Jeremiad over Joshua
In my mind’s eyes we are now rushing into the boxing ring at Wembley Stadium in England trying to touch the boxing gloves of Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua so that we may be healed of our sports inertia and or slumber. This is patriotic opportunism. Joshua is the “tear-rubber” world heavyweight boxing champion with three broad and shiny belts, WBA, IBO and IBF, courtesy of the 11th round knockout of the Ukrainian legend, Wladimir Klitschko, on April 29, 2017.
Joshua boxes under the canopy of the British flag but he is as Nigerian as they come. His name is Nigerian, his mother is a Nigerian, his father is an Irish Nigerian while his grandfather, Daniel Adebambo Joshua of Sagamu, Ogun State, is very Nigerian. But Anthony Joshua (AJ) was born in Watford, England, and went to King’s Langley Secondary School. At school, he was good in football and athletics, but somehow he found his way into the boxing ring. In 2008, he came to Nigeria and wanted to represent the country in that year’s Olympics in Beijing but according to Obisia Nwakpa, Nigeria’s boxing coach, the selection had already been settled before AJ’s arrival so he did not make the team. However, Britain saw the potential in him and appropriated him. He competed for that country during the 2012 London Olympics and won a gold medal in the heavyweight boxing category. He turned professional on July 11, 2013. Since then, he has had a perfect record. He simply drives his clenched fist repeatedly into every opponents face until the fellow falls or the referee steps in to save his opponent from further punishment. At the last count he had won all his 19 fights by the knockout route thus matching Mike Tyson’s knockout record in his first 19 fights.
Joshua has gained global attention by beating Klitschko, a veteran warrior who has done 69 fights, won 64 and went through 369 rounds totalling 18 hours 45 minutes. In this epic fight, Joshua was put on the canvas by Klitschko aka Dr Steelhammer for the first time while he brought down the giant Ukrainian three times before the slam-slam of his heavy artillery brought matters to a close. The fight and its outcome sent Nigerians into an ecstasy of nostalgic thrilldom. We all wished we could roll back the clock to 2008 and make AJ our contestant at that Olympics in Beijing. But whether AJ represents Nigeria or not his victory is an invitation to shared happiness by Nigerians.
But did he deserve to be ignored by Nigeria in 2008? That is a sterile question now because no one knew at that time that he would be what he has become today. Besides, it is doubtful if he would have been a world heavyweight boxing champion if he fought under the Nigerian flag because the truth is that Nigeria does not have a policy of developing, nurturing and motivating its future champions.
At the Rio Olympics in 2014, many Nigerian sportsmen and women competed and won medals for other countries. Here are some of them: Courtney Okolo won gold in 400 metres and 4 x 400 metres women for the United States. She was born in Texas to Nigerian parents; Christine Ohuruogu and Anyika Onuora won bronze medals in 4 x 400 metres relay (men); Foluke Akinradewo got a bronze for the United States in volley ball. Many others competed in track and field for Qatar and Bahrain based on the weight of the wallets offered them by these rich countries.
Why is this happening? It is happening because where you stand depends where you sit. You only stand up from where you sit. Most of the Nigerians competing for foreign countries were born abroad. They cannot leave America or Europe where they are awarded scholarships, training allowances and trainers to come and languish here. The green white green flag is not a green pasture. The jersey is not enough motivation. Sports is largely a matter of cash today, not sentiments.
Why did the parents of these kids go abroad to study? Because the schools abroad are better equipped than the ones here. Why did they not come back here to work on completion of their studies? Because there are fewer jobs here, lack of electricity, low pay and lack of an appropriate work environment. So if the parents are abroad, and give birth to children abroad who want to go to good schools why would they leave all of that behind to come and compete here under harrowing circumstances, poor training venues, inferior equipment and low motivation? How many foreign footballers and coaches operate in the Nigerian football league? Pretty few if any. Why? Poor motivation. While some Nigerian footballers are paid N20, 000 a month in the Nigerian league Nigerian footballers who ply their trade in Europe can earn 100, 000 pounds a week. Do we have football fields in primary schools today as we had in the past? Doubtful because many of the primary schools today are largely a room and parlour affair, no playground.
We must expand the conversation of our decline in sports fortune beyond AJ. He is patriotic. He loves Nigeria. He flaunts his Nigerian identity. His close friends fondly call him Femi. He says that pounded yam, eba and egusi soup are the sources of his prodigious energy and his killer punch. His arrival at the pinnacle of global boxing will be an inspiration to young Nigerians who are interested in working in the robed combat zone. They will be more enthralled when they learn that Joshua earned 15 million pounds for his 32 minutes work in the ring. This works out at 468, 750 pounds per minute. But he did not get there overnight. There is a gargantuan grind to his success: many hours of brutal hard work and sparring. His body which looks like the perfectly toned body of a ballerina is a product of discipline and rigorous conditioning. He has world class trainers, sparring partners and a well-equipped gymnasium. He eats well and is medically well taken care of. Boxers who live in Nigeria will find it difficult to get to the top because the above stated facilities are lacking. Besides, they will have very few serious tournaments here. All those Nigerians who boxed their way to the top such as Dick Ihetu Tiger, Hogan King Bassey and Samuel Peter got there through the benefit of spending more time abroad where they had good trainers and knowledgeable promoters who understood the global politics of pugilism. The stamping grounds of boxing combats are Madison Square Garden in New York and Las Vegas. However, with the ascent of two British boxers Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury who is waiting in the wings for his boxing licence to be returned, England’s Wembley Stadium will become a major staging post.
Those who wish to take up boxing must know that it is a savage sport. Every boxer walks the knife-edge of danger but the thrill of competition gives boxing its vitality. Even then it is still a profession of brutality and blood. That is why their pay day is a happy day. Joshua is dedicated to the sport. He is a happy warrior. He works very hard in the gym before the day of judgement. His battle with Klitsckho was the toughest test of his heroism. This was a classic generational clash between a young man, 27, war hungry and ready to climb the legacy ladder as quickly as possible and a 41-year old war veteran who is in the evening of his career and who now seeks to cement his legacy as a true dinosaur of the sport. He had been a world champion twice.
Joshua has three assets in his tool kit: power, speed and precision. But he is not a fully finished product yet. He doesn’t have Mohammed Ali’s ability to float like a butterfly but he stinks like a bee. His major flaw is that he drops his guards and a stray bullet can fell a boxer who lowers his guards. Klitsckho taught him that lesson by dropping him on the floor for the very first time. But there is no doubt that Joshua has skills that can take him far if he does not let his success become his Achilles heel.
Nigerians are waiting with bated breath for his next fight now that he has pumped their adrenalin. As he squares up against one opponent after another we will be having a patriotic feeling of glorious pleasure. So let’s bury the jeremiad over our loss of him to Britain. The milk is already spilt. No need to cry.
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