Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|May 6, 2021|6 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

What happened to Africa’s golden warriors?

A sad little milestone passed, in Africa, this week in a business that’s brought wealth for entrepreneurs and warriors alike. Proof that more and more Africans no longer want to fight for a living.

This week Africa lost one of its last major boxing titles when novice English fighter Sunny Edwards bested veteran South Africa flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane to win a unanimous decision in London.

Thirty-eight-year-old Mthlane, nicknamed, ironically, ‘Baby Face’ has fought 42 times as a pro and is ranked fourth in the world. He held the IBF world flyweight title for nearly three years. He is one of the hardest working fighters in the game who lost to one of the most fleet-footed; an Englishman with – by all accounts – fists like pillows.

My old friend Peter Leopeng, who has been writing and broadcasting about African boxing for more than 30 years, contacted me this week to lament this passing of an era. He thought the problem was Mthalane camp had let slip their plans for the fight ahead of the abject surrender.

“Moruti fought like he was the challenger and showed signs of desperation from as early as the first round. Why was Baby Face willing to chase the Usain Bolt of boxing? The idea was that Edwards would tire and become a sitting duck for the champion’s power punches later in the fight. When I spoke to Colin Nathan (Mthlane’s trainer) on our boxing show Ringside on Vision View Sports Radio just a few hours before the fight, Nathan said they expected Sunny to run. But, at some stage, he would have to stop and fight. Except somebody forgot to tell Edwards that. The challenger ran the whole night, to finish the fight after 12 rounds on his feet,” Leopeng told me.

So that was the end of one of the last major title held by an African boxer. Leaving me to ponder what happened to the golden generations of African fighters who jabbed and hooked their way into the limelight on the lucrative world stage.

When will there be another Azumah Nelson? The featherweight they called the professor was the pride of Ghana who fought 46 times in a career spanning nearly 30 years.  A career that saw him hailed as Africa’s greatest and earned  him enough wealth to be able to afford to collect his children by limousine from Christ the King School in Accra. He was followed by another pride of Accra – Ike Quartey who knocked out Crisanto Espana of Venezuela, in 1994, to win the world welterweight title that he held for four years.

Then Dick Tiger, from next door in Nigeria, the powerful punching middleweight, who won the world title in 1962. He fought his way from rundown boxing booths in Nigeria to Madison Square Gardens in New York where he beat the ‘Hurricane’ Rubin Carter, but lost to the classy Emile Griffith.

Don’t forget Vic Toweel of South Africa – probably one of the most undisputed African champions ever. When he beat Manual Ortiz – a class fighter – to win the world bantamweight title in Johannesburg in 1950. In those days there were no scores of alphabet soup titles up et l there were only eight titles in eight divisions.  Toweel’s price of victory, after a gruelling battle in the ring, was several days in a hospital bed with a busted eardrum and broken nose – and he won!

Who can forget John Mugabi of Uganda and the late heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders, of South Africa, who beat Wladimir Klitschko in Germany for the title, in 2003, only to die in a Johannesburg armed robbery, in 2012. Robbers shot the former champion in the stomach as he tried to defend his daughter.

So where is the new generation of African ring warriors? Does the continent need one?

I refer you to a line from the Harder They Fall -starring Humphrey Bogart -one of the greatest boxing films ever made, uttered by gangster promoter Nick Benko played by Rod Steiger.

“The boys are all getting too smart. They want to go to college , they want to become doctors, they want to become lawyers , they don’t want to fight for a living.”

So maybe this is what is happening in Africa and it is not bad. Maybe a new generation of Africans is growing up to fight with their brains instead of their fists.