But though largely untested by international competition prior to his ventures into the United States, Paez had amassed an excellent boxing record of 25 wins (19 by knockout), two losses, one draw. Paez amassed the two losses very early in his career.

On January 23rd in Gamaches in Somme, France, 25 year-old African-American Calvin Grove dethroned Puerto Rican Antonio Rivera whose last fight had been on August 30th 1986 when he dethroned Ki-Young Chung of Korea of the IBF flyweight title. Undefeated in 32 previous fights in a professional boxing career that started in 1982, Grove knocked out Rivera in the fourth round of a scheduled 15 rounds. Tall and slender Calvin Grove, one of the best American boxers, was renowned for his speed and skills and ability to evade blows; he earned the nickname, “Silky Smooth.” On April 17th 1988, Grove would successfully defend his new title, against American Myron Taylor. The next battle would be with Paez, on August 4th 1988. Grove was expected to win, but Paez had the higher knockout ratio. Paez was going to fight in his familiar hometown with the crowd cheering for the clown. Humidity in Mexicali is generally low, but the July-August weather temperatures often rise to a dehydrating triple-digits Fahrenheit! The temperature high of Mexicali on that August 4th 1988 was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, while the low was 86 degrees!

Calvin Grove Vs. Jorge Adolfo Paez: The First Bout
A high capacity crowd at the Plaza de Toros Calafia was eagerly anticipated the IBF featherweight championship bout. The ring set up in a bullfighting arena was unusually wide in area, and this would be a factor in the fight. It would likely give Grove the space advantage given that he was a hit-and-run fighter. Paez was more of the ambush and close-range boxer who preferred to cut down on the space or corner his opponents and batter them. Unfortunately, there are no rigid legal limits on the dimensions of a boxing ring.

Of historical significance, the Paez-Grove encounter would officially be the last USA televised and major international 15-round professional title bout. Protests over the dangers of boxing had undoubtedly played a part in gradually limiting professional boxing bouts to twelve rounds.

A young-looking Paez, well known for his unique flashy and exotic ring outfits and hairstyles (beside his clowning in the ring) was this time wearing flashy blue shorts and had a neat full crop of hair with bangles tied to the hair ends running down the neck. As usual, Paez was there not to steal the show but to be the show! In comparison, Grove looked none the worse for wear in his white and lines black shorts. He had a significant thick crown-crop of hair on top of his head with the lower circumference of the head heavily trimmed down. Paez at 22 years of age (born on October 27th, 1965 in the small cozy city Colima which is the capital of the Colima state of Mexico) and a relatively short 5’5″ (165 cm) was officially weighted 125.75 pounds, while Grove who would turn 26 the next day (August 5th 1988) stood tall at 5’8″ and light at 125.5 pounds. The differences arms lengths were also significant. Paez at 68-69 inches and Grove at 71 inches–nearly a full-foot of difference. Grove was born in the small steel town Coatesville in Pennsylvania.

In the first round, Grove exhibits a lot of the Muhammad Ali style. He is hitting and running, circling the ring. Paez looks stronger, much more buffed and muscular than Grove. No doubt, Grove is very much aware of the strength and rocking power of Paez. Paez is the offensive one, Grove is the defensive one. As Paez walks and jogs to Grove to deliver, Grove keeps jabbing and running, but the jabs are not hurting Paez. But the few of Paez’s blows that hit Grove are significantly powerful, and one noticeably causes Grove to stumble. This reminds Grove that he will have to continue to be evasive to avoid a Paez onslaught. The fighters have been feeling or assessing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The judges likely awarded each of the two pugilists the same numbers of points for this round.

The second round begins and further signifies that Paez is the one with the devastating power punches that Grove fully realized in the first round. Grove maintains a safe distance from Paez, sometimes running away from a chasing Paez who is intending to put out Paez with a devastating right-left hook.

In rounds three and four, Grove continues his hit-and-retreat stance that frustrates Paez who does not seem to be accustomed to Grove’s boxing style. Somewhere in there, Paez delivers a hard left hook that hurts Grove. But this fight is likely becoming a difficult one to score. Should the judges reward for Grove’s combinations which are not laced with much power and involve what looks like cowardly retreating and avoiding a toe-to-toe brawl with Paez; or should they award Paez for his keenness but frustration in hitting Grove? Paez’s blows are hard and significant, the few times they land. Paez may have to count on Grove losing steam as the fight progresses. And the weather temperatures are significantly high, and Grove with his thin body and continuous running may be bound to lose more energy and body fluids as the fight progresses.

In the fifth round, Paez confidently starts his clowning. This is to please and rail the crowd, displaying what he is famous for. It may also be a way for him to relax given the evasiveness of Grove that has frustrated and psychologically worn him out. Paez is taking a break to allow him to forge a strategy to get at Grove. The only two professional bouts that Paez previously lost happened very early in his career. Paez had never been knocked out and had gone the full distance in a handful of 10-rounders. This is his first international championship, the first beyond 10 rounds. Grove has gone the full distance in a significant number of bouts of 10 rounds and beyond. Grove certainly has the stamina–in his last fight, about a year ago, he defeated Myron Taylor by unanimous decision in a 15-round defense of his new IBF featherweight title.

The sixth round starts, and Paez briefly hits Grove. This is Paez’s best round, the audience is excited. Paez lands more head-hunting punches, clownishly taunts Grove,. even faking getting disoriented after Grove’s delivering the blows that do not hurt him.

In the seventh round, for the first time, the two boxers are closer in body distance; perhaps a sign that both are tired. But as indicated, the close contact style would likely favor the harder-hitting and offensive Paez. This round is even more exciting than the fifth-sixth rounds, but Paez lands the harder and sharper blows. Both boxers are getting exhausted, and Grove the more worn out, the two seem to be going for the kill as Grove becomes more audacious.

Paez appears to be relaxing in the eighth round, while still looking for the opportunity to land that killer punch. Grove continues to land the flash punches, hoping that the accumulation will give him the points. Paez is also visibly landing blows to Grove’s body as he ducks.

In the ninth round Paez picks up the pace and the crowd roars as he occasionally delivers. At some point he taunts Grove to move towards him and fight.

In the tenth round, both boxers display fatigue and each taunts the other. There is significantly visible damage to Grove in the form of a growing swelling on the side of his left eye. Paez gaining confidence, at some point stands straight alongside the ropes with dropped hands as he taunts Grove’s seemingly soft punches that he allows Grove to deliver. Paez is urging Grove to step close to him and really fight. Paez seems to be trying to encourage Grove to step closer, attempting to bait and thereafter rock him.

In the eleventh round Paez more intensively chases Grove who remains elusive as he circles and avoids the blows. Grove starts to occasionally hold as the strong Paez lounges forward. For the first time, Paez has surpassed 10 rounds. Grove had previously done it eighteen times. A great round for Paez who has landed heavy lounging blows on a retreating and apparently tired and injured Grove. A strength of Paez is his ability to easily change from the orthodox to the southpaw stance; a bit of ambidexterity with a lot of power in both fists.

In the twelfth round Paez continues to go after the hurt the retreating tired Calvin Grove who is hanging on. Paez becomes overly confident. Grove surprisingly lands and hurts Paez in the last few seconds of the round. But the bell rings and it is too late for Grove to follow up.

The thirteenth round witnesses Paez getting deadlier. The “Maromero” is fighting as though he is as fresh as at the beginning of the bout. He is encouraged by the swelling next to Grove’s left eye which is getting worse. The two boxers seem to be adrenaline-charged! This round involves more toe-to-toe exchanges, but Paez is also dancing and gaining the upper hand. Grove is running, but he has become more daring in reciprocating Paez’s flurry.

The fourteenth round involves Paez continuing to chase and land on Grove the harder blows. Paez does some clowning, a sign of growing confidence; but he intends to put out Grove.

The final round fifteen is evidently the “do-or-die” round. Grove is hurt and worn out, but the retreating blows he landed that were more significant in the first half of the bout might have him in the lead on the judges’ scorecards. On the other hand, the judges could have awarded more points to Paez because of his aggressiveness and hard punches against a seemingly cowardly retreating Grove. In the first seconds of the fifteenth round, Paez is knocked down but it is ruled a push. Paez quickly gets up. But a heavily dehydrated and worn out Grove seems to drop his guard. He retreats to a neutral corner, perhaps to get the support of the ropes. This is Paez’s best moment given that Grove is substantially trapped, for the first time! Paez unleashes a left that hurts Grove. This gives Paez the chance to deliver a dangerous combination that knocks Grove to the ground. Grove, in agony, gets up, is given an 8-count. Paez aggressively goes forward and hammers Grove in the same previous corner. Grove falls, again. After the 8-count, Paez uncharacteristically hits Grove in the abdomen and Grove falls although the blow looked like a slap. Grove gets up, his body language implying protest that it was a low blow or maybe water on the floor that made him slip. As the fight has been progressing, Grove has been holding on for dear life, often holding and even twisting around Paez so as to recuperate and kill time. Grove is in agony but the bell saves him from being completely knocked out. There was not a three-knock-down rule in this IBF. The crowd was in a frenzy throughout the fifteenth round.

When the bell rings to signal the end of a lengthy and hard-fought bout, Paez smiles and is lifted up by his team to imply that he has won. Many contend that some of the referees may have given a 10-6 points in favor of Paez in the fifteenth round because of the three knockdowns. after the smiling and confidently waving to the animated crowd, Paez climbs up the corner ropes to wave to the crowd and flex his raised arms like he is the victor. Then he climbs down and collapsedly falls to the floor. He is exhausted but elated! Paez’s Mexican entourage that is mostly dressed in white has already swarmed and packed the ring like it were an extended congratulating family. Paez again climbs the ropes. The congratulatory patting from the entourage is seemingly ceaseless! The two boxers Paez and Grove briefly hug and utter some friendly words to each other as they eagerly await the decision. The result, it is a majority decision in favor of an excited and emotional Maromero Paez! The IBF featherweight championship belt is locked around his waist and he is hoisted up, his arms flexing in the air in victory! Paez emotionally weeps, and in the opposite corner is a disappointed Grove with eyes covered by his right hand, with head hanging low. Jorge Paez Jr., just 8 months of age, is brought into the ring for his father to hold and display.

Calvin Grove Vs. Jorge Adolfo Paez: The Second Bout
Since the previous bout, Paez had fought an average Mexican boxer Miguel Molina whom he had previously, on July 28th 1986, beaten by points in a 6-round bout in Tijuana. On September 30th 1988, nearly two months after Paez had won the IBF featherweight title, Paez knocked out Molina in Ciudad Juarez. The rematch with Grove would be Paez’s next professional boxing bout.

Inevitably, the audience longed for a Paez-Grove rematch. The rematch would happen on March 30th 1989. The bout took place at the same ring in Mexicali that the previous IBF featherweight championship had taken place. But this time the weather temperatures were considerably lower and much better tolerable than during the previous bout which was contested in August of the previous year. On this March 30th, the maximum temperature was 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the lowest was 60 degrees, and the average was 76 degrees. Contrast that with the foregone August bout whereby the maximum was 104, the minimum was 77, and the average was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, Paez had the home-crowd and weather-familiarity advantage.

On March 30th 1989, the ring officials and boxers Grove and Paez stood to the attention of the playing of the USA and Mexico anthems. The rematch for the!BF featherweight championship was going to take place. The ring was exactly the same that the two boxers had battled for the championship, previously. The ring area was again conspicuously wide in area, and comfortably held many boxing officials. A Mexican celebrity sang the Mexican anthem while Paez and many others in the ring and among the audience sang along. Paez was more flashily and glamorously dressed than in their previous bout. Here he wore multi-colored trunks, green gloves and boots, and unevenly matched socks and other accessories that truly made him look like the circus clown. The complex hair style enhanced the circus clown image. Grove wore purple trunks and his rows of braided hair seemed to suggest that he had attempted to match Paez’s flashy attire.

