How night­mare in ring forced leg­end out

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

A FLURRY of blows to the body, a straight left, a wild right hook that punched the open air and a quick suc­ces­sion of other punches were enough to end the night’s box­ing bill at Stay Afrique in Oc­to­ber of 2004.

That night ended Am­brose Mlilo’s fight­ing days.

There had been an un­writ­ten pact by pro­mot­ers not to or­gan­ise a re-match af­ter he had lost to Mod­i­cai

Donga as the vet­eran pugilist was hard to tie to a con­tract. Pro­mot­ers more of­ten had to break the bank to ac­com­mo­date him in their bills.

It was clos­ing a colour­ful chap­ter of a box­ing leg­end who had ruled supreme in the mid­dleweight divi­sion since 28 Oc­to­ber of 1992. A tech­ni­cal knock-out de­ci­sion is how Mlilo ex­ited the sport, al­low­ing Donga to rule the roost in the divi­sion for an­other eight years.

Mlilo who had be­come ev­ery pro­moter’s eye­sore be­cause of his high purse de­mands wore the Grand­dad tag in the ring stand­ing against a much younger op­po­nent with his 45 years.

“They had to pay what I thought I was worth. Go­ing into the fight with Donga in 2004, to say the least I was now past my prime. I had lost the de­sire and urge to keep go­ing, per­haps I should have re­tired out of the ring than oblit­er­ate all the good about me in it in those nine rounds with Mod­i­cai, then a promis­ing prospect.

“At one stage I wanted to lift him up and throw him out of the ring. He over­whelmed me and I was just out of con­test. I re­mem­ber get­ting a warn­ing for un­sports­man­like con­duct,” said Mlilo.

Up to the ninth round those that had fol­lowed his his­tory thought Mlilo would bounce back and catch Donga with a hook that would send him to the can­vas. A slug­gish age­ing op­po­nent could just limit dam­age by hold­ing his op­po­nent.

Years ear­lier in sim­i­lar fash­ion Mlilo had al­lowed Hast­ings Rasani of the Mau Mau stable to dom­i­nate him only to catch the young lad with a dev­as­tat­ing right hook in the eighth and ninth rounds re­spec­tively.

It all be­gun dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle in 1978 at Mzola 55 when Mlilo found him­self strap­ping cloths on to his hands and punch­ing sus­pended wa­ter bot­tles.

“How that came into my mind I do not know. I had no idea about box­ing. In ac­tual fact even through­out my school days at In­sukamini I had been a foot­baller. Even at home I re­mem­ber be­ing part of a vil­lage team that played Divi­sion One side Gwayi River Mine around 1974-75. I was good in the game,” said Mlilo.

The 22 De­cem­ber 1959 born ath­lete, the fifth in a fam­ily of as many boys and one girl, got sup­port from his dad, Kiz­ito Eli­jah.

“My mum, Clara, a de­vout Catholic al­ways prayed that I should quit the sport while dad in­sisted that she prays for me to be tougher as I would be fight­ing other hu­mans and not beasts,” he said.

In 1980 Mlilo was in Bu­l­awayo when he got a glimpse of the sport through his un­cle McVi­sion Mab­hena, a light heavy­weight boxer.

Mab­hena was good and used to dom­i­nate light heavy­weight cham­pion John “Kid Power” Mu­tam­bisi in spar­ring ses­sions at Iminyela and Stan­ley Square. But some day the Black Bul­let (Mab­hena) lost to Kid Power in a tour­na­ment in Makokoba.

“I was in­spired by him to some ex­tent though guys like Tom Fer­reira would play a big­ger part in my ca­reer with Jack School­boy,” said Mlilo.

Some months down the line in 1980 Mlilo would bounce on Jack School­boy do­ing rou­tine box­ing with chal­lengers at Bango Shops in Mpopoma.

“I put on gloves and sparred with him un­til he got tired. Af­ter that he in­vited me to join him at Iminyela Hall. I would train there on my own and be­fore year end I was in the ring fight­ing as an am­a­teur,” he said.

