December 5, 2020

Baby Face:  New face of Nigerian boxing

Shy, almost cripplingly, and with a voice that hardly rises higher than a whisper, Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, is the anti-boxer. Boxers are not known to be withdrawn and reticent, but brash and boastful.

Where he speaks-very loudly-is on the boxing ring and with his fists, which have delivered 12 victories (four by knockout) in as many fights. They have also earned him the national and West African Boxing Union (WABU) titles, the latter which he currently holds.

Back in early 2015, very few people, if any, saw these coming and at the speed they have come. Baby Face, then a gangling 18-year old, was training to be a barber somewhere in the Egbeda area of Lagos. He had been a keen boxer, taking part in amateur punch-ups in his area.

Then came a transition. In February 2015, GOtv, sponsors of GOtv Boxing Night launched the GOtv Boxing NextGen Search, an initiative conceived to find amateur boxers promising enough to be absorbed into the professional ranks and developed under the guidance of some of the country’s finest boxing coaches.

The inaugural edition of GOtv Boxing NextGen Search attracted over a hundred boxers from as far as Abuja. Among them was Baby Face. At the Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame Gym in Lagos, where GOtv Boxing NextGen Search held, young boxers turned up with hope on their faces, hoping to impress the selectors.

Over three days, the selectors, including big names such as Joe Mensah, Obisia Nwakpa, and Olympian Jerry Okorodudu, assessed the young boxers spar and made a list of those they thought were ready to take the next step. Baby Face, however, was not on the list. As he made to leave the venue, said a slightly older man who accompanied him, he was called back by an observer in the place who persuaded the coaches to include him. The observer saw what the selectors missed out: the promise and scope for development.

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The promise started manifesting when those selected resumed at the camp organised to put them in shape. Later that year, he made his professional debut, winning his fight, and has continued seeing off much experienced opponents both at home and in the West African sub-region. He won the national light welterweight title and later the sub-regional welterweight title.

Along with those have come three best boxer awards at GOtv Boxing Night. Last Friday at GOtv Boxing Night 21, he picked up the best boxer award and N1million cash prize. In March 2017 at GOtv Boxing Night 11, he won N2million attached to the prize and the following year at GOtv Boxing Night 14, won N1million. He also emerged second-runner up at GOtv Boxing Night 13, winning N500,000.