The first round begins and Paez is certainly animated and more confident than during the beginning of the last bout. Paez starts by clownishly and tauntingly gyrating his hips as he looks at Grove in the corner across, then at the bell signal he quickly rushes at his opponent. Paez is much more aggressive early in the bout than in their previous fight and seems to want to clobber Grove and end the bout early. He seems to be confident that he now knows Grove well enough and can go for the early kill. Paez manages to land many single left-right punches to Grove’s head and body as a cautious Grove mostly wards off Paez with his long arms. Still, Grove is facing Paez more than evading him like he had done in their previous fight. Paez is certainly dominant in this round.

In the second round, Grove becomes more offensive and lands more jabs than during the first round. Paez is relaxed, less animated than in the first round, but he still lands heavy blows and wants to deliver a lounging head kill. Paez taunts Grove, using clowning hip gestures. Near the end of the round, Paez unleashes a series of combinations that seem to hurt Grove. But this round favors Grove, although there was not much action in the round.

At the beginning of the third round, Paez is cornered but is not getting hurt by Grove. He slips out of the corner and the two boxers go toe-to-toe around the ring. Unlike the first bout whereby Grove mostly hit-and-run, this time Grove is bravely standing to Paez and not running. Grove is trading punches with the stronger Paez. The latter, sometimes ducks or lowers his head before landing the 1-2 combination. Near the end of the round, Grove corners Paez and unleashes a significant combination of punches. But Paez slips away and even begins to punch Grove who slightly wobbles. The bell rings.

In the fourth round Paez works hard to strike Grove while ducking and attempting to box through Grove’s guarding long arms. Grove is cautious and retreating, and not boxing much. At some point he even holds Paez. But Paez gets the better of the two. Grove throws a punishing right to the head of Paez, but this apparently angers and excites Paez into smothering Grove the more. This is a great round for Paez whereby Grove is getting hurt.

Just before the beginning of the fifth round, a confident Paez in his corner dancingly shakes his chest. The bell rings and Paez straight away runs after Grove. The two exchange thundering jabs. Grove is hurt and he holds Paez so as to avert the onslaught. The referee separates them. Grove recovers and reciprocates Paez’s jabs. Paez corners Grove and attempts to block his eyes with the left hand and then deliver a killer combination, but fails to knock him down. This is a great round for Paez who is progressively gaining confidence and landing more blows.

In the sixth round Paez relaxes and tauntingly clowns, even when Grove backs him into a corner, indicating that Grove is not hurting him. The two continue to exchange hard punches, but this time Paez’s clowning has allowed Grove to deliver and land more punches. Grove lands on Paez a significantly punishing upper cut.

Paez is back to business in the seventh round. He attacks Grove, but Grove does not back away although at times he holds. Paez continues to taunt Grove by gyrating his hips as he beckons him to come forward and fight. Grove’s blows have weakened but he unleashes a dangerous combination that hurts and spurs on Paez to return the favor. Still, Grove is the better deliverer in this round, proving that he trained hard for this championship bout. Grove is much less of the retreating fighter seen in the first fight with Paez. Allowing himself to be cornered is partly a tactic by Paez to get Grove closer so he can more easily rock Grove.

In the eighth round, Grove who has gained confidence backs Paez into a corner and delivers the blows. Paez instinctively counter-attacks and exacts on Grove hard blows that weaken Grove. The latter retreats more, he seems to be getting tired. Grove occasionally holds, but Paez keeps going after him. He even wriggles his hips, deriding Grove. Paez has bagged this round.

In the ninth round a fresh-looking Paez, compared to a worn-out Grove, runs after his foe. Paez seems to be inching toward delivering the killing blows. Grove, using his long arms, wards off and sometimes holds Paez to slow down the onslaught. Grove bravely hangs in there and sometimes delivers punches. Paez’s hard punches are hitting the target, but Grove continues to stand. Grove’s legs become rubbery and near the end of the round Paez delivers a thundering blow to Grove’s head. Grove stumbles. Grove protestingly gestures. The referee immediately warns Paez for hitting Grove after the bell had rang. The boxers’ corner teams quickly jump into the ring to avert the tension. Certainly a great and exciting round that heavily favors Paez!

Apparently, this fight is much more defined than the first Grove-Paez bout! In this one, Calvin Grove is much less cowardly. But with the progression into the later rounds, Grove is getting tired and weak, he is sometimes surviving on rubbery legs, he is retreating and holding more, and he is throwing fewer punches.

It is now the tenth round and a weary Grove starts by holding Paez. The latter starts running after and hitting a retreating Grove. The latter attempts to slow down Paez by holding again and again. Grove stumbles, but holds on. But he is too weak and a punch from Paez floors him! The fight resumes after the standing-8 count. Grove is floored again, but gets up–it was ruled a slip. Then a right to the head fells Grove for the third time. An excited but exhausted Paez runs to a neutral corner to rest on the ropes. The bell sounds for the end of the round, saving Grove from further punishment. Grove stumbles to his corner. Surprisingly the Grove corner does not throw in the surrendering towel!

The eleventh comes around, and a courageous but retreating Grove holds on with weak legs. He is relying on adrenaline! Paez, exhausted from all the hard work, has the upper hand. Paez pounds Grove with a left jab that sends him slumping down! Before the referee starts counting, “Maromero” climbs up the corner ropes and raises his arms to the audience in assuring victory. The referee requests Paez to climb down. Grove is finished! He is counted out by the referee. But he still gets up, and medical personnel jumps to him. Simultaneously, Paez flips his body, but before he can flip again, a swarm of the congratulatory Mexican entourage rushes in. Paez climbs onto the corner ropes and gyrates his hips to the frenzied crowd, victoriously raising his arms. He pounds his chest, displaying convincingly victory–as compared to the previous championship fight with Grove whereby he had won by a split decision.

In the “Doghouse Boxing” interview article “Calvin Grove: Mr. Silky Smooth” (March 14, 2008) conducted by Ken Hissner, Grove laments about the second bout with Paez: “We were supposed to fight in L.A. [Los Angeles] when it got changed to Mexico again. He [Paez] was awkward as it is. I lost fair and square. I was exhausted by the 11th round.”

The Thereafter
“Maromero” Paez, who became nicknamed the “Clown Price of Boxing” in the USA where he would mostly fight, after the battles with Grove, would remain professionally active until the end of the year 2003. Paez would successfully defend his IBF featherweight title against commendable boxers including Steve Cruz and Troy Dorsey. Paez lost his IBF featherweight title to legendary Tony Lopez on September 22nd 1990. Later, as a lightweight, Paez failed to wrest the title from undisputed champion and legend Pernell Whitaker.

Paez fought in numerous bouts every year–some in Mexico. He won most of them. He challenged legendary Rafael Ruelas for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) lightweight title. Paez retired in the tenth round. In 1993, Paez contested for the IBF lightweight title. He lost by unanimous decision to Freddie Pendleton. In July 1994, Paez was knocked out by Olympic gold medallist Oscar De La Hoya for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) lightweight title. Paez lost in all three of his next fights, the worst of his losing streaks. That included being disqualified for hitting Jose Vida Ramos when he was down on the floor. The next bout was their rematch, a contest for the newly created and little regarded WBO North American Boxing Organization (NABO) super featherweight title. Paez lost by points.

Paez won in his next four fights. In August 1996 he knocked out Narciso Valenzuela, to claim the unheralded WBC Continental Americas super featherweight title. Again in Las Vegas, Paez lost the same title by points to Julian Wheeler in October two months later. In the January 1997 rematch, Paez regained the title by outpointing Wheeler in Los Angeles. As a clown prince, Paez befittingly fought many of his bouts in the entertainment-oriented states of California and Nevada. In April 1997 in Las Vegas, Paez retained the WBC Continental Americas super featherweight crown, knocking out Gerald Gray in the third round. In August of the same year, Paez was stopped by fifth round TKO by Angel Manfredy, failing in his quest again for the World Boxing Union (WBU) super featherweight title.

In August 1998, Paez won the North American Boxing Union (NABU) featherweight title in knocking out Juan Macias in the sixth round in Las Vegas. In August, Paez won the IBA Americas super featherweight crown, knocking out Juan Perez in El Paso in Texas. A year later, Paez was knocked out in the fifth round by Jose Castillo who then captured the vacant IBA super featherweight crown. This happened in Mexicali at the same Plaza Calafia that Paez had won his first world title in 1988.

Although against mostly mediocre boxers, Paez did not lose in any of his next fourteen that were scheduled 10-round non-title bouts. He won all except for the draw with Justo Sanchez. These fourteen, spanning from April 2000 to December 2003 would be his last. The ultimate showy boxing entertainer and traveler would travel to places like Mississippi, Idaho, Texas, Phoenix, and Utah to fight. At age 38, Paez retired with an excellent record of 79 wins (51 knockouts), 14 losses, and 5 draws.

Though Jorge Paez preferred that his sons not get into the dangerous sport of boxing, and instead concentrate on formal education, his son Jorge “Maromerito” Paez Jr. is a boxing world title prospect. He is the WBC Youth International welterweight champion. A younger brother, Azriel Paez, also started boxing professionally. The record of “Maromerito” Paez is now 29 wins (18 knockouts), and 4 losses.

Jorge Paez is also credited with being a Hollywood and Mexico entertainer and actor. In 1995 he appeared in the movie “Dirty Money” whereby he was “Jorge.” This is a robbery and murder mystery that includes the pursuance of a looter to a circus in Mexico.

Earlier in 1993, Paez was “Ernesto” in the movie “Old Shoes” in the Spanish language, filmed in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. In “La Ultima Esperanza,” a drama and romance TV series that ran from 1993-1995, Paez was “Kid.”

In 2006, Paez participated in the continuing “Bailando Por La Boda De Tus Sueños” in Mexico. This “Dancing for a Dream” involves many Mexican celebrities and can be compared to “Dancing with the Stars.”

Paez also acted on the NBC Saturday Sports Showcase series in 1990. In 2004, Paez was in “No Way Out” which was a professional wrestling pay-per-view event series. Paez also participated in the related “Smackdown” in the same year.

The flamboyance of boxing Mexican legend Jorge”El Maromero'” Paez was thoroughly entertaining, and involved outrageous hairstyles, dancing, taunting opponents, a new and unique costume each boxing bout, acrobatism and clowning, flipping his body. Nevertheless, Paez was a very muscular and determined hard-working powerful boxer with the drive to win. He read his opponents well even if they were considerably taller than him, zeroed in on their weaknesses, and often put them out. He had an outstanding boxing record in Mexico, the title wins in Mexicali were his first attempts at any major boxing title. Paez challenged many of the boxing legends. Paez became an international sensation in demand. The need to maintain and uplift the struggling family circus spurred him on to be a wonderful circus entertainer. His boxing skills allowed him to earn money from the sport, big dollars that would uplift the family and their business. His love was the circus, and he always brought it with him to the boxing ring. The audiences noticed and grew in capacity; the kids loved Paez’s clowning and flashiness. Paez traversed the United States, but principally entertainment-oriented Nevada and California. “El Maromero” became a celebrity. His showiness was quickly noticed and embraced by the film/ entertainment industry. But Paez has never forgotten, and he still performs and stars in his Mexico homeland nation. Paez’s genius lay in his being, uniquely and simultaneously, the star clown, the great boxer and the entertainer. Paez has become one of those unforgettables. Calvin Grove, would never regain significant international status although he would go on to contest for three more world titles–against legends Azumah Nelson, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, and Angel Manfredy.

Works Cited
Boswell, Thomas. “Paez Faces Gutierezz” in “Schenectady Gazette” (December 9, 1989).

