Boxing, a once reputable sport in Nigeria, has lost its appeal and fallen to its lowest ebb, such that the country’s boxers no longer qualify for major championships. The country had only one boxer at the 2016 Olympic Games held in Brazil while in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the country could not boast of a single boxer.
Nigeria that once boasted of world and African champions is no longer among the top boxing nations in Africa. This is a sharp contrast to what obtained in years gone by when boxing was as popular as football and had a wide fan base.
Boxing gave Nigeria its first ever Olympic medal through Nojeem Maiyegun, who won a light middleweight bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Boxing accounted for six of Nigeria’s 25 medals at the Games. The year 1964 through the mid-90’s were Nigeria’s golden era of boxing.
In addition to Maiyegun, the country then, had boxers like Dick “Tiger” Ihetu, Hogan Bassey, Obisia Nwakpa, Ngozika Ekwelum, Peter Konyegwachie, Richard Igbeneghu and Billy Famous. Others are Davidson and Toney Andeh, Hogan Jimoh, Dele Jonathan and Joe Lasisi, all of whom ruled their different weight categories. Bayelsa-born David Izonritei was also among the boxers of Nigeria’s glorious era of boxing.
David Izonritei was born on April 29, 1968, in Lagos. He is an Olympic silver medalist. He enjoyed a flourishing boxing career where he had a total of 33 professional fights, won 27, 23 of which were by knockout, had no draws and lost six before retiring from the sport, which brought him fame, in the year 2003.
During his amateur career, he won a silver medal in the heavyweight category at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Enroute winning the silver medal, he defeated highly rated David Tua of New Zealand and Kirk Johnson of Canada. He eventually lost to hard-punching Felix Savon of Cuba in the epic final of the heavyweight category.
In the professional ranks, he enjoyed 18 straight victories before experiencing the bitter taste of defeat in the hands of Maurice Harris, who upset him via a unanimous decision on March 15, 1996 in New Jersey, USA. In his next bout, he lost to New Zealander, David Tua, whom he had previously defeated at amateur level during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
He took some pounding in the hands of Tua as the referee had to stop the fight in the 12th round. He however bounced back in his next fight against Harry Daniels, whom he defeated by knockout. Lou Savarese, his next opponent was also dismissed by knockout before losing to Michael Grant.
Izonritei quickly put the loss behind him as he picked up seven straight victories before he met his Waterloo. He lost his next three fights to Fres Ogunedo, Joe Mesi and Al Cole before he decided he had had enough. The 6.3ft tall pugilist with a reach of 83 inches eventually hung his gloves in 2003.
Izonritei has two brothers, Roger and Emmanuel, who are both professional boxers. Izonritei now lives in Pensacola, Florida in the USA, with his French wife, Laurence and two kids, Melissa and Ian.
David Izonritei is 54 today and as he celebrates it behoves him to spare a thought for boxing. The sport in Nigeria is on a downward slide and it will be nice for Izonritei to give back to the sport that brought him fame by rallying other ex-boxers and stakeholders to revive boxing in the country.