Nigerian born former British boxer, Peter Oboh was the World Boxing Association (WBA) Inter-Continental light heavyweight champion, the British Boxing Board of Control light heavyweight title holder among others. Oboh is not given to mincing words when he speaks on boiling issues. In this chat with Jacob Ajom, Oboh said Nigerian sports need the support of corporate Nigeria and advised millionaire, Alhaji Aliko Dangote to forget about buying Arsenal and invest in Nigerian sports. Excerpts
How did you get into boxing?
I was into Martial Arts. I am a Black Belt holder in Taekwondo. I achieved that feat in the 1980s. After the Los Angeles Olympics, I got carried away by the exploits of Peter Konyegwachi who won Nigeria’s first Olympic silver medal in boxing. Apart from Konyegwachi, the likes of Innocent Egbunike, Chidi Imoh among others were making waves as the media promoted them a lot.
I thought Peter could have won the gold medal. Peter was better than Taylor who won gold for America. But he never believed he could as he felt content with the feat of reaching the final of the event, which ensured he got a silver medal.
I was like a sheep without a shepherd, moving in no particular direction, as I was also into weightlifting, body-building, wrestling, etc.
One day I went to the national stadium. They were doing a taekwondo festival. I watched how a young boy break bricks with bare hands. They won my heart and I decided to join them.
In 1988, Chuka Momah was showing the fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman on his popular boxing programme on NTA. After watching the replay of that famous fight between two of the greatest boxers of all time, I fell for the sport and decided there and then to become a boxer.
But while boxing, taekwondo kept intermingling as it was like I held boxing with my right hand and taekwondo with my left. At times while in the ring in a boxing bout, I was tempted to kick with the legs as we do in taekwondo. So I decided I had to let one go.
In 1990, I went to Italy. In Italy, I took boxing seriously but at the amateur level. I returned to Nigeria before the 1992 Olympics. I was in camp with the boxing team. I stayed 9 months in camp. At the camp I boxed my way to become number 1 in my weight category, Light heavy. Surprisingly, I was not selected for the Olympics after a very contentious national trials. I took it in good faith and returned to Italy.
That was another chapter in your career?
In Italy, I was promoted to a professional. I could not compete for Italy in amateur because I was not carrying their passport. I won my first three professional fights via knockout.
I fought and became popular in Italy but fights were hard to come by. I decided to move to England in 1994 where I fought and won many bouts. I won the British Boxing Board of Control (BB of C) British Light Heavyweight Title, the Commonwealth (British Empire) Light Heavyweight Title and the World Boxing Association Inter-Continental Light Heavyweight Title before retiring.
How do you find the state of boxing in Nigeria?
It is not good enough. We have the talent and determined individuals who want to be successful in the sport. However, in Africa we lack the foundation. Every sport has a secret. In swimming, for instance, if you want to produce a champion you have to start with him as a toddler. In boxing, the athlete is fuelled and supported by financial and emotional back up. Here, the social conditions are not right and parents are becoming increasingly impatient. They want the short cut to fame and success.
Champions are not just born, they are made. After identifying the potential in a budding athlete his talent will come out with continuous training and backing in terms of sponsorship. Then regular competition and a champion is made. In America, for instance, the people we call Agberos (street urchins) win medals for America. They have been reformed through sports.
Another factor working against the development of boxing and sports in general is lack of sponsorship. Government cannot do it alone. Corporate bodies have to come into sports sponsorship as a way of advertising their goods and services, undertake Corporate Social Responsibility and above all cultivate goodwill in the public view.
In England, most companies get involved in sports, less tax. Look at the billions of pounds being raked in annually through the Premier League. For Nigeria to industrialise, sports is one of the tools that can engender industrialisation. Sports gives a lot of publicity and make nations popular in the international arena. You don’t invest in a country you don’t know anything about. Look at Jamaica, they live by tourism. Tourists flood that country because of the popularity Usain Bolt and the rest of them have brought to the Caribbean nation.
But there is nothing Jamaica offers to the world that we don’t have. A country like Cuba is synonymous with boxing.
We have a lot of people here who can do it for Nigerian sports. But faith without action is death. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, for example, can be a messiah for Nigerian sports just like the late MKO Abiola was in those days.
Dangote should invest in Nigerian sports. I want to use this medium to appeal to Alhaji Dangote to leave Arsenal for the British. If Dangote uses the money he intends to invest in Arsenal and put it on Nigerian boxing, we can produce 5 gold medals in the next Olympics. He will be remembered forever. Today, everybody still talks about Brai Ayonote. With people like Dangote, we can create our own Arsenal.
What plan do you have for Nigerian boxing?
I will keep my plan to chest. I won’t let it out of the bag just yet..
How do you see Anthony Joshua coping with the likes of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury?
Anthony Joshua has to pay extra attention to the Tyson Fury fight against Deontay Wilder coming up on a yet to be announced date.
Fury and Wilder are Joshua’s greatest opponents at the moment, who on a good day could rob him a tough fight.
Wilder is a hard puncher. If given a chance, he can decide a fight within minutes. That is why I want Joshua to take a close look at what they would do when the fight comes up. It is going to be a good lesson to him before accepting to take on any of them.
Tyson Fury is one hell of a fighter who Joshua should be wary about. Fury is a gypsy and they share common features with those born under very tough conditions. Talk of ruggedness, determination and never-say-die approach to fights. Fury is tough and a hard puncher as well. He would want to challenge Joshua, depending on the outcome of his fight with Wilder.
However, you must understand that Joshua is head and shoulder above them. He is a better fighter than both. I am a great fan of Joshua.