Alumona: With time, Nigeria will regain its place in world boxing
Jenkins Alumona has been in the forefront of the country’s drive to revive boxing, as a sport and profession-+. His Flykite Promotions has been the leading boxing promoting outfit in Nigeria for more than 10 years, building fighters who have gone on to become continental champions.
Through GOtv Boxing Night, an event that gives Nigerian boxers opportunity to practice their trade, Alumona has been able to reignite the country’s love for the sweet science, which in the good old days gave the nation some of its best moments in sports.
The Guardian caught up with the journalist turned marketing expert, at the weekend, when he shared his experience from his early days in sports reporting to his current status as Nigeria’s biggest boxing promoter.
He said: “I was thrust into public attention via journalism, which saw me work with The Guardian and The News group in the 90s. I studied Mass Communication and I thought journalism was a natural habitat. A journalist was what I always wanted to be and I am glad I became one, even rising to the position of an editor of The NEWS, one of the media weapons against military dictatorship in the country.
“As an extension, I also had a spell co-hosting Master Sports along with illustrious names like Paul Bassey and Chris Eseka. Master Sports, you will recall, was the biggest sports show on television in those days. That was part of the journalistic platform that launched my career.
“You may not be exactly right to say I took a road less travelled. In terms of boxing, perhaps it is a road less travelled. But I have seen sports journalists go into the promotion of other sports.”
Alumona describes boxing as a life-long affair, which he started following closely at The Guardian, where his editors assigned him to the sport.
He recalls: “I was encouraged by the great Trigo Egbegi. That was when we had a thriving boxing scene. I quit journalism in 98, went into brand management with The Quadrant Company, Econet Wireless Nigeria, Globacom and my own outfit in 2004. In those organisations, I worked on the sports properties of brands and I learnt a thing or two about promoting sports. My affection for boxing never waned and over the years, I felt some distress at how wretched the sport had become. Don’t forget that boxing gave the country its first sporting heroes and I knew the scale of public affection for the sport before its slide.”
He said he was moved to start promoting the sport when he realised that boxing, like so many aspects of the country’s life, was slowly gliding to extinction.
“I told myself that if I had the chance, I’d take on the challenge to fix the sport. And as luck would have it, one of my mentors and business icons, Chief Adewunmi Ogunsanya, also shares the passion and desire. He then drove the process that started GOtv Boxing Night in 2014 with Flykite Sports and the backing of our sponsors.”
Alumona, who believes there are so many things yet to be done to get boxing right in Nigeria, describes his experience in promoting the sport as an eye opener to the many troubles of sports in Nigeria. He rejects the tag as the bets boxing promoter in the country, saying, “this is no attempt at modesty, but one at situating things appropriately.
“I will first start by commending those who got into the game before I did. They sweated blood to put those shows together and got precious little from them. Passion was what drove them. It is the same thing driving me. Success will be when we produce, through GOtv Boxing Night, world champions discovered and nurtured in Nigeria. We are light years away from that goal as yet.
“That said, we are taking some encouragement in our modest successes, the kind words of boxing stakeholders, the delight of the fans and very importantly, the unwavering support of the sponsors. We are approaching the 26th edition. That’s something.”
Alumona takes solace in the fact that through GOtv Boxing Night, boxers no longer have to wait for years in between fights, as they fight more regularly.
“They earn far better than they ever did before 2014, get insured before stepping into the ring and have caught the eyes of promoters around the world, which has resulted in many of them fighting abroad.
“We have brought boxers from Argentina, the U.S., Egypt, Eastern and Western Africa, putting Nigeria back on the global boxing map. All of this, of course, would not have been possible without our chairman, Chief Ogunsanya, the Odofin of Ikorodu, who is always asking that the boxers be treated better.”
Although he rejects the tag of Nigeria’s biggest promoter, Alumona agrees that Flykite Promotions has brought in a level of organisation and sponsorship support never seen before into the sport.
“The shows are Las Vegas-style, are aired live continent-wide on television via SuperSport and are watched by many. I was in a taxi in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi in 2016 when we went for the African Boxing Union (ABU) convention. The taxi driver asked where we were from and we said Nigeria. He asked what we were doing in town and we told him it was for the boxing convention. He immediately recalled GOtv Boxing Night and asked if we knew a boxer with facial marks that won N1 million at the most recent edition. He was referring to Olaide ‘Fijaborn’ Fijabi, one of the creations of GOtv Boxing Night, who went on to win the ABU welterweight title.
“That was pure delight. At this point, I also want to recognise the contributions of the media, which give the event publicity to burn it into fans’ consciousness, and the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control (NBB of C), headed by the inimitable Dr. Rauf Ladipo and assisted by Remi Aboderin, its Secretary-General. The same goes for other stakeholders. So, when you see the glamour around our shows, it is not solely by Flykite Sports or Jenkins Alumona.
“There are people supplying the rhythm to which we are dancing and they are led by Chief Adewunmi Ogunsanya (SAN), Chairman, MultiChoice Nigeria and GOtv Boxing. I hope you’re satisfied.”
Alumona recalls that before his group stepped into boxing promotion, the sport “needed immediate life-saving surgery and we were glad its life was saved and its back on its feet,” adds: “The next step is to consolidate the modest successes and push on. Part of the pushing on is the GOtv Boxing NextGen Search, which we started in 2015 to replenish the ageing ranks of professional boxers.
“We are seeing the fruits, though not as quickly as we want. We have also, with funding from Chief Ogunsanya, established a residential ultra-modern gym for use by local and international boxers coming to fight in Nigeria.
“The gym, which has modern boxing equipment, is conceived to be a talent incubator. We are getting assistance from coaches. We are also trying to expand the capacities of the coaches… we were planning a clinic for coaches, held by a former world champion, before Covid-19 intervened.
“We will return to that now that things have lifted. Everything that can lift the sport is what we will throw at it as long as we can afford it. We don’t look at it strictly as boxing. We look at it as youth development. What we are doing is to provide opportunities for young people to improve themselves and the society through their boxing talents. We will give it our best shot and pray that we succeed.”
Alumona reveals that the GOtv Boxing Night has given him opportunity to meet some of the best names in the sport, which has also provided the chance for collaborations across cultures.
“A few years ago, George Foreman Jnr, son of former world heavyweight champion, was here in Nigeria and requested to meet with us. He said he was impressed with what we are doing and expressed desire to partner with us. High praise from someone with boxing DNA.
“That and with others are still in the works and will be activated as soon as opportunity arises. We are convinced that we will keep making progress. Continuous progress will bring success,” he enthused.