Hissner, Ken. “Calvin Grove: Mr. Silky Smooth” in “Doghouse Boxing” (March 14, 2008).

Jonathan Musere

The 1970 Uganda vs. Soviet Union Boxing Dual in Kampala

July 20, 2011

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

Gennady Golovkin Battles Kassim “the Dream” Ouma in a WBC Middleweight Boxing Title Bout on June 17th 2011

June 15, 2011

The statistics suggest that Uganda boxer, a former title holder of the prestigious IBF (International Boxing Federation) junior middleweight title Kassim “the Dream” Ouma is very determined and heavily training to regain his universal status. The fact is borne out in Ouma’s middleweight-class technical knocking out of tall Joey Gilbert in the 6th round of his latest fight of September 25th 2010, in Reno in Nevada. Joey Gilbert, though relatively age-advanced in boxing at 35, previously possessed the commendable boxing record of 20 wins (with 15 knockouts) and 2 losses. Gilbert’s defeating by Ouma spelled his first loss by knockout. Here, Ouma captured the vacant and relatively prestigious NABA (North American Boxing Association) in the middleweight division.

Ouma’s training residence is now Riverside in California, roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles; a far cry from eastern coastal Florida where Ouma was known to prepare for his battles. Ouma now trains at the Capital Punishment Boxing Club. The change in management and training venue partly stems from the need to switch circumstances and location that was encouraged after Ouma lost a succession of fights, not long after capturing the world title. Ouma claims that ever since the move, he has not suffered any “distractions.”

Kassim Ouma (27-7-1, 17 knockouts) is next scheduled to be at the Arena Roberto Duran in Panama City to challenge WBA (World Boxing Association) middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (20-0, 17 knockouts) for the prestigious title. It will happen on Friday, June 17th 2011. But it will not be easy for Ouma; this will undoubtedly be one of his biggest battles. Golovkin who is from Kazakhstan and is based in Germany, is a well-built and strong commendable cautious boxer who delivers that rocking early rounds’ knock-out in the tradition of such boxers as John “the Beast” Mugabi and Teofilo Stevenson. That undefeated Golovkin has delivered a 85% knockout record, is quite imposing. But Ouma evidently has the stamina to hold on until the end of all the 12 rounds. Yet, some contend that Ouma lost much of his steam after his WBC middleweight fight that he lost to Jermaine Taylor.

Facing such a formidable Golovkin would require Ouma to adapt a hit-and-run-and-hold style, in the way “Sugar” Ray Charles Leonard managed to outbox the much stronger and dangerous Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The bout with Golovkin is good news for Ouma and his native Uganda. Since Ouma won the IBF Junior Middleweight title in October 2004, and lost to Jermaine Taylor for the WBC middleweight title in December 2006, Ugandan boxers have not had a shot at boxing titles of such prestige. Ouma is now 32, Golovkin is 29; this may be Ouma’s last contention for a top three (WBC, IBF, and WBA) world governing bodies’ titles.

Ouma is notable for having been abducted into guerrilla soldiery when he was a child in Uganda.

Jonathan Musere

Vitalis Bbege: Uganda, Africa, and Germany Boxing Champion; and the Mike Tyson Knockout Image

May 22, 2011

American boxer Michael Gerard “Iron Mike” Tyson was born in the New York City borough Brooklyn on June 30th 1966. The ferocity and intimidating style of Tyson involved a series of rapid knockout wins that lead to his becoming the youngest heavyweight champion of the world in 1986. Ten years after Mike Tyson was born, a young northern Ugandan boxer Vitalis (Vitalish) Bbege, who had quickly acquired the equivalent of a national Tyson-like ferocious boxing image, was scheduled to represent Uganda at the 1976 Olympics to be held in Montreal from July 18th to 31st. Among the boxers on the Uganda team were future national boxing legends John Baker Muwanga (bantamweight) and featherweight Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa). Vitalish Bbege was scheduled to be Uganda’s welterweight competitor. Many African and other countries politically boycotted the 1976 around the starting of these Olympics. The scheduled preliminary bouts involving boycotting nations’ boxers were ruled walkovers in favor of the opponents of the non-boycotting nations. In retrospect, Bbege had widely acquired his national brutal rapid knockout reputation during the 1974 African Amateur Boxing Championships that just so happened to be held in Bbege’s Uganda home territory. The boxing tournament took place in Kampala in November. Welterweight Bbege quickly disposed of all his opponents by early knockout, save for the audacious and strong Prince of Egypt who persistently held on until the end. Young and relatively unknown Bbege was quickly in the books as Africa’s amateur welterweight boxing champion. For decades, his name has remained legendary in Uganda and as synonymous with not only boxers, but also with belligerent and hard hitting regular people. Bbege, as a welterweight represented Uganda at the Pre-Olympic Boxing Tournament in Montreal from November 27th to December 1st 1975. In the quarter-finals, on November 27th, the referee stopped Nico Jeurissen from Bbege’s onslaught, in the very first round. Bbege, in the semi-finals on November 29th, true to fashion, knocked out Leo Pelletier of Canada in the second round. But the finals, on December 1st, were not fruitful for Bbege. Bbege was defeated by Yoshifumi Seki of Japan with the referee stopping the fight in the first round. Bbege went home with the silver medal. And so did heavyweight Jacob Odonga, another Ugandan who was technically knocked out in the finals (by Hocine Tafer of France). The only other Ugandan contestant at this tournament was Mustapha Wasajja. He won the gold medal after outpointing Bryan Gibson of Canada. After the 1976 Olympic boycott, Vitalish Bbege soon moved to the then West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany-FRG) where they would be more lucrative boxing opportunities for him. He remained an amateur boxer and never boxed professionally. He joined the Sparta Flensburg Boxing Club (BC Flensburg) in the city Flensburg where he still resides and is a fitness and boxing trainer. Representing Sparta Flensburg (BC Flensburg), Bbege won numerous annual Schleswig-Holstein Amateur Boxing Association (SHABV) titles from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s. In 1979, Bbege won the SHABV amateur middleweight (75kg) title, the same title as a light-middleweight (71 kg) in 1980 and 1981. In 1982, 1986, and 1990 Bbege became the SHABV middleweight champion. In 1984, 1985, and 1987, Bbege as a heavyweight (81kg), was the SHABV title holder. On January 30th 1984, Vitalish Bbege represented West Germany in a boxing dual verses the United States. He boxed as a light-middleweight and defeated Michael Cross by two points to one in a three-round match-up. Interestingly Bbege has a brother who goes by the names Vitalish Nyamor Bbege and was another capable boxer who moved to Germany. Under the name Vitalish Nyamor, he also represented Germany at the same tournament and as a welterweight defeated Alton Rice by three points to zero. It is remarkable that out of the ten bouts, the Bbege brothers won two of the total of four bouts won by West Germany. John Odhiambo of Uganda and legendary Kenyan boxer David Attan are some of the other Africans that boxed in the Germany Bundesliga during the 1970’s and 1980’s. John Odhiambo, as a light-middleweight, had been scheduled to represent Uganda at the boycotted 1976 Olympics. Vitalish Bbege and Vitalish Nyamor-Bbege, both regarded as Flensburg boxing legends, are well settled in Germany with their families. Offspring Dennis Nyamor Bbege is a boxer. Others of the Bbege descendants include Iris Bbege, Nancy Bbege, and Elvis-Aaron Bege.

Jonathan Musere

George Oywello: Uganda’s First Commonwealth of Nations Games Gold Medal Winner

May 13, 2011

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.

Jonathan Musere

Ayub Kalule: Uganda’s Most Highly Rated Boxing Champion

May 12, 2011

Ayub (Ayubu) Kalule was born on January 6, 1954, in the Buganda region of Uganda. He was born to Juma Balinnya (a former boxer) of Kibuye. Kalule started studying at Kibuli Primary School at which he started boxing early, while only in the fifth grade. Balinnya did encourage his youngsters to be a boxers, although Kalule had never seen him box. Kalule began boxing nationally in 1971, through famed club Kampala City Bombers and through his high school Modern Senior Secondary School. In terms of length of world professional ranking, together with skill and performance, Ayub Kalule has endured as Uganda’s top boxer. Kalule will also, for long, stand out as one of the most revered as well as one of the most debated of African world champions.

Of significance, Ayub Kalule, in 1972, fighting as a light-welterweight, became the under-19 Africa champion. In 1973, Kalule in the semi-finals of the lightweight division, lost and settled for bronze at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos. Thereafter, Ayub Kalule had recently turned 20 when he represented Uganda in what was his first major international test…the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand held in the last two weeks of January 1974. Throughout his career, Kalule was known for his unique right-handedness, in that he who would face his opponents as if he were a southpaw, or face them in what some boxing writers call a “square stance.” This was likely an advantage in his ascent to becoming world champion, insofar as he performed as an ambidextrous boxer who would continuously confuse and barrage his opponents with either hand. Because of his strong, solid, muscular body, Kalule a man of stamina was regarded as an iron man. His opponents would tire from attempting to pound on him and his advancing pressure of relentless arms and speed.

Ayub Kalule boxed as a lightweight at the Commonwealth games, and started in the preliminaries by outpointing 20 year-old William Lyimo of Tanzania. Six years later, by which time boxing professional Kalule had become WBA Junior Middleweight Champion, Lyimo would fight for Tanzania at the Olympic Games held in Moscow. Lyimo at 27 years of age would go past the second round, but would in the quarter-finals be knocked out in the third round by 20-year old Anthony Willis of Great Britain, and thus settle for 5th place in the welterweight division.

At the quarter finals of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Kalule out-punched and bloodily disfigured the face of 22-year old Irish “Sugar” Ray Heaney who was in the fight given two mandatory counts because of heavy punishment from the fast and hard-punching Ayub Kalule. Heaney would later become a professional, but would fast retire with an undistinguished boxing record. At the quarter finals, Kalule was pitted against 19 year-old New Zealander Robert Charles Colley. Colley would be outpointed (and settle for the bronze), allowing Kalule to move on to the final stage. After being eliminated by Russian Valery Limasov in the first round at the Olympic Games of 1976 held in Montreal (Canada), Colley would turn professional. Though Colley’s professional record is impressive, it is mediocre insofar as his fights were confined to New Zealand and Australia, and Colley retired quite early…in 1980. At the finals of these Commonwealth Games, Kalule would outpoint Kayin Amah of Nigeria and therefore win the gold. Kayin Amah, who had in the preliminaries lost to legendary Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the previous Commonwealth Games (1970), would this time be happier with taking home a silver.

Perhaps Ayub Kalule’s most prestigious amateur encounter, would be the World Amateur Boxing Championships that were held in Havana in Cuba in August 17-30 1974. Kalule starred for Uganda as a light-welterweight. Kalule’s first bout was encouraging, inasmuch as he disposed of Puerto Rican Amador Rosario by points. Next, Kalule similarly outpointed Marti Kalevi Marjamaa of Finland. Tall 5’11” Marjamaa did consecutively represent Finland at the forthcoming Olympics, but was eliminated early in the preliminaries at both the Olympics in Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980). At the quarter-finals of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule defeated Mark Harris of Guyana by points. Mark Harris was scheduled to box for Guyana in the forthcoming Olympics in Montreal, but Guyana became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. Harris thereafter turned professional, but his record was mediocre, including being knocked out during his attempt at the Commonwealth (British) welterweight title. Harris was knocked out by Colin Jones of the United Kingdom. Harris retired from professional boxing near the end of 1982.

