When great­est tele­vi­sion wrestling stars

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SPORT -

Many stars came call­ing. Back in the day, Kenya was in a state of mind where we could ac­tu­ally think of stag­ing a Muham­mad Ali fight and no­body thought that ridicu­lous. It was all so nor­mal. Pre­mier­ship and Bun­desliga sides toured here rou­tinely and the world’s best rally driv­ers were with us here ev­ery Easter hol­i­day

There used to be a Kenya Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (KBC) tele­vi­sion show called “You Asked For It”. It ran in the early 1980s. In it, view­ers sent re­quests of some­thing they wanted to see on tele­vi­sion. Some of the re­quests were out­ra­geous, like a man wrestling with a croc­o­dile. The show al­ways ended with the catchy punch­line: “You got it be­cause…you asked for it!”

I can’t think of a bet­ter phrase to de­fine an era, even as that era was deep into stop­page time. The whis­tle blew on it on Au­gust 1, 1982. From then on, Kenya changed. Be­fore that, as sports lovers, it ap­peared as if what­ever we asked for, we got it! Con­sider this au­da­cious in­tro­duc­tion by Daily Na­tion fea­ture writer Wade Huie in July 1978:

“So what if Muham­mad Ali, Leon Spinks or Larry Holmes won’t be com­ing? Kenya is to have a pro­fes­sional cham­pi­onship bout any­way. This earth-shak­ing event came about Wed­nes­day night at the Keny­atta Con­fer­ence Cen­tre when “Gold­belt” Max­ine was goaded into putting his Bri­tish mid­dleweight cham­pi­onship belt on the line this Sun­day against Mick Mcmichael, af­ter Mcmichael handed Max­ine – ac­cord­ing to pro­mot­ers – his first loss in seven years.”

The coun­try was in a state of mind where we could ac­tu­ally think of stag­ing a Muham­mad Ali fight and no­body thought that ridicu­lous. It was all so nor­mal. If English Pre­mier­ship and Ger­man Bun­desliga sides toured here rou­tinely and the world’s best rally driv­ers were with us ev­ery Easter hol­i­day and the King of Foot­ball, Pele, also came to in­spire our teenagers, why not Muham­mad Ali? Any­way, he still did come, al­though not on the kind of mis­sion we would have pre­ferred.

That was the re­al­ity then. I won’t be sur­prised if in to­day’s era of al­ter­na­tive facts and re­al­ity, I read a sur­vey show­ing that Kenya has the fifth best sta­di­ums in the world and that it is one of two African coun­tries most likely to host the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games within the next 15 years. I won’t be sur­prised if that re­port is based on the city’s smooth pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, its garbage­free neigh­bour­hoods, clean rivers and bustling malls.

We are living in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent re­al­ity. The dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now is that then, we just did it and moved on to the next project. To­day, we tweet and blog about what we imag­ine we are ca­pa­ble of do­ing and move on to the next fan­tasy. And while at it, we flood God with an avalanche of prayers to save our coun­try be­cause we are not sure we can hold it to­gether any­more.

Wade Huie was writ­ing about the go­ings on at the KICC when the world’s great­est wrestling stars came call­ing. It was one of two tours and it seemed as if what­ever we fan­cied af­ter watch­ing it on tele­vi­sion, we could get it in flesh and bones. I was a cub reporter then and found my­self thrown in the deep end of the pool for be­ing as­signed to re­port to Kenyans on the per­for­mances of so im­mi­nent a cast of celebri­ties.

I had more per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions with the wrestlers dur­ing the sec­ond tour than the first. It was head­lined by the re­turn of a man whose girth made you think of a baobab tree. He was the wildly pop­u­lar “Honey Boy” Zimba from Trinidad and Tobago. He was nick­named “The African Her­cules” be­cause of his hulk­ing size and had a way of win­ning his bouts that made me cringe: he head-butted his op­po­nents like a cham­pion ram.

When I was a lit­tle boy, I loved to watch rams fight. Af­ter ev­ery re­verse move­ment to gather mo­men­tum fol­lowed by a sprint that ended in the sound of a dull thud as the two an­i­mals col­lided head on, I al­ways won­dered whose head would split first. None ever did. The loser sig­naled his ac­cep­tance by sim­ply walk­ing away and leav­ing the tougher boy stand­ing in readi­ness for the next round. In the wrestling at KICC that those of us who wit­nessed will never for­get, “Honey Boy” Zimba al­most al­ways was the tougher boy.

Be­cause of the din in the arena, I never got to hear the thud of the head butt that sent his op­po­nents sprawl­ing on the can­vas. But I could tell by the look on their faces that they had just taken some­thing like the round of a mor­tar shell. It was over. But by that time, I had out­grown my fas­ci­na­tion with fight­ing rams and all that re­mained was a ter­ror about get­ting my head hit. That is why “Honey Boy” Zimba’s win­ning ways made me cringe.

I had a long con­ver­sa­tion with Gill “Tiger” Singh. It took place in the of­fice of the tour pro­moter, a gre­gar­i­ous man called Chag­ger Singh. “Gill comes from the Val­ley of the Tigers,” was the head­line of the story I wrote for The Nairobi Times. It was taken


Ken­neth Mat­iba, then Kenya’s Min­is­ter for Cul­ture and So­cial Ser­vices with leg­endary boxer Mo­hammed Ali when he vis­ited Kenya in 1980.

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