Boxing  

Muhammad Ali made me a true boxer – Okorodudu

US former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali gives a punch in front of photographers at hotel Belvedere in Davos 28 January 2006. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

US former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali gives a punch in front of photographers at hotel Belvedere in Davos 28 January 2006. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Obisia Nwanpka Also Recalls Ali’s Visit To Nigeria In 1996

“I don’t like singing praises of people after their death, but I will forever remain grateful to the late Muhammad Ali because he made me what I am today in boxing.”

Those where the words of ex- Olympian, Jeremiah Okorodudu, while speaking with The Guardian yesterday shortly after the demise of the eloquent, colorful, controversial and three-time heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali.

Ali, who was known for his sharp social conscience and staunch opposition to the Vietnam War, died in the early hours of yesterday at the age of 74 after 30 years of battle with Parkinson’s disease.

As boxing lovers and sports enthusiasts mourn around the World, Okorodudu recalled how the legend, Ali, inspired him into the exciting world of boxing. He also spoke on his many fruitless attempts in meeting Ali during his boxing exploits in California, United States, in the mid 1980s.

Ali learned to box after his bicycle was stolen when he was 12 years old. He would go on to become “The Greatest,” and at his peak in the 1970s he was among the most recognizable faces on Earth.

As a teenager learning the tricks of boxing on the street of Ughelli in the then Mid-west, now Delta State, Okorodudu had so many wonderful stories about Ali’s exploits and he fell in love with his lifestyle.

But the young Okorodudu, who later won laurels for the country, did not have the blessing of his parents to go into boxing. So, he had to force his ways into the ring because he wanted to be popular through boxing like Ali.

“My father wanted me to go to school and train as a lawyer, arguing that as a lawyer, I would be well known in the country. I also remember my father and some of my relations saying that boxing contributes to the death of many people. They said that the blows they received in the ring contributed to their death and they even gave examples with the likes of Dick Tiger and Gene Fullmer. But I stood my ground, telling them that
I want to be popular like Mohammed Ali.”

Perhaps, one of Muhammad Ali’s fights that inspired Okorodudu into the world of boxing was his re-match against undisputed Joe Frazier in 1974.

The early contest, an epic night that featured scores of celebrities in the crowd, Frazier’s pressure carried the day. He floored Ali in the 15th round with one of the most famous and perfectly executed left hooks in boxing history, sealing the fight.

But Ali would have his days against Frazier, defeating him twice, in a non-title bout on Jan. 28, 1974, in New York, and for the heavyweight title in Manila on Oct. 1, 1975. That was a fight for the ages, remembered as one of a handful of the best in boxing history. Ali won by 14th-round stoppage when Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, asked referee Carlos Padilla to stop the fight.

Then, Jerry Okorodudu was just 11 years old. He started his elementary boxing career at the age of 16. “I didn’t watch that particular fight, but I read it on pages of newspapers and I was really inspired by what Ali did to Frazier,” Okorodudu recalled with nostalgic feeling.

Okorodudu, a one time Commonwealth boxing champion and a member of Nigeria team to Los Angeles ‘84 Olympic Games, took his exploits to the United States in 1985, and for eight years, he did everything within his limit to meet with Ali.

“I was in California from 1985 to 1993, and in all these years, I did everything possible to see Muhammad Ali, who was then living in the city of Levada. It was difficult seeing him because by this time, Ali was already suffering from Parkinson’s disease.”

Okorodudu’s inquest to see Muhammad Ali intensified after he had his toughest fight against Mike Killock of England in California. “Killock once drew with Sugar Ray Leonard and there was a lot of tension in prelude to our fight. The fans were throwing coins inside the ring as a way of showing support for us. It was a good fight and it ended in a draw. After the fight, which was my toughest fight since I turned professional, I intensified my efforts to see Ali, at least before I returned to Nigeria. It was not possible.

“I will always remember him as the man behind my success in boxing because I always tried to imitate him inside the ring. There was a time in my boxing career that people called me the Muhammad Ali of Nigeria,” Okorodudu, who is presently Nigeria’s Assistant boxing coach, added.

Okorodudu was not the only Nigerian ex-boxer inspired by the late Muhammad Ali.

Also speaking with The Guardian yesterday, former African Boxing Union light welterweight, and Commonwealth lightweight title holder, Obisia Nwankpa, said that Ali made many young boxers to believe they could realise their dream in the game.

Unlike Okorodudu whose search to meet with Ali in the United States were unfruitful, Nwankpa recalled how he met the legend during his visit to Nigeria in 1966.

“I was a young boxer then, and I was privileged to meet Ali when he visited Nigeria in 1966. He came to Onikan Stadium, Lagos and that visit really inspired a lot of us. He made us to believe that we can realize our dream in boxing,” Nwankpa stated.

Ali, who rose above poverty and racism to become not only the heavyweight champion but a verse-spouting symbol of religious conviction and the most famous athlete in the world, died yesterday at an Arizona hospital. He died surrounded by family at Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center. His funeral was expected to be in his hometown of Louisville, Ky, thought arrangements were still going on yesterday.

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