By Trigo Egbegi
I have come under fire, lately, from quarters accusing me of pressing a mere panic button with intent to malign professional boxing through defining and labeling it as one deliberately designed for self-impoverishment.
Neck-deep in the ranks of my accusers are – of all persons – even those laying claim to having undiluted passion and commitment to possibly, the world’s biggest franchise under fire. These are the people who are attracted, primarily, by the ear-splitting financial figures that reportedly go with the mega fixtures disseminated by the media.
To defend my stand on the sport would amount to sheer waste of precious time and space. I have looked round extensively, and I am yet to find two persons whose love for boxing supersedes mine. I live for it. But that has not confined me to the point of closing my eyes and shutting my mouth when things are not right.
A man who has committed his entire productive years to a cause is, in return, expected to walk out and away – at the end – with a wide grin. He should be able to enjoy the comfort of his home without recourse, of necessity, to a menial support job – like night guard which now comes under the glorified nomenclature of security officer.
That’s what I call success. Yes, fulfillment in a higher sense.
Thus, when the system is tailor-made for less than ten percent of the work force (boxers) to be part of the success category, then something is wrong. Or, when again the much ballyhooed mega-back purses are confined to less than ten percent of the so called success category, then something is just not right.
Even then, not all earners of the megabuck purses have walked away with the wealth intact. I can bet you Oscar de la Hoya can vouch for only a few companions among the many who landed million-dollar purses during their own active career days.
Today, I kick-start my treatise by sharing my dialogue with a great boxing fan and reader who sent in text in reaction to my earlier piece on the demons haunting the sport. Victor Azumara, sending from Umuahia, via Port Harcourt, sought to know the nature of the demon consuming boxing in our own Nigeria, and how such fiend can be exorcised.
To which I replied: “The demon attacking boxing in Nigeria must be the grandfather himself, my brother. Most of the (NBB of C) board members are its agents”.
Azumara: “Then why can’t we assemble all the (Christian and Muslim) prayer warriors in Nigeria to cast and bind this grandpa demon and his agents?”.
It’s exactly a fortnight since I got the second half of Azumara’s enquiry and I haven’t responded. But then, I wonder what’s the use rushing to answer a good question when there are other Nigerians in a better position to assume the challenge. I sincerely expect all lovers of boxing to bring the issue to the attention of our reverend Daddies Enoch Adeboye, Kumuyi, Bakare, Umah Ukpai, Adefarasin, Oyakhilome, T.B. Joshua, George Amu, and the countless others of the Christian brotherhood, as well as the scores of their Muslim counterparts. That demon must be cast and bound before it’s too late.
While the issue of demons is a universal phenomenon it is still not out of place to spotlight the Nigerian situation on the brink of disappearing from the domestic sporting calendar. In contrast to the demons that feed fat on the relatively thriving international front, those in our own land are hungry and hell-bent on ensuring that the game does not thrive.
This latter category of demons is more dangerous.
While we may not have produced a superstar candidate, yet, at world class level, we cherish with pride the feat of the late Hogan Kid Bassey who set the pace every Nigerian youth – even those yet unborn – would wish to emulate. Hogan achieved his key goal of winning a world title, together with acquiring reasonable wealth. When it was time to leave, Hogan had the commonsense to walk away with his health and wealth intact, after eleven years of grueling ring warfare – at age 29.
There is also Henry Akinwande and, perhaps, a few more. But then, this percentage looks seriously dwarfed in comparison with the multitude home and in Diaspora who sank without trace at the end of service. Particularly discouraging are the scores who set out in search of the Golden Fleece abroad and ended up unable to return to the fatherland. It may interest you to know what some of them took up for a living.
The international scene is far more pathetic, what with the roll call of acclaimed superstars that have fallen from grace to grass in their last days. The great Joe Louis (highlighted in previous column) was only one among the great number enticed and led away by the demons.
*Beau Jack (real name Sydney Walker) was one of the ring luminaries of the 1940s and 50s, credited with winning the world lightweight title. When Beau Jack walked out after 112 bouts spanning 16 years he was a broken man with virtually nothing to fall back on. He spent his last days shining shoes for executive clientele in a New York hotel.
*Jose Napoles entertained the boxing world with his smooth, silky skills for 18 years, during which period the Cuban exile compiled 84 career bouts and twice won the world welterweight title. On leaving service Napoles could not support himself, as he chose to lavish his wealth on the racetrack and booze.
*Reuben Olivares spent 18 years compiling a 101 career record, electrifying the world as lord of the bantamweights and featherweights. When he quit, Olivaries found himself in the enticing embrace of women and booze.
*Wilfredo Benitez holds the distinction of being boxing’s greatest whizkid. In March 1976 Wilfredo won the world 140-pound title as a 17-year-old – the first of three divisional championships he took in a career that spanned 13 years. Despite having a father trainer/manager, Benitez could not submit himself to the discipline and professional regime to compliment his talent.
Benitez could not resist the good life that dangled in front of him – women, food and booze. At age 26, his career had come to an effective close, and Wilfredo was back in his native Puerto Rico a human vegetable under the care of his mother.
To be continued next week…