Feature: Kenya's boxers are fading at high rate

2013-01-18 11:47:51 GMT2013-01-18 19:47:51(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

By Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- In the bad tempered and highly competitive world of boxing, there was a time when Kenyan pugilists ranked one on one with the greatest in the universe, notably; Dominican Republic, U.S., Cuba and Puerto Rico.

In the 70's and 80's decades, Kenyan punch throwers' solid reputation gave their erstwhile opponents goose pimples. During that era, Kenya was a rightful claimant of several world boxing titles.

Today, the story is different. The good old days are gone and only nostalgia remains. Amateur boxing in the country is at its lowest ebb.

"Mismanagement and the failure by the Amateur Boxing Association to publicize and market the sport effectively have greatly contributed to the decline of amateur boxing in the country, making it difficult for the sport to attract a sponsor on board," Secretary General of the Kenya Professional Boxing Commission (KPBC) and former member of the national team Shabaan Ogolla told Xinhua on Thursday.

All the top boxers quit amateur boxing after years of frustration from ABA officials after being treated with little modicum of decency. They all bid the ring bye and opted for quiet lives away from fame.

At the moment, Kenya holds no world amateur title and there is little hope of any in the future. In fact, the country fielded only one boxer at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The golden two decades saw Kenya produce a dazzling array of boxers who not only challenged the world, but also became champions in their own right.

To this end, Isaiah Ikhoni, Ibrahim "Surf" Bilali, David "DK" Kamau, Steve Muchoki, John Duran Wanjau, Muhammed Abdallah Kent, James "Demosh" Omondi, Modest Napunyi Oduori and the late high achiever, Robert Wangila among others all helped put Kenya on the feared yet beloved list of tough fighters who seldom lost their matches.

They not only brought Kenya fame and glory but also gave the game status, skills and modern definition, not to mention class. The late Robert Wangila gave the African continent its first Olympic gold medal.

That feat, which has never been equaled up to date, saw the ramifications of the achievement inspire a majority of the youth in the deprived Eastlands area of Nairobi seeking to emulate their hero. They too, had a go at boxing.

Wangila's short stint in Bob Arum's Top Rank stable eventually claimed him as a casualty. In those glory years, Kenya had never had it so good with the mighty game of gloves.

From Kenya's corner in the world ring, only weak punches, poor body co-ordination and sleazy footwork are what it can offer.

This in turn has seen many green-horn boxers rushing out of the amateur category in a huff to try their luck in pro-boxing, with the greatest beneficiary of this stalemate has of course being KPBC.

But not all is rosy on the punches for cash side where complaints range from lack of enough fights and unwilling promoters to better their lot and lace them among the much sought after fighters on the planet.

"We have had cases in the past of boxers being shortchanged by promoters. We are very vigilant on the issue of boxer-promoter relationship and it is our desire to see both parties getting a fair deal out of the contract that they sign," said Ogolla.

"We protect both parties and intervene when a boxer asks for too much as much as when a promoter offers too little. There are cases where boxers are offered as little as 180 U.S. dollars for a professional bout!"

A cross-section of former pugilists who hanged their gloves revealed that poor remuneration is the main reason why boxing has lost its allure in Kenya's sports arena today.

Patrick Obath, a former feared boxer of the Kenya Breweries side intimates that if money is put in the sport, it will instantly bloom like a flower in a green house and rejuvenate the sport.

"I truly love boxing and I actually never wanted to quit, but there were no returns in it so I actually used it as a means to get a job but afterwards I had to walk away from the one sport that I truly love. The same applies to professional boxing. I didn't go there for the same reason."

The only Kenyan boxer who can shout about his boxing rewards is Evans Ashira Oure who plied his trade in Denmark in the last decade and who incidentally keeps mum of his earnings, leaving his three belts to do the talking.

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