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Fijabi, Ajegunle meat seller, wants to become Nigeria’s first billionaire boxer

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Throughout the mid-2000s to early 2013, there was perhaps no more beloved and famous amateur boxer in Nigeria than Olaide Fijabi. He was almost the sole reason why many people, particularly those in Ajegunle, a suburb of Lagos, cared about the pugilist game.

Fijabi rose so rapidly in the game. He announced his presence in the nation’s sports in 2009 when he emerged as a national champion at the Olusegun Agagu Boxing Championship in Ondo State. The same year, Fijabi flew Lagos State’s flag in the National Sports Festival, tagged KADA 2009, winning the gold medal. He was also a gold medalist for Lagos State at Eko 2012.

And since he moved from amateur boxing to the professional rank, Fijabi has been one of the most sought-after boxers in the continent having ruled the African Boxing Union (ABU) Super lightweight category for years.

But Fijabi’s journey into the world of boxing was as rough as the game itself. “I never thought of becoming a boxer in life. It happened by the incident,” Fijabi revealed in a chat with The Guardian yesterday.

As a young boy growing up in Ajegunle, one of the tasks given to Fijabi by his father, a butcher by trade, was to hawk meat around the metropolis.

“Then, I sold meat within Ajegunle for my father, but there was a particular afternoon when I decided to play around with some of my friends. We were riding a bicycle around the city when a boy attempted to take my bicycle by force. He was a little bit bigger than me. I ran to my father’s shop at Alaba Suru to inform him of the incident, but my dad pushed me away saying I should go and engage the boy in a fight and bring the bicycle.

“I actually did that, but the ‘push’ by my father sank a different message in me. From that day, I decided to look for a venue where I could practice boxing. Whenever my father gave me meat to hawk around Ajegunle, I will drop it somewhere and go to practice boxing. In the evening, I will come back to tell all sorts of lies to my dad that I was unable to sell the meat,” Fijabi stated.

After acquiring the raw techniques he needed to fight any ‘enemy’ on the streets of Ajugunle, Fijabi decided to exploit other areas in Lagos, with the Rowe Park in Yaba as his first port of call.

“There, I met coach Taofeek, who brushed me up for about four months. From there, I started winning boxing titles for Lagos State,” he stated.

After conquering all opposition in the amateur category, Fijabi joined the professional rank and was one of the pioneer boxers in the GOtv Boxing Night, which began in 2014. Fijabi had emerged winner on two occasions, after being adjoined as best boxer of the night by journalists.

Reminiscing on his amateur days in boxing, Fijabi said, “I was able to gather so much confidence in amateur boxing when Coach Joe Mensah picked me as a sparring partner to Segun Ajose when he returned from London. Anytime Ajose came into the country, I was his sparring partner, and I gained a lot from it.”

Having won N1 million cash prize twice at the GOtv boxing show, Fijabi said: “I never dreamt of winning an amount as big as N1 million. Never. The truth is I never wanted to turn professional. There was no reason to want to turn professional in Nigeria because there was really nothing to look forward to as a professional boxer in Nigeria before 2014.

“I had seen enough of professional boxers before me not to want to turn pro. They had very few opportunities to fight because there were no fight promotions. Even when they got the chance to fight, they were so poorly paid. I was a multiple champion in the amateur cadre and I felt that was where to be. Those who turned pro earlier were not living well because they did not earn well and I didn’t want a part of that.”

Speaking further, Fijabi said: “I haven’t reached the top yet, but you cannot compare where I was in 2013 to where I am now. You just can’t. Apart from being better paid and winning the cash prize, I am better known. People across Africa know my name. In Nigeria, they see me in newspapers and hear me speak on radio and television.

“Now, I get phone calls from those who didn’t know me before. I go to places and people want to take photographs with me. But I want more. As I said, I am not at the top yet. I hope to be a billionaire boxer, win the world title and be talked about the way great boxers are talked about. That is my aspiration.”

In October last year, Fijabi was scheduled to defend his African Boxing Union (ABU) Super lightweight title against France-based Senegalese boxer, Abderrazak Houya in Dakar, Senegal. But he sustained a deep cut above the left eye during a training session in Lagos. The injury did not heal on time for the fight, and in the process, Fijabi lost the opportunity. He was stripped of the title despite his appeal for a two-week postponement of the fight.

“I am still the ABU champion undefeated. But I need to move forward. I need more fights to move on with my professional boxing career. I am not done yet. I want to conquer the world as a boxer,” Fijabi stated.

The 20th edition of the GOtv Boxing Night is around the corner, with the organisers hoping to stage a world title in Lagos. Fijabi wants to be part of history. His ambition is to become Nigeria’s first billionaire boxer.

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