In the semi-final of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule was pitted against Ulrich Beyer of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Kalule outclassed the German, and won by points. Notably, in the previous Olympics (Munich, 1972), Beyer was eliminated by Sugar Ray Seales (eventual and only national gold medalist, during these Olympics) of the USA, in the first round. Later in 1978, as professionals, Ayub Kalule would beat Sugar Ray Seales in a 10-round decision. However, Ulrich Beyer would be eliminated by Sugar Ray Leonard of the USA in a memorable fight of the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal in Canada. The finals of these World Amateur Boxing Championships saw Ayub Kalule defeat Vladimir Kolev (silver medalist) of Bulgaria by a clear 5-0. At the forthcoming Olympic Games in Montreal, Uganda was not represented but Vladimir Kolev won a bronze medal.

Ayub Kalule’s next major outing came at the African Boxing Championships that were held in home territory, in Kampala in Uganda in November 1974. Kalule, a recent Commonwealth Games’ and World Amateur Boxing Champion, was expected to win. Kalule was not disappointing, winning the gold in the final against Kenyan Philip Mathenge, in the light-welterweight division, on points. Earlier, at the Commonwealth Games held in late January 1974, Mathenge had commendably won bronze in the light-welterweight division, falling to Anthony Martey of Ghana on points. Martey would go on to be defeated by legendary Obisia Nwakpa of Nigeria, in the finals, by points. Nwakpa is now a Nigeria national boxing coach.

Ayub Kalule moved to Denmark in 1975, under Morgas Parley Promotions. Kalule distinguished himself by winning against Delroy Parkes of England for the European Cup title in the light-welterweight division.

Ayub Kalule, rose quite rapidly in the world ranks, even in spite of his being based in Denmark rather than being situated the more championship-lucrative USA. Though Kalule turned professional in 1976, during 1977 he became the foremost contender for the WBA light-middleweight crown. Peter Heller in his book “Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story” (1995: 142) writes that Ayub Kalule already top junior middleweight contender for the WBA crown, was from 1977 to 1979 denied a shot at the title. Although a champion was required to defend his title at least once every six months, the WBA did almost everything to keep Kalule from fighting the champion who happened to be a mediocre Latin-American fighter named Eddie Garzo. The WBA did not want Garzo to risk losing the title to Kalule. It was long after Garzo had lost the title to Japanese Masashi Kudo, and after considerable pressure was mounted on the WBA, that Kalule was given the chance at the title. Kalule easily defeated Kudo, and thus became Uganda’s first ever professional world boxing champion. But in order to sanction the fight, the Latin-American WBA president had requested that the Japanese promoters furnish his team of officials a long list of amenities in Japan (including luxurious dinning and hotel accommodations and seven round-trip tickets to Tokyo). The WBA has a long history of being presided over by Latin Americans.

Kalule’s fight against Masashi Kudo took place at the City Gymnasium in Akita in Japan, Kalule won the 15 round fight by unanimous decision. The fight took place on October 24, 1979. The win was quite lopsided and the scores in favor of Kalule read as: Referee Robert Ferera 149-139, Judge Harold Lederman 146-139, Judge Tim Kelleher 149-145. At age 28 and at 5’10”, a relatively young and tall Kudo would retire from boxing after this and only loss, ending up with a record of 23 wins, 1 loss, with 50% of the bouts won by knockouts. Kudo had previously, successfully, defended the WBA light middleweight title three times, over the 14 months since he won the title from Eddie Gazo. In addition, Masashi Kudo had held the Japanese middleweight title for several years, so his fame and his only defeat at the hands Kalule has actually made Ayub Kalule’s name quite infinitely endure amongst Asian boxing circles. Kudo is not regarded as a technically efficient boxer. Kudo virtually never threw a hook or uppercut, and he relied solely on jabbing and throwing straight rights. That, to some extent made it easier for Kalule to defeat him. And in retrospect, Kudo had originally been a wrestler, and he turned to boxing after failing to make it on the Japanese wrestling team to the Olympics of Munich in 1972. Maybe Kudo was in professional boxing by default, but was not really that interested in it. Even in the bouts he won, most were won by a few points. Kudo’s power was punctuated by his enormous amounts of stamina and strength, which enabled him to retire without having ever been knocked down.

Ayub Kalule’s defense of the WBA Junior-Middleweight against African-American Olympic gold medalist and superstar Ray Charles Leonard (“Sugar” Ray Leonard), is Kalule’s most internationally acclaimed fight. Undefeated Kalule had won all 36 of his previous professional fights. The fight took place at the Astrodome in Houston in Texas, amidst a capacity crowd, on June 25 1981. In the first and second round of the fight, Leonard was surprisingly the attacker of the solidly built Kalule. Leonard was certainly, faster and more agile of the two, this enabling him to penetrate Kalule as the champion worked to figure Leonard out. Leonard’s compact jab convincingly worked through Kalule’s defenses. The third round was different. It was revealed later that a left hook to Kalule’s head had resulted in the bruising of Leonard’s middle finger, a handicap that became permanent. The injury was cumbersome, but Leonard courageous attacked Kalule in the fourth round, even dazzling him a couple of times. Finishing Kalule off was the hard part, for Leonard seemed to ran into a brick wall each time he tried to finish Kalule off. The tough spirited exchange between Ayub Kalule and “Sugar” Ray Leonard demonstrated just how sturdy and unyielding Kalule was.

Into the fifth round, Kalule registered control, much with his right hand, and in the seventh round registered a right to Leonard’s head, knocking the challenger off-balance. Leonard recovered, but Kalule’s confidence blossomed. Kalule displayed more toughness in the eighth round, Leonard tiring with Kalule gaining the upper hand. Round 9 is interesting. The two boxers looked exhausted but determined, such that the non-stop and no-holding exchange that had continued right from the beginning of the fight showed no signs of abating.

The formidable Kalule continued to absorb Leonard’s faster and more accurate punches in exchange for Kalule’s bruising and ambidextrous, unpredictable punches. But Leonard did seem to sense that with the formidability of Kalule, the best thing for him to do would be to take the risk of throwing in a flurry of combinations that would disable Kalule. Ray Leonard apparently sensed that strong Kalule was also tiring and slowing down. Near the end of the round, Leonard unleashed a series of hard combinations that seemed to confuse Kalule. A flash right hand landed Kalule to the ground into a sitting position, an indication that he was not unduly hurt. At the count of six, Kalule got up, and backed up to the ropes of the neutral corner to further recuperate. The Panamanian referee who did not communicate in English, surprisingly, stopped the fight. Kalule appeared stunned by the stoppage, shrugging his shoulders and arms in questioning stance. There are claims of miscommunication between Kalule and the referee. It is said that the referee was not convinced that Kalule was willing or able to continue, based on facial gestures, but not on exchange of words between the referee and Kalule! It was deemed by Kalule’s team, that their champion had been unfairly dispossessed of his world title. An unsuccessful formal protest followed. But again, Ray Leonard was regarded as a small version of Muhammad Ali, maybe his successor in skill, speed and antics. This was American territory and Americans wanted famous and handsome golden Olympian Ray Leonard to win. Ray Leonard displayed the antics of Muhammad Ali, and was widely regarded as the heir apparent of, “The Greatest.”

Ayub Kalule had been scheduled to represent Uganda at those Olympics in Montreal in 1976 where “Sugar” Ray Leonard won gold, but Uganda became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. The “Sports Illustrated” cover of July 6, 1981 reveals Ray Leonard in the process of landing a left jab to the chin of Ayub Kalule. It turned out that at the stoppage of the Kalule-Leonard bout, at 3 minutes and 6 seconds of the 9th round, the bout had unanimously been scored in Leonard’s favor: 76-78 by Panamanian referee Carlos Berrocal, 76-78 by judge Harmodio Cedeno, and 75-78 by judge Ismael W. Fernandez. Hence, even relative to the scoring, the differences in scores were too small for the fight to be easily and prematurely stopped. But let credit due be given to Leonard. He was the faster and more flexible of the two fighters, he landed more combinations, and he had moved up in weight to fight Kalule. This loss confirmed that Kalule had reigned as WBA Junior Middleweight champion for 20 months.

Ayub Kalule would unsuccessfully contest the decision that favored Leonard. In the September 19, 2009 issue of the Uganda national newspaper “New Vision,” Moses Mugalu reports on a recent interview (“Face to Face with Kalule”) with a 55 year-old Kalule. Kalule remarks, regarding the knockout at the hands of Ray Leonard: “I was shocked when the ref stopped the fight because I had beaten the count before the bell rang. I went to my corner for a break and was ready to continue fighting.” In much of the rest of the interview, Kalule laments his business investments in Kenya (neighboring his native Uganda which was not regarded as comparatively stable for investments) following, his retiring in 1986. The investments were disastrous and involved swindling. Kalule had invested with his buddy, former sparring partner, fellow countryman, and former highly ranked boxer Mustapha Wasajja who was a light-heavyweight. In the interview, Kalule mentions that he has children in Denmark, Kenya, and in his native country where he now resides and trains boxers. He was reconsidering moving back to Denmark for promotional contracts which he had turned down over the years. Kalule also lamented the sorry state of affairs of the sport of boxing in Uganda which he says involves corruption and bribery. Kalule says of Uganda boxing: “Real boxing stopped with our generation, the current crop of boxers have had a bad foundation.” About why his face looks remarkably smooth for a boxer, a face not bearing the swells and marks noticeable on many long-time boxers, Kalule tells Moses Mugalu, “I had a long reach. I used it properly to keep my opponents at a distance and I guarded well that’s why my face is smooth.”

Only three months after his historical battle with Ray Leonard, Kalule was back in the ring. On October 9, 1981 in Copenhagen, Kalule beat Spaniard Andoni Amana on points. Amana notably had an impressive record of 42 wins and only 2 losses, reigned as Spanish middleweight champion, and had unsuccessfully failed to capture the European Boxing Union title in just the previous fight against Tony Sibson of the United Kingdom. This was apparently the beginning of Amana facing quite formidable opponents, and Amana’s losses would continue to accrue.

A month later, Kalule challenged O’Dell Leonard of the USA in Randers in Denmark. Leonard’s record was mediocre (16 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw), the fight was scheduled for only eight rounds, Kalule won by points. Next, on February 26, 1982, Kalule would be pitted against France-based Jacques Chinon of Martinique. With a record of 20 wins, 20 losses, and 5 draws, Chinon’s record was not impressive. But he managed to fight Kalule the whole 10 rounds, Kalule winning by points, in Copenhagen.

On April 30, 1982, Kalule challenged American Oscar Albarado, the encounter again taking place in Copenhagen. Though apparently declining, the veteran Albarado had an impressive record of 58 wins, 12 losses, and 1 draw. “Shotgun” Albarado even reigned as world WBC and WBA light-middleweight champion for six months, from June 1974 to January 1975. He was moving into his mid-thirties, and he had boxed professionally since the 1960’s. Sadly, Albarado had lost his previous two fights by knockout. Kalule’s knockout of Albarado in the second round would officially be the end of Albarado’s professional career. Apparently, Kalule had remained very active, notwithstanding his loss to Ray Leonard. In his next professional outing, Kalule would once again challenge for the WBA World light-middleweight title.

Ayub Kalule was set to challenge young, upcoming and undefeated (10 wins, no losses) Davey “Bronx” Moore of the USA, in Atlantic City in New Jersey on July 17, 1982. Moore had won the WBA title in February 1982, wresting it from Japanese Tadashi Mihara by knockout in the bout that took place in Tokyo. At the time of the knockout (10th round of a scheduled 15 rounds), the judges each had Kalule trailing by a couple of points. 24-year old Davey Moore lost the WBA title to legendary Panamanian Roberto Duran, by knockout; after one title defense in which Moore had knocked our Gary Guiden. In 1986, in France, Moore was knocked out by American Buster Drayton who defended his IBF world light-middleweight title. There followed 5 more non-title bouts with heavily ranked and talented boxers such as Edwin Rosario, Lupe Aquino, and John David Jackson. The results were mixed. Davey Moore’s last official fight was with Gary Coates, in New York. Moore won by a knockout. on April 30, 1988. On June 2, 1988, Moore was apparently killed in his own garage, when he stepped out of his car to open the garage door. The car was running and was geared in reverse instead of neutral, the car abruptly rolled backward and pressed him against the garage door, killing Moore on the scene.

