By Trigo Egbegi
I’m unable to restrain my self from laughing aloud these three weeks running since my younger brother cracked that seemingly mischievous joke about governing this country during a discussion in the village home in our native Bayelsa State.
Imagine a man who swears he loves this nation with all his heart, telling you the first step in his One-Point Agenda – if voted president by Nigerians – would be to build a maximum security prison facility in every state and Local Government Area in which to confine erring civil servants and politicians, in his avowed war against corruption. He gives himself just 24 months ere he is felled, either by impeachment or by the bullet.
Such a statement can only come from a man who finds nothing worthy of note in his own country, you would say. It took me precious minutes to fully recover from the shock and comprehend/appreciate the point my brother was putting across. After all, in my own unappreciated way, I’ve been unwittingly campaigning for the erection of such prison facilities for the confinement of the reactionary elements holding down pro and amateur boxing in Nigeria.
So, are there no good things to say about the sport in our country? Or persons worthy of appreciation – past and present – in our own land, and beyond? If aye, then why not present it via that perspective, Yours Truly has been queried a good number of times?
Truth is, there’s a whole lot about the boxing sport, worldwide, that’s not proper. By far too many people have been lured in blind-folded, and come out stripped bare regretting all the way to their graves. Yet, beyond that, boxing is a great sport that has produced its share of great and successful personalities the world over.
Even as I continue to lash out at the elements that prevail over the noble objectives for which the sport was designed, I have never failed to recognise the deep contribution – selfless or otherwise – of the many participants – past and present – that have made pro boxing the world’s sports flagship. O yes, you couldn’t contest that!
Even then, I couldn’t excuse myself for not having found the time and space to accommodate the growing chain of tragedies to have visited the sport these past 12-18 months. It is, indeed, a period that has seen the Grim Reaper steal through the ranks and delivered the final Ten-Count over four ex-world champions, a top-grade administrator and a one-time promoter, among the many other members of the family that passed on.
My guilt spilled over the upper weekend with news of the death of American Butch Lewis, who is latest in the grim list of high-profile cases that includes ex-fighters Vernon Forrest, Arturo Gatti, Alexis Arguello, Henry Cooper, Billy Costello; and Nigeria’s own Prince Laide Adegboyega Adeboye. The loss has been colossal.
Lewis, departing at a rather youthful 65years, may sound an alien name to present-generation followers of the sport. To us of the older generation, he was one of the power brokers of heavyweight boxing of the 1980s. The Wilmington, Delaware, native rose through the ranks as a discredited office-boy of Bob Arum who, together with Don King (and to some extent Harold Smith of MAPS fame) ran the promotional outfits that owned the champions and decided the contenders/challengers. While Arum courted the WBA and a still-apartheid South Africa, King was partnering the WBC under Czar Jose Sulaiman for all the favours.
Butch Lewis made his own breakthrough with the Spinks Brothers, each landing the pie in major championship upsets. But when Michael Spinks was blasted out inside one round in 1988 by a rampaging Mike Tyson, it effectively marked the end of Lewis’ reign as a giant promotional force.
Butch was honoured with the same traditional Ten-Count rite accorded Prince Adeboye, during the Amir Khan Vs Zab Judah super lightweight unification event same week.
* Vernon Forrest came just marginally short of accomplishing his full potential as great welterweight champion. But he is remembered mainly for his back-to-back title triumphs over the hugely popular Shane Mosley and the Ghanaian Ike Quartey. Forrest was felled under a hail of bullets during a hold-up at a gas station in the US.
*Arturo Gatti was found dead in a Condo apartment in Brazil where he was on vacation with his wife. Undoubtedly the bravest fighter to mount a ring in the last 40 years, Gatti is remembered for his sacrifice in blood and guts as the continually thrilled spectators in his every contest. Outboxed, sliced up and bleeding like a slaughter house pig, the popular Canadian warrior looked more like the loser in even most of his winning contests.
*Alexis Arguello presented, perhaps, the most pathetic picture of all of boxing’s short-changed heroes. A native of Nicaragua, Arguello was victim of both nature and the ideological structure of his country. Firstly, his house and property acquired with his early ring earning, perished in a major earthquake in Managua.
Next, the notorious Sandinista rebels Arguello had supported against the ruthless Contras, chose to outlaw pro boxing in the country and seized his possessions (including his newly built house) and froze his bank account. This forced the hugely formidable Latin warrior to flee and relocate to the US.