How Nigeria Rejection Led Anthony Joshua To Win IBF & WBA Heavyweight Champion
| || |
May 1, 2017 ( Post 1 )
There, on Saturday night, could have been Anthony Joshua fighting Wladimir Klitschko, as world boxing champion, under the green white green banner of Nigeria rather than the Union Jack.
There, but for one small and now ultimately significant rejection by Nigerian boxing officials in 2008, when he wanted to represent the country of his parents at the Olympic Games. And it was all a question of timing. So they say at least.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe his career would have taken an entirely different fork at the crossroads if he had been flying the green and white colours nearly a decade ago.
Joshua makes no secret of his Nigerian heritage. If anything, he embraces it. His middle name, Femi (short for Oluwafemi), is as Nigerian as Nigerian is. On numerous occasions, he has not been shy to speak about his Nigerian roots.
In one post-fight interview muck around with Nigerian reporter Oma Akatugba, he even attempted to speak some of his native Yoruba languages, and the map tattooed on his shoulder tells its own cultural tale. It is a reflection of how connected he has tried to remain to his African roots.
It was that connection that drove him to try and represent Nigeria at the 2008 Olympic Games, only to be turned down by the country’s boxing coaches.
Obisia Nwankpa, former Commonwealth champion, world title contender and chief coach of the Nigerian boxing team, tells the story: “He reached out to us, asking to be part of our Olympic team, so we invited him to come down and take part in trials.
“Unfortunately, he did not appear when we asked him to and came down only when we had finished our trials, finalised our team and were about to travel for a training tour. Maybe other coaches would have accepted it, but I could not.
“It’s a pity he did not get his chance at that time, but the two boxers we selected then, Durodola Olanrewaju and Onorede Ohwarieme, were outstanding and experienced and there was no way I was going to drop them for somebody I had not even seen.”
Both Olanrewaju and Ohwarieme failed to go beyond their first bouts at the Beijing Olympics. Olanrewaju lost to Cuba’s Osmay Acosta, who went on to win bronze, while Ohwarieme was beaten by Lithuania’s Jaroslavas Jaksto. Nwankpa is convinced that Joshua would not have fared any better at the time.
“Those two were great boxers and the reason they did not do so well was partly because our preparations were not really so good, and partly because there is also some politics in the way they judge these fights at amateur level.”
Jeremiah Okorodudu represented Nigeria at the 1984 Olympic Games. His relationship with Nwankpa is frosty at best and they do not often agree. They hold divergent views on Joshua; Okorodudu claiming some stinging words were said to the young boxer.
“When they turned him back, they told him that if he was that good he should have fought for Britain,” Okorodudu alleges.
That snub, it seems, provided additional motivation which spurred the young boxer to fight his way into the British Olympic team. Four years later, Nigeria’s rejected nugget had become Great Britain’s cornerstone Olympic gold medalist. So is it possible that Joshua dodged a bullet by that rejection?
Nwankpa grudgingly agrees: “Well, maybe if he had represented Nigeria at that time he would not have won gold at the Olympics. And possibly, even if he had won, he may not have achieved what he is achieving now.
“Being born in England gives him a certain amount of preference and because he is representing them, he also gets a lot of support from them; good management, and world-class preparation.
“Here, it would have been difficult for him to get the kind of support that he has now. And if he doesn’t have that support, he won’t have fights and if he doesn’t have fights, he cannot be champion,” Nwankpa argues.
Okorodudu again holds opposite views to Nwankpa: “I believe he could still have achieved all that if he had fought for Nigeria. We have had boxers who have done well fighting for Nigeria. Peter Konyegwachie won silver in 1984. David Izonritei also won silver and I trained Samuel Peter for three years before he went to the Olympic Games and later became a world champion.
“So if Joshua had been given a chance here, I believe he could still have won gold and still be a world champion.” On further reflection, however, Okorodudu admits it would have been a harder journey for the young champion.
“Lack of fights is a big problem for our boxers. They turn professional and there is no promotion. Joshua is where he is because he is getting good promotion, so maybe it would have been tougher for him. But because he was born in England, he could still have moved abroad, like Peter did, and that would have worked for him.”
Nwankpa, who was close to being a world champion himself until he lost the WBC title fight to Saoul Mamby, insists he has no regrets about his decision to cold-shoulder Joshua.
“I would do it again because we must always do things the right way. Simply because somebody was born abroad does not mean he can just walk into our team without taking part in our trials. That would be unfair to those who sweated to take part and qualified. So no, I have no regrets at all. But I am happy for him and I wish him well in his fight against Klitschko. It will be a very tough fight.”
Choices. We are the sum total of the choices we make. For Joshua, he is the sum of choices stemming from one made by Obisia Nwankpa. Hard not to think that in his moments of quiet introspection, he will find himself thankful for the little mercy of having suffered that rejection early in his career.
NIGERIA boxing chiefs have claimed Anthony Joshua was keen to represent them at Beijing 2008 but was told ‘he wasn’t good enough’.
AJ was born in Watford to Nigerian parents in 1989 and spent some of his early years in the West African country.
Anthony Joshua won super–heavyweight gold for GB at the 2012 London Olympics
But ahead of last night’s heavyweight blockbuster against Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley, it was claimed he wanted to represent the country of his mum and dad.
Nigerian boxing legend Jeremiah Okorodudu, speaking at the National Stadium in Lagos, told SunSport: “Joshua was in Nigeria once to connect with his roots and I think that was in 2007.
“He wanted a chance to compete for trials ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifiers, but he was denied and not given a chance.
Anthony Joshua beat Italian Roberto Cammarelle in the super-heavyweight final of the 2012 Olympics in London. Nigerian-born Anthony Joshua is now one of the top names in British boxing
“Disappointed, he went back to England to represent Great Britain. “He went on to win a gold that could have been a first for Nigeria at the Olympics.
“If only they had allowed him to compete for Nigeria, that gold would have been a Nigerian gold and not Great Britain’s.”
Joshua, 27, went into the London Games as a world silver medallist and in the final he won Olympic gold against reigning champion Roberto Cammarelle on a countback — after tying 18-18 on points.
Nigeria’s national boxing instructor Adegboyega Adeniji-Adele was visibly upset when he recalled the situation with AJ. He declared that those responsible for the loss of Joshua to Team GB should be investigated.
Adeniji-Adele explained: “Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is his name and his family come from Ogun State in Nigeria. When he visited, his intention was to represent Nigeria at the Olympics but he was denied in the trials.
“He had no other option than to go to Britain. “It’s Nigeria’s loss, Britain’s gain.
“Personally, I feel sad that they let him go and those people should be made to explain why it was impossible to give him a chance.” Nigeria decided Anthony Joshua was not good enough to try for a chance in 2008
Ex-Commonwealth and African light-welterweight champion Obisia Nwankpa, now a top boxing official in the country, insists Joshua was just not good enough and the boxer picked ahead of him was better.
He added: “We made the right call then, because he wasn’t good enough and we picked someone who was much better.”
Share it Let Friends Know
Make A Reply Below!