Next Kalule would face undefeated and future WBA champion, Jamaican Mike McCallum in a non-title but significant bout. On November 13, 1982, again in Atlantic City in New Jersey, Kalule would face a skillful McCallum who many notable boxers such as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran had apparently avoided challenging. But while McCallum’s amateur career is not as spectacular as Ayub Kalule’s, McCallum got better and better with time. McCallum represented Jamaica at the inaugural World Boxing Championships in Havana held in 1974. He boxed as a welterweight, and he was eliminated early in the rounds by Clint Jackson of the United States. Notably, Ayub Kalule as a light-welterweight became the first African to win gold in this tournament.

Kalule would also win the British Commonwealth Games’ gold medal, and the All-Africa Boxing Championships’ gold medal in the same year of 1974. Mike (Michael) McKenzie McCallum would later win gold at the British Commonwealth Games, held in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada in 1978, representing Jamaica. Earlier on in 1977, McCallum became USA Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) welterweight champion. In the same year, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ Welterweight champion. Again in 1979, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ welterweight champion. In 1979 at the Pan-American Games held in San Juan in Puerto Rico McCallum was knocked out in the second round in the finals by Andres Aldama of Cuba; so, McCallum had to settle for silver medal. The last major amateur encounter for McCallum involved him in losing to New York Puerto Rican Alex “the Bronx Bomber” Ramos, for the New York Golden Gloves’ Championships.

The Kalule vs. McCallum fight was not a title bout, it was scheduled to last 10 rounds. McCallum overwhelmingly dominated Kalule. McCallum was slimmer and 2 inches taller than the stockier Kalule, McCallum was visibly faster and more agile and accurate in jabbing, and his continuous blows hit the head and anywhere above the waistline. McCallum took advantage of his long reach and speed, leaving a strong and valiant Kalule unable to reach him. Kalule also suffered an upper-cut knockdown during the preliminary rounds. Kalule kept being punched by “The Body Snatcher” McCallum, and in the 7th round was on the verge of being knocked down. The decision in Kalule’s corner was that he would not continue. McCallum had won by technical knockout by Kalule retiring! McCallum would in 1984 become WBA world light-middleweight champion, a title he would lose to Sumbu Kalambay (a Zairean resident of Italy) whom Kalule had defeated. McCallum notably became the first Jamaican world boxing champion. McCallum would later regain the WBA title by defeating Herol Graham who was the opponent in Kalule’s last professional fight. McCallum even became WBC world light-heavyweight champion, was later defeated, and later retired in 1997, aged 40, after an illustrious and excellent career of 49 wins, 5 losses, and 1 draw. Both McCallum and Kalule are ranked as among the greatest of world light-middleweight boxers of all time.

It was after an unusually long spell of nearly 18 months that Kalule was entered for a professional fight. On April 25, 1984, Kalule knocked out highly regarded and undefeated Jimmy Price of the United Kingdom, knocking him out in the first round in London. Kalule went on to knock out Canadian Wayne Caplette, in the third round in Randers in Denmark, in October 1984. On November 9, 1984, Kalule outpointed Lindell Holmes from the United States. Lindell Holmes would, after several spirited attempts become IBF super-middleweight world champion in 1990 with a win by majority decision over legendary American boxer Frank Tate.

The next significant bout for Kalule would be that against France’s highly regarded champion Pierre Jolly on June 20, 1985, in Copenhagen. This was a contest for the vacant EBU (European Boxing Union) middleweight title. Jolly lost, by a TKO in round 8, in a fight scheduled for 12 rounds.

Six months later, this time in Marche in Italy, Kalule was pitted against Zairean born Sumbu Kalambay, right in Kalambay’s adopted hometown. The bout which took place on December 19, 1985 involved two fine boxers. Kalule was knocked down in round 5 and in round 11. Kalambay was knocked down in the final 12th round. The referee Mike Jacobs awarded Kalambay the win by 113-114, the two judges sided with Kalule: 118-115 , and 117-114. Kalule had retained the EBU title by majority decision! As for Kalambay, he would in 1987 win the EBU middleweight title by beating Herol Graham, would even beat legendary American Iran Barkley for the vacant WBA world middleweight title, by unanimous decision; he would in 1988 defend against Mike McCallum for the same title, beat Americans Robbie Simms by unanimous decision and knock out American Doug Dewitt for the same title. Kalambay’s biggest humiliation of his career came with his getting knocked down by Michael Nunn in the first round of the IBF world championship match-up. “Ring Magazine” dubbed this, the “1989 Knockout of the Year.” To add insult to injury, the WBA had already stripped Kalambay of his WBA middleweight crown!

In the next year of 1990, Kalambay’s wins, in non-title bouts, would mostly come by knockouts. On Aril Fool’s Day of 1991, he again was pitted against his nemesis Mike McCallum for the WBA world middleweight title, in Mote Carlo in Monaco. The bout went the full 12 rounds. Judge Fernando Viso had Kalambay lose by 114-116, Judge Orlando Sam had Kalambay win by 115-114, and Judge Justo Vasquez had Kalambay lose 115-116. In their revenge re-match bout, McCallum had won narrowly. Kalambay’s next several wins included the defense of his EBU title against Steve “The Celtic Warrior” Collins of Ireland, the bout taking place in Italy. May 19, 1993 would officially mark Kalambay’s last official professional appearance as a boxer. He was beaten by British Chris Pyatt in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom, by unanimous decision, and thus failed to capture the vacant WBO (World Boxing Organization) world middleweight title. With 57 wins, 6 losses, and 1 draw, a man who challenged many boxing greats, Sumbu Kalambay will remain an African and Italian legend.

On February 5, 1986, Kalule was scheduled to defend his title in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom against Herol “Bomber” Graham of the United Kingdom. Graham stopped Kalule in round 10, of a scheduled 12 rounds. The loss of Kalule’s EBU title to Herol Graham officially spelled Kalule’s hanging up his gloves from the professional scene. It is of interest that Herol Graham, as an amateur beat another famous Ugandan boxer–John Mugabi in the finals of the Junior World Championships held in 1976. The loss to Graham spelled Kalule’s 46th and final fight.

In the issue of the Uganda newspaper “Bukedde” in the article “Kalule Ayomba” by Silvano Kibuuka (November 9, 2009), Kalule recounts that he had intended to retire after 50 fights, and that one of the biggest things he was proud of was that he never got beaten in the ring by a white boxer. Kalule left Denmark in 1993 and settled in Kenya where his business ventures failed. He went back to his his native Uganda, after several years in Kenya.

Later, in 1987, Graham lost the EBU title to Sumbu Kalambay (whom Kalule had defeated). Graham would also lose to Mike McCallum (by split decision) in 1989, in London, for the vacant WBA world middleweight title. After some victories, Graham would be knocked out in round 4 by Julian Jackson, in the bid for the vacant WBC world middleweight title, the bout taking place in Andalucia in Spain.

In 1992, Graham again lost to Kalambay in his attempt at the EBU middleweight title, in Marche in Italy. After some impressive wins and one loss to Frank Grant, Graham faced Charles Brewer of the USA for IBF world super-middleweight championship in New Jersey in 1998. Though Graham had built an early lead and even knocked down Brewer twice, Graham was eventually knocked out in round 10. That was the end of Graham’s boxing career.

As for Ayub Kalule, given his excellent amateur wins in his native Uganda country, in the east and central African regional championships, in the all-Africa boxing championships, at the amateur world championships, at the European championships, and the world championships, Kalule will for decades remain Uganda’s most accomplished and most decorated boxer. Kalule boxed during his country’s golden age of boxing and sports (the 1960’s and 1970’s), all the professional boxers (only four) who managed to defeat legendary Ayub Kalule are themselves legends. Ayub Kalule was occasionally denied opportunities for the world crown, by the WBA. Kalule’s willingness to fight any contender, above all, illustrates himself as a very dedicated and determined competitor who loved and respected his game of boxing. During his professional tenure of boxing while resident in Denmark, Kalule there and then became the most renowned migrant.

Jonathan Musere

The Best of Uganda’s Commonwealth Games Performances: Edinburgh and Christchurch

April 12, 2011

It was at the Commonwealth of Nations Games of 1970 and 1974, that were held in the city Edinburgh in Scotland and in Christchurch in New Zealand respectively, that Uganda’s competitors were most victorious at these quadrennial events.

In 1970, Uganda’s performance in boxing was the most uplifting with Uganda winning three gold medals (James Odwori, Mohamed Muruli, and Benson Masanda) and two silver medals (Leo Rwabwogo and Deogratias Musoke). The other medals won for Uganda were on the track–William Koskei’s silver medal in the 400 meters-hurdles, and Judith Ayaa’s bronze medal in the women’s 400 meters. Uganda performed equally well at the Commonwealth Games of 1970.

Bronze medal wins in boxing, at the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston in Jamaica in 1966, by Alex Odhiambo, Mathias Ouma, and Benson Ocan were indication that Uganda was moving up in international amateur boxing ranks. Uganda’s performance at the Commonwealth Games, four years earlier (1962) in Perth in Australia, witnessed Uganda win her first Commonwealth gold by way of heavyweight boxer George Oywello. Also impressive at the venue were the boxing bronze medal wins by John Sentongo and future national army commander and Olympic Committee member Francis Nyangweso, and the silver medal won by future national boxing trainer Kesi Odongo. To buttress Uganda’s confidence in the realm of boxing were Uganda’s first and only Olympic medal wins, at the 1968 venue Mexico City, by boxers Leo Rwabwogo and Eridadi Mukwanga–a bronze and silver medal respectively. That is in spite of the lofty Olympic judging of 1968 and later 1972 that was seemingly tinged with racial bias and favoritism.

Edinburgh, Scotland 1970
At the 1970 Commonwealth of Nations Games, the teenager James Odwori was Uganda’s boxing competitor in the flyweight division. The beginning was quite easy for Odwori, given that he was not drawn among the four out of the total 10 flyweights that would fight in the preliminary rounds on July 17th. Since the total numbers of competitors in the very low and the very high weight divisions were relatively fewer, many were automatically placed in the next round–the quarter finals. The first flyweight quarter-finals bout was on July 20th. Odwori beat Anthony Kerr of host-country Scotland, on points, and earned his ticket to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals that involved four contenders, Odwori was again scheduled to box in the first bout. By a majority points decision, Odwori impressively beat Mickey Abrams of England, on July 22nd and was through to the finals! Odwori would move on to beat Anthony Davis of Wales by points, to win Uganda’s first 1970 Commonwealth Games gold medal. Odwori had impressively set the standard for Uganda boxers. He boxed for the Uganda Prisons and the national teams for more than ten years to come and later went back to his native Kenya where he became Kenya Prisons boxing coach and later Kenya national coach.

