Posts Tagged ‘John Mugabi’

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


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

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

John “the Beast” Mugabi: The Outcome for Uganda in the Olympic Boxing Finals in 1980

August 1, 2010

Before he turned professional, famous Ugandan boxer John Paul “the Beast” Mugabi was simply John Mugabi–a young and hard-hitting, fast, promising boxer. After his silver medal win at the 1980 Olympics that were held in Moscow, 20 year-old Mugabi eyed the professional scene. Renowned British trainer and manager Mickey Duff noticed Mugabi and quickly enlisted him. Duff is one of many (including Ugandan Charles Lubulwa who participated in 3 Olympic tournaments) who opine that Mugabi was robbed of the Olympic gold medal. Into the professional ranks, Mugabi’s ferocity, strength, and speed in the ring would earn him the nickname, “the Beast,”–one that Mugabi has voiced as unflattering, but which the world became stuck on referring to him.

It was in the Parish of the Sacred Heart in Nogales in Arizona that Mugabi while training for what would become his most epic battle, that with world middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler on 10th March 1986, that Mugabi would acquire the name Paul after baptism into Catholicism (Clive Gammon, “This Beast Is a Beauty,” in ‘Sports Illustrated’; March 03, 1986).

Semi-arid Nogales ‘City of Walnut Trees’, stringing along the Mexican border, is Arizona’s biggest border town. Tiny Rio Rico is ten miles north of Nogales, and it is here at the Sheraton Hotel that a Mugabi training camp was set up in preparation for the Hagler encounter. Mugabi’s trainer, instrumental to his getting baptized, was the same Father Anthony Clark—the parish priest.

Back in 1976, 16 year-old Mugabi won a welterweight silver medal after losing to American Herol Graham in the Junior Amateur World Boxing Championships. Interestingly, only weeks before Mugabi’s battle with Hagler, Graham dethroned Ugandan Ayub Kalule of the European middleweight title after knocking him out in the tenth round. This fight would spell the end of Kalule’s illustrious boxing career. Many have wondered what would have been the outcome of a bout between Kalule and Mugabi. There is a 6-year age difference, and Kalule had been an idol and mentor of young Mugabi years back in Kampala.

The Olympic Games of 1976, held in Montreal were boycotted by many nations, including Uganda. Ayub Kalule had been scheduled to fight for Uganda. He became a professional boxer. And so did team-mate Cornelius Bbosa who was later to become widely known as Cornelius Bosa (Boza) Edwards, and become a world junior-lightweight champion.

The major highlight of the Games in Montreal were the finals of the welterweight boxing division, the date 31st July 1976. Young American “Sugar” Ray Leonard, who planned to stop boxing and continue with school at the University of Maryland was pitted against a stronger and taller Cuban with a stellar knock-out record. This Andres Aldama who had knocked out all five of his previous opponents, was expected to win. But Leonard, similar to Muhammad Ali in his earlier career adopted a “hit-and-run” strategy, and elusively frustrated and angered the Cuban. As the Cuban charged, Leonard would throw in a rapid combination of solid and accurate punches and then retreat. It was like a David-Goliath slaughtering, that even involved the Cuban getting knocked down, and also taking two mandatory counts.

The Moscow Olympic finals of the welterweight division in boxing, 2nd August 1980, involved a second coming of the experienced dreaded Andres Aldama. Among his recent accolades was a gold medal win at the Pan African Games held in Puerto Rico in the previous year. Aldama’s opponent John Mugabi at 20, was 4 years younger, far less experienced, and far less tested and known than himself. Each of the two boxers had knocked out four out of five of their previous Olympic boxing opponents. John Mugabi was Uganda’s remaining prospect for gold.

In the first round Mugabi proved to be the more active one. He threw many jabs, but the tall southpaw Aldama kept most of them at bay, most were not hitting their target. Aldama seemed to be studying his opponent, sizing him up. The judges probably gave this round to Mugabi, just for the effort.

The second round saw Aldama come off his stool fighting hard and determined. He gained confidence as the round progressed, unleashing hard head-shots on Mugabi several times. Toward the end of the round, he caused Mugabi to briefly stumble. But Mugabi courageously counter-attacked, obviously without intention to cave in. And just like most capable southpaws, Aldama would sporadically confuse Mugabi by his switching to the orthodox boxing stance.

The third round was a war. Mugabi was landing blows to the head in the brawl, but Aldama’s delivery was noticeably more significant. Aldama was also more accurate. Mugabi was tiring in the face of experience and stiff solid punches, and he briefly staggered from a hard punch. He did not yield to a knockdown, but a hypothetical fourth round would likely have resulted in Mugabi getting knocked out. Mugabi always had the strength and heart, but ineffectiveness at defending himself was his major career weakness.

The referee declared the fight a deserved 4-1 in favor of Aldama. The entirety of the fight is available on U-Tube. Thirty years later, legendary John Mugabi remains the last Ugandan to win an Olympic boxing medal.

Jonathan Musere