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Plights of Nigerian pugilists before arrival of GOtv Boxing Night

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West Africa Boxin Union (WABU) welterweight champion, Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde (left) battling with his Ghanaian challenger, Edem Biki during the GOtv Boxing Night 19 in Lagos

GOtv Boxing Night will be marking its 20th edition later this year. It is almost five years since it debuted at the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium, Lagos.

Before then, anyone predicting that a Nigerian boxer fighting locally would earn N100, 000 would be branded a liar, as the amount was the stuff of unrealistic dreams. Numerous factors inhibited boxing promoters, administrators and boxers from harbouring such a dream then.

Top among them was a reluctance to invest in the sport. This ensured that the boxing boom of the 1960s, through the 80s, had become distant memories by the 1990s. Boxing promotions became intermittent and subsequently almost dried up.

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The few promoters, who kept the flag flying, we’re unable to bring back the glory days. As promotions dwindled, promoters, understandably, paid a pittance to boxers, who took huge risks by fighting uninsured. The big stars of the heady days aged and quit the sport leaving the scene for the next generation, whose members toiled valiantly but were eventually crushed by the dire situation. Boxers waited between four and five years to get fights.

Successive generations of Nigerian boxers drifted into menial vocations, thereby robbing the country of a place on the world boxing map. Those who chose to continue did in hope, not expectation until they ran out of what they hold on to. Those in the amateur cadre could not turn professional.

That was the situation until 2014 when GOtv Boxing Night debuted as a panacea to ills afflicting the sport. The idea was not widely applauded immediately. But the sponsors had faith.

It was in this doubt-laden atmosphere that GOtv Boxing Night 1 was held on November 23, 2014 and was watched by a capacity crowd. Consistent funding by the sponsors has ensured boxers are insured, better paid and delivered a boxing show of impeccable organization and glamour.

The show is also backed by live broadcast by SuperSport across Africa, making boxers local celebrities and selling them to continental audiences. By the time the third edition was held, the sponsors decided to award N1million as a cash prize for the best boxer at each event. That sum represented the biggest payout to a Nigerian boxer fighting locally until December 2015, when it was bumped up to N1.5million because it held during the Yuletide.

Other end-of-the-year editions have seen the prize money grow fatter to N2million, N2.5million and N3million in December 2018.

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Within a short time, boxing fans in other Nigerian cities began clamouring for the show to be taken outside Lagos. Twice, in as many years, the show has been held in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to great success.

The revival of the sport has also been evidenced by the staging of six African Boxing Union (ABU) title fights and six West African Boxing Union (WABU) title bouts.

A major spin-off of the show is GOtv Boxing NextGen Search, a scheme developed to find the country’s most talented boxers, and have them nurtured by best coaches available. GOtv Boxing NextGen Search, which began in February 2016, is approaching its fifth edition. The first two editions held in Lagos, while the other two held in Ibadan and Abeokuta respectively.

Each edition of the scheme attracted over 100 boxers from all over the country for sparring sessions and selection. At each edition, over 20 boxers were discovered. On selection, each of the boxers underwent comprehensive medical tests and were issued professional boxing licences, all paid for by the sponsors.

The graduates are then taken into camp, where they are taught the rudiments of professional boxing. They have also had opportunities to fight at different editions of GOtv Boxing Night. Those who have seized the opportunity provided include Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, who is the incumbent WABU welterweight champion; and Opeyemi “Sense” Adeyemi, best boxer at the fourth edition.

Perhaps, apart from the Big Brother Naija, one major show Nigerians look forward to on Supersports is the GOtv Boxing Night.


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