The flyweight division involved twelve contenders at the Commonwealth Games of 1970. Just like Odwori, Uganda’s contender Leo Rwabwogo luckily bypassed the preliminary round of July 17th such that he would first fight as a quarter-finalist. On July 20th Leo Rwabwogo was place in the quarter-finals to fight Leon Nissen (whose identical twin Henry was also a boxer)  of Australia. The referee stopped the contest in the second round, a technical knockout in favor of Rwabwogo, allowing Rwabwogo to move on the semi-finals. On July 22nd, Rwabwogo was placed in the first bantamweight semi-final bout with opponent 18 year-old David Larmour of Ireland who would later become an Olympian and professional boxer. Rwabwogo won by a majority points decision. For the finals, Rwabwogo would battle with future professional and Englishman David (Dave) Needham of Nottingham. Needham ably outpointed Rwabwogo by 4-1, allowing Rwabwogo to settle for the silver medal. The gold medal had eluded Rwabwogo at the Olympic Games in Mexico City where he settled for bronze; and in the forthcoming Olympics of 1972 that were held in Munich in Germany, Rwabwogo would again fall short of the big win after being defeated in the finals. But famed Rwabwogo remains Uganda’s only double-Olympic medallists and the only Ugandan to have captured medals at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

Uganda’s bantamweight contender Eridadi Mukwanga had at the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico city cemented history by becoming the nation’s first Olympic silver medallist. At these Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Rwabwogo was in the very last bout of the bantamweight division scheduled to fight Joe Cooke of Canada. Mukwanga was not able to live up to his fame and expectations, defeated by points by Joe Cooke of Canada on July 18th. Cooke would later on also be kicked out of medal contention, when he was defeated by Stewart Ogilvie of Scotland, after the referee stopped the bout in the first round.

In the featherweight division Uganda’s Deogratias Musoke strutted his feathers. At the preliminaries, on July 18th, Musoke was pitted against unheralded G. Marisa of Tanzania. The bout went in favor of Musoke after the referee halted the contest in the second round. On July 21st, in the quarter-finals, Musoke moved on to the semi-finals after beating Eddie Pritchard of Wales by points. For the semi-finals was scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s Abdul Samad Mir. The fight did not materialize because Samad Mir was unable to fight. It became an easy walkover in favor of Musoke. The consolation for Pakistan was that Mir’s bronze medal was the sole one for the nation at this Commonwealth Games’ venue. Also, Samad Mir remains one of the most famous of Pakistani boxers. In the 1970’s he was declared “Best Boxer of Asia.”  He joined the army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He also coached the Pakistani’s Army Boxing  as well as National teams. Samad Amir passed away in May 2009.

In the finals, Musoke would face Kenya’s longstanding boxing legend Philip Waruinge whose boxing accolades include multiple medals at both the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games. Deogratias Musoke, defeated on points in the finals on July 24th, was awarded the featherweight boxing silver medal.

The preliminary lightweight bout on July 18th, between Uganda’s teenager Joseph Nsubuga and Olympian Kenneth Mwansa of Zambia, resulted in an early farewell for Nsubuga who was defeated by points.

Mohamed Muruli, one of Uganda’s master boxers, had as a lightweight been placed fifth overall at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City. This time, Muruli would represent Uganda as a light welterweight. There were twelve competitors in this division and Muruli was lucky to be drawn into the quarter-finals and therefore forego fighting in the preliminaries of July 17th. In the quarter-finals, held on July 20th, Muruli outpointed Reginald Forde of Guyana. Forde remains one of the most famous Guyanese boxers. On September 14th 1978, Reggie Forde was as a professional fighter knocked out in the fifth round by famed Uganda boxer Ayub Kalule, in the quest for the British Empire Commonwealth title.

On July 22nd, in the semi-finals, hard-hitting Muruli defeated future Olympian Odartey Lawson of Ghana when the referee stopped the fight in the first round. Muruli moved on to win the gold for Uganda after outpointing Dave Davis of Wales on July 24th.

The welterweight division witnessed Uganda’s Olympian Andrew Kajjo eliminate Hugo Chansa of Zambia by points on July 17th 1970. The next year Chansa would turn professional and in April 1974 he would die from brain injuries soon after being knocked out by Scotland’s Don McMillan in a middleweight bout. On June 20th, Emma Ankudey of Ghana would mar Kajjo’s quest for a medal by beating him by points in the quarter-finals. Ankudey would eventually win the gold medal and also represent Ghana at the Olympics of 1972 in Montreal.

Uganda’s biracial light-middleweight boxing champion David Jackson was drawn to start fighting in the quarter-finals, and not fight among the eight competitors in the preliminaries. As a teenager Jackson was placed fifth overall in among the light-middleweight competitors at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City. This time in Edinburgh, Jackson did not go far, given that on July 20th the referee halted the bout in the first round in favor of Tom Imrie of Scotland. Imrie had won the Commonwealth silver medal at the previous venue of Kingston in Jamaica and he remains a famous Scottish boxer. Imrie would be the eventual gold medal winner this time in Edinburgh, and thereafter move on to professional fighting. His record as a professional pugilist was mediocre. David Jackson would again fight for Uganda at the forthcoming Olympics (1972) in Montreal, and be placed 9th overall in the welterweight division.

The teenager John Opio moved on to the quarter-finals, after defeating future professional boxer Billy May of Wales, by points on July 20th in the preliminary rounds of the middleweight division. But in the quarter-finals, against Samuel Kasongo of Zambia, Opio was eliminated after the referee stopped the contest in the third round. Opio would represent Uganda at the forthcoming Olympics in Munich.

The preliminaries of the light heavyweight division involved the second-round disqualification of Commonwealth bronze medallist and 2-time Olympian George Mathias Ouma at the hands of Johnny Banham of England on July 18th.

Because there were only seven contestants in the heavyweight division, and six were placed in the quarter-finals. It was Uganda’s Benson Masanda, among the seven boxers, who hit the jackpot by automatically being placed in the next level–the semi-finals! The quarter-finals took place on July 20th. In the semi-finals on July 22nd, Masanda defeated Canada’s Jack Meda by disqualification in round 2. In the finals, on July 24th, Masanda won gold by defeating John McKinty of Ireland by points. Compared to all Uganda’s boxing participants, Masanda had won the gold in quite an easy and unconventional way. This would be Uganda’s second Commonwealth Games’ gold medal, following that of George Oywello in 1962 in Perth in Australia.

Courtesy of the final tally of gold medals won by James Odwori, Mohamed Muruli, and Benson Masanda; and silver medals won by Leo Rwabwogo and Deogratias Musoke Uganda had convincingly emerged as Commonwealth of Nations’ boxing championships. This was the first collective international victory for Uganda, and the nation rejoicingly looked forward to more triumphs at the international level. The rest of Uganda’s medals were just two: the silver medal won by William “Bill” Koskei in the 400 meters-hurdles, and the bronze medal won by Judith Ayaa in the 400 meters-sprint. The total of three gold, three silver, and one bronze medal placed Uganda as ninth overall at this Commonwealth tournament with 7 medals. How would Uganda’s boxers fare in the next Commonwealth venue that would be Christchurch in New Zealand in 1974? There had been a military coup in Uganda, commander Idi Amin became president, the regime became notorious for killings and disappearances of nationals and even foreigners. Anxiety loomed as to whether unfavorable social and political factors would translate to disappointing performances in the realm of sports. And yes, many aspects of sports deteriorated during the regime of Idi Amin, and the pool of potential and current athletes was reduced. But how would Uganda fare in Christchurch, two years to the day into the regime of Idi Amin?

Christchurch, New Zealand 1974
Christchurch hosted the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games from January 24th to February 2nd, 1974. The boxing flyweight division saw the returning of the gold medallist James Odwori of Uganda.  In the quarter-finals, on January 28th, Odwori knocked out Tanzanian Olympian Bakari Selemani (Seleman) in the second round. The semi-finals, held on January 31st witnessed Odwori defeat Singapore’s Syed Abdul Kadir by points. Kadir remains one of Singapore’s most renowned fighters, and was named “Sportsman of the Year” after his Commonwealth Games’ bronze medal win.

The finals of the light flyweight division were held of February 1st. This time, Odwori would be pitted against Kenyan Stephen Muchoki who remains one of Kenya’s most famous boxers. The relatively shorter Muchoki outpointed the champion Odwori, leaving Odwori to settle for silver. Muchoki would successfully defend his Commonwealth gold at the forthcoming venue Edmonton in Canada, in 1978. His illustrious career also included the silver medal win at the World Amateur Championships in Havana in 1974, and later the gold in the tournament which was hosted by Belgrade in Yugoslavia in 1978. Muchoki would thereafter move into the professional ranks and even become Africa Boxing Union champion. But he failed in his quest for the European title and the World Boxing Association title, and he retired from boxing during the late 1980’s.

In the quarter-finals of the flyweight division, on January 29th, Ugandan John Byaruhanga knocked-out John Lawless of Scotland in the second round. But in the semi-finals, January 31st, Byaruhanga was defeated on points by Olympian Chandra Narayanan of India. Byaruhanga hence settled with the bronze medal.

Uganda’s bantamweight Ali Rojo was drawn as a quarter-finalist to fight Olympian Habibu (Habib) Kinyogoli of Tanzania on January 28th. Rojo won by points and moved on to the semi-finals. Kinyogoli remains one of the most renowned of Tanzania’s boxer and he is a boxing trainer.

The January 31st bantamweight semi-final was in favor of Rojo, by points, leaving Kenyan Isaac Kuria Maina to go home with the bronze. in the finals, on February 1st, Patrick “Pat” Cowdell of England killed Ali Rojo’s quest for the gold by winning by points. Rojo had won the second boxing medal for Uganda. A famous British boxer, Cowdell would build an impressive boxing career during which he became a European Union champion. But he failed to win in his fighting for a world title.

Uganda’s featherweight competitor was Shadrack (Shadrah? Shadrach?) Odhiambo. On January 29th, in the quarter-finals, young future Olympian and long-time fighter Odhiambo outpointed Colin Flinn of England. Odhiambo would later as a light welterweight fight for Sweden and win her a bronze medal at the World Amateur Championships in 1982 in Munich. Odhiambo also fought for Sweden in the 1980 (Moscow) and 1984 (Los Angeles) Olympics. He did not win any Olympic medals.

In the Christchurch Commonwealth games semi-final, Odhiambo ably defeated Dale Anderson of Canada by points on January 31st. However, the finals, on February 1st witnessed experienced Commonwealth Games’ champion Eddie Ndukwu of Nigeria win the gold medal on a points decision. Odhiambo had won Uganda’s third boxing silver medal! Ndukwu would soon turn professional and even reign as British Empire (Commonwealth) featherweight champion. Ndukwu remains among the more formidable names among Nigerian boxers.

On January 27th, in the preliminaries, a locally popular and heavily promising 20 year-old lightweight lad Ayub Kalule climbed into the ring to challenge Tanzanian William Lyimo who was the same age as Kalule. Kalule won, by points. In 1980, Lyimo aged 27 would fight at the Olympic Games held in Moscow. He commendably passed the second round, but was in the quarter-finals knocked out in the third round by 20 year-old Anthony Willis of Great Britain. He would thus settle for 5th position in the welterweight division. Many African countries boycotted the Olympic venue of Moscow. Heaney later became a professional boxer, but he would soon retire without an acclaimed boxing record.

In the quarter-finals of the Commonwealth Games’ lightweight boxing fight in Christchurch, on January 28th 1974, Ayub Kalule ably out-boxed and bloodily facially disfigured 22 year-old Irishman “Sugar” Ray Heaney. The fight is featured on You-Tube whereby Heaney was allotted two mandatory counts given the formidable punishing from the fast and hard-punching Kalule.

In the semi-finals, Kalule was set to face New Zealand teenager Robert Charles Colley. The outcome involved Colley being outpointed and settling for the bronze medal.

At the quarter finals, Kalule was pitted against 19 year-old New Zealander Robert Charles Colley. Colley would be outpointed (and settle for the bronze), allowing Kalule to move on to the final stage. After being eliminated by Russian Valery Limasov in the first round at the Olympic Games of 1976 held in Montreal (Canada), Colley would turn professional. Though Colley’s professional record is impressive, it is mediocre insofar as his fights were confined to New Zealand and Australia, and Colley retired quite early in life…in 1980. At the finals of these Commonwealth Games, Kalule would outpoint Kayin Amah of Nigeria and therefore win the gold. Kayin Amah, who had in the preliminaries lost to legendary Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the previous Commonwealth Games (1970), would this time be happier with taking home a silver.

