Long before football became the most popular sport in Nigeria, there was Boxing. The 50s and 60s were the golden years of Nigerian Boxing which produced legends Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger.
Hogan “Kid” Bassey was the first Nigerian boxer to become a World Champion. Bassey won 59 times ( 21 knockouts, 38 decisions), with 13 losses (4 knockouts, 9 decisions) and 2 draws. Apart from winning Empire Featherweight Championship, Bassey won World Featherweight crown after defeating French Algerian Cherif Hamia in Paris in 1957. He was awarded the highest honor in Britain (MBE) in 1973 following his world title.
Richard Ihetu aka Tiger was a two-time world middleweight boxing champion and was once the light‐heavyweight title holder. The Anambra-born heavyweight recorded 61 victories, 17 losses and three draws, with 26 knockouts. He was so good that the Boxing Writers Association Of America (BWAA) voted him Fighter Of The Year in 1962 and 1966. Tiger was also inducted in the the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991, 20 years after his death in 1971.
Before his death, Tiger trained legendary Wrestler Power Mike in the Dick Tiger Boxing Club at Onitsha.
We should not also forget Nojim Maiyegun who won Nigeria’s first Olympic medal, a bronze medal in the men’s Light Middleweight (71 kg) category at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and Peter Konyegwachie, who won Nigeria’s first ever boxing silver medal in the men’s Featherweight (54-57 kg) category at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
The 1980s and 1990s also brought household names like Jonathan, Hogan Jimoh, Davidson Andeh, Obisia Nwakpa, Joe Lasisi, Jeremiah Okorodudu, Charles Nwokolo and Bash Ali.
Then in 2008, “Nigerian Nightmare” Samuel Okon Peter briefly held WBC heavyweight title before he was dethroned in his first defence of the title by Vitali Klitschko, who stopped him in eight rounds.
Those were the years when was Boxing was the real deal in Nigeria. In fact, Nigeria was ranked in the same category as United States, Britain, Republic of Ireland, Puerto Rico, Mexico etc.
But today, the story is different. Nobody remembers boxing in this country apart from out grandparents and great grandparents who witnessed the golden years.
Only Nigerian boxers in diaspora are celebrated. Nigerians only know current World Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua who, by the way, is a product of British Amateur Boxing Association, an organization that has been mandated to develop Boxing from the grassroots in the United Kingdom.
Another Nigerian, Efe Ajagba is making waves also in diaspora.
Although Joshua identifies with Nigeria, it remains a fact that he will not be a global brand that he is today if he had stayed in this country.
He did in fact, wanted to stay and represent Nigeria in the 2008 Olympics but was rejected by the country’s Boxing officials who are singing his praises today.
Why can’t Nigeria pick a leaf from the UK? Why can’t the country pick a leaf from Tiger who made Power Mike?
Nigeria already has this sad reputation of not doing things properly due to selfish interests of certain individuals. Indigenous boxers, among others, have been severely affected by this cankerworm.
And unless it is addressed, unless grassroots amateur Boxing has been seriously instituted, we shall continue to celebrate Nigerians in diaspora and not Dick Tigers and Bash Alis living in Nigeria.