Mlilo beat two army fight­ers in his first tour­na­ment. In his sec­ond he beat three army box­ers at Hel­lenic Com­mu­nity Club at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of Tom Fer­reira who would in­vite him to train at a gym in Bu­l­awayo.

“He even got me a job at Hun­yani tak­ing me from Renk­ini where I sold some wares for a liv­ing. I was do­ing well sell­ing more than what my fa­ther was earn­ing,” he added.

In 1981 he joined the army, a de­ci­sion that he has never re­gret­ted.

“Box­ing gave me a job in the army. When I told my fa­ther that the army were keen on me he gave it a thumbs up. He felt there was se­cu­rity within the uni­formed ser­vices.

“I look back and say if I had not lis­tened to him, what would I be to­day? The army, po­lice and prison ser­vices have a bet­ter life path for sportsper­sons as there is a guar­an­teed pen­sion and job se­cu­rity. Man­agers should en­sure they help young­sters make bet­ter de­ci­sions about the des­ti­na­tions of their ca­reers,” he said, adding that a num­ber of sportsper­sons had been thrown into the mud by greedy agents and man­agers.

Mlilo fought over 70 times in the am­a­teur ranks rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try at sev­eral in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. He dom­i­nated the am­a­teur scene for al­most a decade.

“Pre­vi­ously be­fore join­ing Fer­reira, I did not bother much about my weight. I would just walk to a weigh-in and get an op­po­nent, beat him up and con­tinue train­ing for fun. Fer­reira gave me di­rec­tion and dis­ci­pline needed in box­ing and I want a notch up in the army where I dom­i­nated mid­dleweights un­til I ran out of com­pe­ti­tion,” said Mlilo.

He would fight Arigoma Chiponda twice, los­ing in both in­stances to a heavy punch­ing op­po­nent in a heav­ier weight divi­sion. Hav­ing run out of op­po­nents he was also of­fered a chance to fight a man who would be king of the mid­dleweights Sipho Moyo.

“Both were heav­ier op­po­nents, I lost to Chiponda but I beat Sipho Moyo, they were ex­cel­lent box­ers and sportsper­sons,” said Go Man Go as Charles Mabika, the vet­eran Zim­babwe sports com­men­ta­tor called him.

Mlilo rep­re­sented Zim­babwe in in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments win­ning sev­eral bronze and sil­ver medals in the Zone Six Cham­pi­onships but fall­ing short in the African Cham­pi­onships, Com­mon­wealth Games and Worlds. He even trav­elled to the 1984 Olympics in Los An­ge­les as a mem­ber of the Zim­babwe team.

He re­calls the 1982 Can­berra Com­mon­wealth Games where his pre­lim­i­nary round op­po­nent was O’Sul­li­van of Canada.

“That guy had been Com­mon­wealth and World Cham­pion. He knocked me out in the third round for lack of ex­pe­ri­ence but the funny thing is that all his other op­po­nents up to the fi­nal in which he met the host coun­try’s boxer were beaten to a knock­out in the first or sec­ond rounds. With big events it’s the luck of the draw and very good prepa­ra­tions and ex­po­sure be­fore,” said Mlilo.

In the army he got a push from good box­ers like Nokuthula Tsha­bangu,

Ndaba Dube and Duke Chinyadza.

Mlilo grew up in Bu­l­awayo when the city boasted great ama­teurs like Dube, Tsha­bangu, Nda­fara,

Joy­ful Mahlangu and the late Ed­die

Ndlovu.

In 1989 Mlilo turned pro­fes­sional.

“I was 30, I had had my time with the ama­teurs, won ev­ery­thing lo­cally and I needed a fresh break and chal­lenge. Pro­fes­sional box­ing was it and by the time

I met Gil­bert Josamu for the ti­tle on 28 Oc­to­ber 1992 I had won nine other fights.

“Giro had dom­i­nated the divi­sion for far too long and had had a stint in Aus­tralia. I was the un­der­dog but stunned him with a knock-out in the third round.

A new era had ar­rived in me and the fol­low­ing year

I was off to the

Com­mon­wealth pro­fes­sional ranks to meet Chris

Py­att who beat me with a third round knock­out,” said Go

Man Go.