Perhaps Ayub Kalule’s most prestigious amateur encounter, would be the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championships that were held in Havana in Cuba in August 17-30. Here, Kalule, a light welterweight, defeated Bulgarian Vladmir Kolev to win the gold. In November of the same year, Kalule still as a light welterweight, won another gold medal for Uganda. This was at the African Amateur Boxing Championships that were held in Kampala on Kalule’s soil. The next year Kalule turned professional in Denmark, rose rapidly through the ranks. He could go on to become Uganda’s first professional world boxing champion (WBA junior middleweight). His accolades included becoming a European Boxing Union Champion, and battling such renowned boxers as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Sumbu Kalambay, Mike McCallum, Lindell Holmes, and Herol Graham. Kalule fought in what many regard as the golden era of junior middleweight champions. Kalule is still Uganda’s most famous boxer. In March 2011, Kalule was contracted to coach top junior Danish boxers.

Joseph Nsubuga had been eliminated on points by Kenneth Mwansa of Zambia right at the beginning of the preliminaries at the previous Commonwealth Games venue Edinburgh. There Nsubuga had represented Uganda as a lightweight. Nsubuga, still a teenager, was now back at the Commonwealth Games to fight as a light welterweight. This time, the preliminary first round on January 27 witnessed Nsubuga quickly overwhelm his opponent. The fight did not go far. The referee halted the contest in the first round, dashing the hopes of Philip Sapak of Papua New Guinea. However, two days later in the quarter-finals, James Douglas of Scotland defeated Nsubuga by points and thereby halted Nsubuga’s quest for a medal.

Months later, in August, Nsubuga would win a bronze medal for Uganda at the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championships in Havana. Nsubuga had moved up to the middleweight division. Quite a skillful boxer, Nsubuga would turn professional and move to Norway, and he would mostly fight in Europe. Nsubuga stopped competing in 1981 when he was knocked out by famous future world champion Davey Moore. Perhaps Nsubuga’s most notable professional fight was his spirited gladiator battle (non-title bout) with legendary Panamanian Roberto Duran. Though Duran seemed to be tiring, Joseph “Stoneface” Nsubuga was knocked out at the end of the fourth round. This fight is available on You-Tube.

Welterweight Mohamed Muruli had won Uganda a gold medal at the previous Commonwealth of Nations Games’ venue Edinburgh. There in 1970, Muruli had boxed as a lightweight. Here in Christchurch, Muruli was representing Uganda as a welterweight. The preliminary round witnessed Muruli outpunch Caleb Okech of Kenya, on January 26th. On January 29th, during the quarter-finals, Muruli beat future Olympian Carmen Rinke of Canada by points. The semi-finals involved Muruli beating Steven Cooney of Scotland, by points on January 31st. On February 1st, Muruli became the first Ugandan to ever win two Commonwealth Games’ gold medals by outpointing Welsh Errol McKenzie in the finals. McKenzie would turn professional during 1975, but he retired after an unimpressive boxing record. Muruli is among Uganda’s outstanding boxers, and he twice represented Uganda at the Olympics.

Uganda’s light middleweight John Langol was rescued by the referee who stopped the preliminaries match-up of January 27th 1974 against Lance Revill of New Zealand. The fight was stopped in the second round. In 1981, Langol moved to Birmingham in England to fight professionally. His professional tenure would last only four years and it would involve an unimpressive record of 6 wins and 8 losses. Revill would fight professionally in Australia and New Zealand, but his boxing record would be average.

On January 29th of 1974, in a quarter-final, Uganda’s middleweight champion Mustapha Wasajja was knocked out in the first round by Les Rackley of New Zealand. At the inaugural World Boxing Championships held on August 1974 in Havana, Wasajja was eliminated by points in the quarter-finals. In November, Wasajja would become Africa amateur champion at the regional tournament held in Kampala. In a pre-Olympic international tournament held in Montreal at the end of November 1975, Wasajja won Uganda’s only gold at the venue. Wasajja is notable for having become the premier WBA light heavyweight contender after he turned professional. He lost the mandatory championship fight to Michael Spinks, in February 1982. Wasajja mostly fought in Europe and his boxing record is quite impressive. After Spinks, Wasajja lost his next two fights and thereafter retired from boxing. Wasajja is one of Uganda’s greatest boxers.

Just as had happened in the previous Commonwealth Games, the reigning heavyweight champion Benson Masanda of Uganda was directly placed in the quarter-finals because there were not many contenders in the class. On January 28th Masanda outpointed Fisi Brown of New Zealand. In the semi-finals, the referee stopped the bout in favor of legendary Nigerian Fatai Ayinla, an Olympian who had won the light heavyweight gold at the previous Commonwealth Games. Masanda was hence made to step down for the bronze medal. In turn, the referee would stop the bout in favor of Neville Meade, in the finals. Fatai Ayinla-Adekunle’s accolades include the heavyweight gold medal at the 1973 All-Africa Games in Lagos, and a bronze medal at the 1974 World Amateur Boxing Championships in Havana. He boxed for Nigeria for many years.

Uganda’s other medals were won on the track. Uganda’s Silver Ayoo (46.07), narrowly beaten by Kenyan legendary Olympic gold medallist Charles Asati (46.04), won the silver medal in the 400 meters. Uganda’s 4 x 400m relay team won the bronze medal, behind Kenya (gold) and England. The relay competitors were William Santino Dralu, Pius Olowo, Silver Ayoo, and Samuel Kakonge.

The Final Tally
At Commonwealth Games of 1970, held in Edinburgh, Uganda’s three boxing gold medals were won by light flyweight James Odwori, light welterweight Mohamed Muruli, and heavyweight Benson Masanda; and the two silver medals were won by flyweight Leo Rwabwogo, and featherweight Deogratias Musoke. Uganda did not win any bronze medals here.

In 1974 in Christchurch, the two gold medals were won by lightweight Ayub Kalule and light welterweight Mohamed Muruli; the three silver medals were won by light flyweight James Odwori, bantamweight Ali Rojo, and featherweight Shadrach Odhiambo; and the two bronze medals were won by flyweight John Byaruhanga and heavyweight Benson Masanda.

Hence, while Uganda won slightly more boxing medals in 1974, the medals in 1970 subtly carried “more weight.” For those eight years, Uganda had the best amateur boxers amongst the Nations of the British Commonwealth. Additionally, at each of the Commonwealth Games venues, Ugandan track athletes finished second and third (William Koskei–400 meter-hurdles and Judith Ayaa–400m, respectively in 1970, and Silver Ayoo–400m and Silver Ayoo, William Santino Dralu, Pius Olowo and Samuel Kakonge–the 4 x 400m relay, respectively in 1974). In 1970 Uganda finished 12th overall in track and field athletics; Australia, England, and Scotland were the top three countries. Similarly, in 1974 Uganda finished 12th overall in track and field athletics; but England, Australia, and Kenya were the top three countries. The overall performances of Uganda at each of the Commonwealth Games venues were hence strikingly similar. Uganda has never performed better than that at the Commonwealth Games, ever since those 1970’s.

Jonathan Musere

Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. John “the Beast” Mugabi: the Boxing Battle

December 9, 2010

Ugandan boxer John “the Beast” Mugabi’s professional opponents prior to the encounter with legendary African-American world middle-weight boxing champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler (formerly Nathaniel Marvin Hagler until he legalized his boxing nickname, “Marvelous”) were a mixture of weak, mediocre and commendable fighters. Mugabi was born on March 4, 1960 in the Uganda region of Buganda. Mugabi’s strengths were speed, intimidation, audacity, strength, and punching power. Mugabi was mainly a fast-stalking head hunter more than a body puncher, and he was not much of a defensive fighter.

In his initial professional boxing career, Mugabi was progressively pitted against opponents of higher quality from the time he became a professional in Europe. Mugabi’s first fight was in Germany in early December of 1980. Thereby he knocked out Oemer Karadenis of Turkey who had previously only won a fight out of three and had been knocked out in all the three that he lost. In February the next year, Mugabi was again in Germany in the ring with Italian-born Giampaolo Piras. Piras’ record of 4 wins and 66 losses was remarkably unimpressive! By 1984, Mugabi was being matched with opponents with generally good boxing records. The penultimate opponent to the fight with Hagler was Earl Hargrove of the USA who a year ago lost in a bid for the vacant IBF light middleweight title. Hargrove had a record of 26 wins and that only loss to Mike Medal of the United States. The battle with Mugabi was in Tampa in Florida where Mugabi now resided and trained. Hargrove was knocked out in the first round, and by the time Mugabi was scheduled to fight Hagler, Mugabi had racked up a record of 26 wins, no losses, and all the opponents had been knocked out.

But Marvin Hagler’s record was by no means a cake walk! With a mean record of 61 wins (51 by knockout), 2 losses, and 2 draws (one of the most excellent professional boxing records in history), Hagler had long been established as an imposing legend and American icon. And he had never, in his lengthy professional career, been knocked out! Hagler was the undisputed world middleweight champion given that he held the title in all the world professional boxing sanctioning bodies at that time: the WBA (World Boxing Association), the WBC (World Boxing Council), and the IBF (International Boxing Federation).

It was in Las Vegas in April 1985, that Hagler had knocked out the legendary Thomas “Hitman” Hearns (whose only loss in 41 fights had been to “Sugar” Ray Leonard by a late TKO while Hearns was ahead in the bout on points) in Las Vegas. The Hagler-Hearns fight is, given the rapidity of hard exchanges, regarded by many as the most significant brutal first three rounds (the extent to which the bout went) in professional boxing history.

In November 1983, Hagler had beaten iconic Panamanian Roberto Duran by a unanimous decision, also in Las Vegas. Hagler had, undoubtedly racked up an excellent and intimidating boxing resume. In September 1980, Hagler after wresting the world middleweight crown from Alan Minter in London by a TKO following horrendous cuts on a badly hammered Minter, a riot stimulated by Minter supporters ensued and Hagler swore he would never fight in London again. There had recently been racist exchanges between the two opponents. It was still a marvelous victory for Hagler, given that it was after several years of being denied a chance at the world title, though he had been ranked the premier contender for several years. The Englishman Minter fought only three more times, lost the last two and thereafter retired from professional boxing.

Given Hagler’s experience and excellent record that included the previous 10 out of the 11 successful defenses of his undisputed world middleweight title by knockout, Mugabi statistically looked challenging but not one that would beat Hagler. But then, as is known in boxing, surprises happen. And it is common for great boxers to be matched up  with inexperienced and mediocre boxers. But Mugabi had the strength, speed, and audacity to challenge any equally weighted boxer on the planet. The “Beast” had racked up the popularity (at least in Europe, USA, and Africa) as the invincible and devastating boxer! Hagler was feared by most, and there was a large chunk of money to be pocketed at the boxing opportunity to meet with Hagler.

On the other hand, Mugabi had not even challenged for any of the minor professional titles such as the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title or the United States Boxing Association (USBA) title, not even for the considerably mediocre African Boxing Union (ABU) title. Also, Mugabi had mostly contested as a junior middleweight. Hagler was a world middleweight champion! Apparently, it may have been more logical and less grueling for Mugabi to be gradually prepared and matched up for a world junior middleweight title than to suddenly moved up to number one middleweight championship contender in all the sanctioning bodies: the WBC, WBA, and IBF! But apparently, as is implied, there was big money at stick in a Mugabi Hagler match-up, boxing fans were hungry for this battle! Hagler had felled too many, including many living legends and champions. The “Beast” sporting a 100% knockout record seemed to be just the right man at the moment to challenge Hagler for the money!