Up to the time of his re­tire­ment

M l i lo suc­cess­fully de­fended his ti­tle against William Mpofu of Gweru, Khum­bula Ndlovu, Night­show Masvingo, Joe Makaza, Gil­bert Mambo, Otis Manyuchi and Hast­ings Rasani whom he de­scribes along Masvingo as very tough op­po­nents he met.

“It was hard to bring Night­show. His fights and me went the full dis­tance. Rasani was an all round boxer with art and tact, mean­ing he was well trained. But I was a soldier trained to die fight­ing and never call­ing it quits in the ring un­til vic­tory.

“Twice Rasani dom­i­nated up to the eighth and ninth rounds only to lose the next round by knock-out to me. As the Go Man Go I kept go­ing at him un­til vic­tory know­ing his an­tics would not carry him on to the last bell,” he said.

In one of the fights with Rasani, this writer sat at Rayl­ton Sports Club sand­wiched by leg­endary pro­mot­ers the late Jeff Dube and Stalin Mau Mau. Both pro­mot­ers for­mer han­dlers of the boxer were keen on the younger boxer wrestling the ti­tle. Even the two pro­mot­ers’ hench­men seated around us as body­guards seemed to en­joy ev­ery bit, am­pli­fy­ing their bosses’ re­marks and ac­tions as the fight wore on by as much as 10 times as Mlilo was be­ing butchered.

But on that day, 27 Fe­bru­ary 1999 be­for be­fore a packed hall, Mlilo lit­er­ally brewed a shocker.

Rasani had de­mol­ished ev­ery­thing tha that came be­fore him in the mid­dleweight, su­per mid­dleweight mid­dlew and light heavy­weight di­vi­sions. Mlilo was com­ing as the ul­ti­mate test.

Young Rasani with good game and was the foot­work, great jab­bing telling blow blows to the tar­get clear favourite fa for a unanim unan­i­mous points di­vi­sio divi­sion if not a knock knock-out. Buoyed on a by a gullible crowd he be­gan play­ing to the gallery in the n ninth round and was floor floored by Mlilo for a knock-ou knock-out de­ci­sion. Be­tween sobs min­utes af­ter the fight fig in an af­ter con­test int in­ter­view Rasani said: “Kana kuri zve­mari ne- box­ing hand­icharwi futi ndakusiya, ndakusiy mdara uyu ane­mushonga. ane­mushonga Ndamuu­raya but aramba kudonha, k manje ndoita sei?”

Mlilo was to soldier on with age cat catch­ing up with him un­til he met his match in Donga on that fate­ful Oc­to­ber, 2004 morn­ing when Donga ended his 12-year reign as cham­pion.

Mlilo says he was in­spired by greats Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes and M Muh­hamed Ali.

Mlilo be­lieves Zim­babwe Zim­babw has box­ing tal­ent which, how­ever, lack lacks an econ­omy and pro­mot­ers of in­tegrity.

“Long ago we had Phill Phillip Chiyangwa, Mau Mau, Paul Murinye, Muri Lor­raine Muringi and Jeff Dube doi do­ing a great job. Board chair­man Richard Hondo was an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure ever en­cour­ag­ing e us not to worry about low l lo­cal purses but to look at the big­ger pic­ture pictu which were fights abroad.

“We have the tal­ent tal­ent. Our coaches must up­grade but p pro­mot­ers and man­agers must up the ga game and not rip off the boys. I was cheate cheated in my ca­reer es­pe­cially when I move moved to Aus­tralia where I fought the likes of John Mu­gabi “The Beast” last­ing a co com­mend­able 10 rounds with him.

“Imag­ine fight­ing an op­po­nent who gets paid US$500 US 000 and you are given a p pal­try US$6 000 which you later dis­cover was ac­tu­ally US$60 000. Ath­letes must get switch switched on agents who will not de­fraud them but will get them con­tacts and help them make de­ci­sions that guar­an­tee thei their fu­ture and ca­reer sav­ing,” said Mlilo a sworn Bosso and Or­lando Pi­rates suppo sup­porter. Mlilo is a pen­sioner hav­ing re­tired from the arm army in 2007 af­ter 26 years of s ser­vice.

Am­brose Mlilo

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