Also, notably, Mugabi had been the premier WBC junior middleweight contender for several months and had even been scheduled to fight the WBC champion Thomas Hearns in December 1984, and was later (following the Hagler-Hearns fight in April 1985) scheduled to fight Hearns for the title in November 1985. Apparently, the defeating of Hearns by Hagler and, the eagerness for another formidable challenger to meet Hagler was one of the factors that led to the Hagler-Mugabi fight. Hearns would thereafter be expected to fight the winner of the Hagler-Mugabi fight. Things, again, would not go as envisioned! A fight with the eventual winner never materialized! No Mugabi-Hearns fight or second Hagler-Hearns fight would ever happen!

Months prior to the encounter with Mugabi, Hagler responded regarding his level of readiness: “I realize Mugabi has a dream, but nobody is taking anything away from me because I’ve worked so hard, I’ve worked so long” (in “Mugabi Fight Should be Very Good,” in Lakeland Ledger, March 10, 1986).

Thomas Hearns, looking toward a re-match with Hagler said: “I’d be very disappointed if Hagler lost [to Mugabi]. I wouldn’t be disappointed for Hagler. I’d be disappointed for myself.” …[The Hagler vs. Mugabi fight] will be, “…a war. It is going to be a slugfest. They’re both going to be in there brawling. It depends on who connects first” (in “Hearns Pulling For Hagler: Mugabi, Shuler stand in way of a rematch,” in The Times-News, March 7, 1986)

For the fight, Hagler was guaranteed a gross sum of $2.5 million plus a percentage of other revenues, while John Mugabi was guaranteed $750,000. Hearns would earn between $200,000 and $600,000 for fighting undefeated African-American Olympian and knock-out specialist James Shuler for the NABF middleweight title. A Hagler-Hearns rematch, in light of the spectacular brawl of April 1985 in which Hearns was knocked out in the third round, was expected and planned to follow the Hagler-Mugabi fight.

Hagler, the solid favorite to beat Mugabi, referred to himself as, “A man on a mission,” one inching closer to smashing Argentine Carlos Monzon’s record of 14 consecutive world middleweight title defenses. The fight with Mugabi would be Hagler’s 12th defense of the undisputed title since his London ousting by knockout of Alan Minter in September 1980.

The Mugabi-Hagler bout was scheduled to take place on November 14 in 1985,  but because of a ruptured disc in Hagler’s back and broken nose, was consequently set for March 10 1986.

The time in the ring came! Comparatively, 32 year-old Hagler looked like the aging seasoned and tough veteran in face of a solid and strong youthful Mugabi. The determination on the face was there, but Hagler did not look as firm and determined as he had been in the fight in April with Thomas Hearns. Maybe, after all, Hagler was at least slightly affected by his back injury that had caused the fight to be postponed. But, since his loss to Willie Monroe in March 1976, Hagler had not been defeated in the ring for 10 years!

Round One: The round involves Mugabi delivering guarded left jabs to the face, while Hagler maintains a safe distance away while occasionally throwing left-right combinations. In the last 30 seconds, Mugabi chases Hagler and briefly delivers a barrage of blows. When the bell rings, Mugabi gestures threateningly to Hagler intimidatingly so. As Mugabi walks to his corner, he raises his arms as if to declare that he is confident that he will win–more sooner than later.

Round Two: Hagler appears to be more confident than earlier on. The two trade punches, Mugabi even rocks Hagler, but Hagler maintains his gladiator stance and is not running. At the end of the fight, Mugabi gently taps Hagler’s arm as if to concede, “Man, you are tough!”

Round Three: Mugabi is feeling the pressure. The two are slower and more relaxed, seemingly a evenly scored round. But the exchange of punches is still significant, Mugabi searching to deliver that killer punch. At the end of the round, as Hagler walks to his corner he stares at Mugabi as if to say, “I have got you, I am going to beat you!”

Round Four: Like Hagler has apparently noticed, Mugabi has slowed down. Hagler’s blows are harder and more accurate. Though tough Mugabi does not fall, this is a turning point in the fight with the round apparently heavily favoring Hagler.

Round Five: Mugabi comes out charging to the middle of the ring in his signature intimidating way. The two cautiously trade punches. The round is relaxed but the solid blows are still there.

Round Six: The two are tired. But Hagler inches close to Mugabi’s body, seemingly having sensed that Mugabi’s punches are weaker and that Mugabi (a head hunter from a distance) is not much of a close-contact and body-puncher. Boxing while leaning against Mugabi also helps Hagler relax while delivering. Hagler’s tactics and experience, and the fact that he is an ambidextrous boxer who can easily slide from being a southpaw to an orthodox boxer all confuse and reduce Mugabi’s efforts. Mugabi ultimately gets a thorough beating from Hagler’s combinations, though he bravely hangs on and delivers some at the end of the round. In the flurry Mugabi has tried to hold a warding-off Hagler, indication that he is worn and hurt and might fall. Mugabi was severely rocked. This is another significant turning point heavily in favor of Hagler. The experience of the older boxer has outscored the youthfulness, strength and speed of the younger boxer!

Round Seven: The two are comparatively relaxed, but Hagler confident from battering Mugabi in the previous round aggressively goes after Mugabi. Hagler is hitting Mugabi, but Mugabi is a hard nut to crack. Mugabi counter-punches in response to Hagler’s delivery.

Round Eight: Mugabi looks tired but somewhat rejuvenated. He attempts to deliver a killer punch as Hagler keeps on inching towards him. Although Hagler is punching, his punches are not as solid as was in the previous two rounds–he seems to be taking it easy in this round.

Round Nine: The two come out boxing as if they are sparring partners. They are exchanging soft blows. There is not much action in this round apart from mostly Mugabi who delivers some solid shots in the last half-minute of the round. Mugabi seems to be back into the fight, although Hagler gets the better of him when the two are in closer proximity.

Round Ten: The two come out fighting hard. Then Hagler leans in closer to Mugabi’s body, now that is well aware that Mugabi is not efficient when at close quarters but quite powerful when the fighters are arms’ distance apart. Hagler manages to deliver a thorough beating. Mugabi even tries to hold Hagler as he wards him off, Mugabi is apparently hurt and fatigued. Hagler even taunts Mugabi at the end of the round. Mugabi stares menacingly at Hagler while responding with challenging gestures to communicate that he is undeterred by Hagler’s blows.

Round Eleven. About halfway in the round, Hagler rocks Mugabi with a combination of punches. A sharp accurate hook causes Mugabi’s head to shoot up, a sign that Mugabi is finished. Hagler follows with a combination that drops Mugabi. A shaken Mugabi sits on the floor as referee Mills Lane counts him out.

Indeed, after the Hagler fight young Mugabi still became more like a docile ferocious fighter of his former self. Notwithstanding, Hagler had also taken a thorough beating such that the fight with Mugabi would be his last victory. Hagler happened to angrily lose in his next (and last ever professional) fight with resurrected “Sugar” Ray Leonard, who eager for a comeback, introspectively watched at the ringside the Hagler-Mugabi fight. Remember, it is only Leonard and Hagler that had ever defeated Thomas Hearns. Leonard, though a couple of years ago medically advised not to fight again because of an injury in the eye area, felt confident enough to tackle Hagler. Many believe that Hagler was a shadow of his former self after the fight with Mugabi.

Hagler was to lose to a characteristically elusive Ray Leonard in a split decision on April 6, 1987. To date, the winner of the fight with Ray Leonard remains a moot question. A disgruntled Hagler who said he had been robbed migrated to Italy to pursue (one of his biggest dreams) a career of acting.

After the fight with Marvin Hagler, a beaten Mugabi would never again be the devastating terror he had previously been known to be. Many years later, Marvin Hagler would comment, “…another huge moment…was the fight with..Mugabi…he didn’t give me any respect. He had that big poster in the press conference and he was walking around with that big cowboy hat on and then he punches a hole in my picture… I told him “punching a hole in the picture isn’t me, that picture isn’t going to be in the ring with you, I am. That really got me going about that fight and you know he was never the same after I was finished with him” (Aladdin Freeman in, “Up Close And Personal With The Legendary Marvin Hagler,” July 17, 2004, Doghouse Boxing).

Ironically, though champion Marvin Hagler had racked up a superb boxing record over the many years, it is his last three fights (with Hearns, Mugabi, and Leonard) that really catapulted his name to immortal legend. It is fellow boxers that were scared of and avoided Hagler and for so long reduced his chances at the fame that he deserved. For Mugabi, his fight with Hagler would elevate him to world legendary status but it would in a way spell his demise. Mugabi would never be among the elite skillful and devastating force of world middleweights of the 1980’s: Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Ray Leonard.

After the fight with Hagler, Mugabi would take more than half a year off in his native Uganda where he was welcomed as a national sports hero. In December of 1986, even without a single tune-up fighter after such a lengthy layoff, Mugabi was back in Las Vegas to fight African-American underdog Duane Thomas for the vacant WBC light middleweight title (vacated by Thomas Hearns). Duane Thomas, a 25 year-old unassuming native of Detroit and one of the Detroit Kronk Boxing Gym managed by coach Emmanuel Stuart (Thomas Hearns was also trained in the Kronk Gym) was relatively unknown but had an impressive record of 28 wins and only one loss. His only loss (in 1982) had been to future IBF light middleweight champion Buster Drayton by knockout. In the fight, Duane was intimidated by Mugabi, but he took his time while carefully studying Mugabi and looking for an opening. Mugabi was far from being the ferocious beast during and before the Hagler fight. Thomas managed to punch or thumb Mugabi in the eye, Mugabi turned in agony turned away as if in submission. Mugabi’s eye socket had been dislocated; Mugabi was declared technically knocked out. Protests and pleas by Mugabi’s manager Mickey Duff to declare the bout a “No Contest” were rejected. This time, Mugabi took time off for more than a year. His next bout would be in January 1988 against Bryan Grant. Grant was knocked out in the early rounds, and so were the next 7 opponents prior to Mugabi’s next opportunity for a world title.

Again for the WBC light middleweight title, Mugabi would in July 1989 in France be pitted against Frenchman Rene Jacquot who had 5 months ago wrested the title from highly regarded Texan Donald Curry. The defeating of Curry was dubbed by Ring Magazine, “The Upset of the Year.” Donald Curry had in July 1988 delivered a TKO over Italian Gianfranco Rossi who had previously knocked out Duane Thomas to claim the title.

Mugabi’s championship fight with Rene Jacquot was eerie, short-lived, and controversial; and could easily have been declared a “No Contest.” Mugabi was declared the winner by TKO in Round One after a retreating Jacquot slipped on the canvas and injured his ankle. Protests by the Jacquot camp did not help. Mugabi had unconventionally, at age 28, become world champion.

Mugabi would defend his title twice in Europe, and thereafter be gruesomely knocked out in Round One by legendary Terry Norris in Tampa in Florida. Two won bouts later, in November 1991, Mugabi would in London be knocked out in Round One by Gerald McClellan for the vacant WBO (World Boxing Organization) middleweight title. Mugabi thereafter went into semi-retirement, and re-emerged in Australia 5 years later in 1996. The sensational knockout power was gone and the bouts he won were mainly by decision. That included the vacant Australian super middleweight title whereby he defeated Jamie Wallace in Queensland.

The illustrious career of John “the Beast” Mugabi would end after his defeating at the hands of Anthony Bigeni in July 1998 in New Zealand for the PABA (Pan Asian Boxing Association) light heavyweight title; and in January 1999 when Mugabi was defeated by Glen Kelly in Sydney in the bid for the Australian light heavyweight title concurrent with the IBF Pan Pacific light heavyweight title.

John Mugabi’s professional boxing record stands at an impressive 42 wins (with 39 knockouts), 7 losses, and one draw. The Australians have a fondness for Mugabi. Mugabi lives in Australia where he has been married and has children, and is a national.

Jonathan Musere