Ade Oladipo: “The journey I’ve been through to get to Sky has been madness!”
By Chris Akers
What constantly shines through when speaking to Ade Oladipo is the enthusiasm in his voice.
The journey the presenter has been on to get to where he is now has been unconventional to some degree. Yet there is a love that he has for the sport that comes across whether on television, radio or on his own YouTube channel. The fight that sparked that interest was a world title fight featuring one of Britain’s best-loved fighters of the late 1980s.
“I’m 40 and the first fight I can remember watching with my dad is Mike Tyson vs Frank Bruno in ‘89,” recalls Oladipo via Skype, sitting in his infamous green chair.
“That’s what I vividly remember as Mike Tyson was almost like a family member. The way my dad used to scream and shout for him was crazy. I just remember seeing two big men going toe to toe, and the guy that was supposed to be 21 beating the guy that was a lot older and I couldn’t understand it. How could this young man be fighting these monsters? My first love probably came from my dad, and I guess that’s with every sport.”
Like most sports that people love, initially they casually explore it, learning the rules and just appreciating the spectacle of what they see. Then slowly they start to develop a greater understanding of the tactics and techniques of the athletes involved. So it was with Oladipo.
“When I started to understand the sport a bit more, I fell in love with it in the 90s from Prince Naseem Hamed, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, and Michael Watson. That golden era we had in the 90s is where I understood the rules, how it works, the showmanship side of it. That’s probably why my favourite boxers are Prince Naseem Hamed and Nigel Benn, because of their aura as well.”
It’s one thing to have a passion. It’s quite another to turn it into monetary gain. For Ade, it started with a friend whose knowledge of boxing is encyclopedic.
“I had a friend who I met at work named Ryan Raison. I was very much a casual boxing fan and just dipped in and out of the big fights. I went to Islington Council where I worked for about nine years and my friend Ryan was there. We became very good friends and he always used to love boxing, I was very much football and athletics, so we always used to talk boxing.
“I realised that this guy’s knowledge was way beyond me. I’d almost study like it was an exam to go meet him the next day, just so my boxing knowledge was on another level. Then we always used to get involved in conversations, whether at my house or his house, and it was like we were doing this every week, so why don’t we start a YouTube channel together.
“We started a YouTube channel together called Box Talk. We did that for about a year, a year and a half. All the credit has to go to him and maybe my ex as well, as she was pushing us to do it. Ryan was the boxing geek out of us and I was the casual fan learning on the go.”
That channel ended but not to his love of the sport. He decided to set up his channel about three years ago.
“At the time, I saw bits of work over here, small channels that you see on Sky now and again, and they started to ask me to come down and talk boxing. I thought that was cool. Ryan was never comfortable in front of a camera, but I was quite comfortable in front of a camera. I said I’d do it and he was ok with that.”
Oladipo and his then partner then decided to ‘go on this crazy adventure and go back home.’ Home in this case being Nigeria. Yet there was upset at leaving the momentum he had with regards to broadcasting. It was then that he decided to dip his toes into the broadcasting industry there.
“When I was out there I thought ‘Let me just see what’s here. Let me apply for a couple of roles.’ I just typed in on LinkedIn ‘Broadcasters within Africa.’ A company had just started called Quesi Sports. I sent their head of production an email, saying a bit about me, what I love, a couple of bits I’d done.
“I had no idea this company was based in South Africa. When I was in Nigeria, he emailed me and said that had this thing they were started soon, there’s going to be a fight night everything single night and they would love to get me involved. They then asked where I was based. I said, ‘Nigeria.’ He said ‘Woah! I thought you were based in South Africa.’ So that went quiet for a little while. And then he reached out to me and said, ‘We want you involved.’
“They flew me out every single month for the best part of a year and a half to do their boxing every Friday. It was called Friday Night Fights, almost trying to mimic what ESPN did back in the day. I was a commentator and in the ring interviewer and we did those events every month all around Africa. One month we were in Ghana, the next month in Nambia. Most African countries you can imagine we touched. At best a part-time broadcaster and that kind of threw me into the fire.”
At times it was difficult. Some places he went to English was not spoken and interviews were tricky as a consequence. Yet perseverance was key and over time, his experience of not just broadcasting, but of African boxing improved, which according to Ade ‘is almost forgotten when you think about boxing. We only really think of Europe and the US. There’s a lot of talent in Africa.’
From that first gig, he was chosen to present boxing on ESPN Africa and Fox Sports, which had just launched.
“The big thing on my CV at the time was Fox Sports and ESPN Africa. But a crazy journey to go from Islington Council to nothing to do a show every single month. I don’t say this with pride, but I didn’t do well in college, so I jumped straight out of college into a college working job. Broadcasting was never my vision, never in my periphery. No chance. The first two to three years in broadcasting were an eye-opener, just because there was a lot I had to learn on the job very quickly. But Africa helped me as it was so difficult. So when I came back to London, it was quite easy, considering how hard Africa was.”
From the highs he was experiencing came a fairly steep low. There were issues with those channels. Quesi was taken off the air, going bust after burning money trying to compete with the main sports channel in Africa called Supersport, in a similar fashion to how Setanta tried to compete with Sky Sports a decade ago.
“Quesi just went bust and owed everyone money,” explains Oladipo. “They owed the Premier League money, the NBA money. They tried too hard. They owed me money as well. Not a lot, but enough. I was living paycheck to paycheck, so you lose a paycheck you’re done.”
At that stage, he needed to return to the UK. So he hopped on a plane and decided to return to London.
“I returned to London and the last thing I wanted to do was sign on. I remember doing that when I was 20 and I didn’t want to go back down that road. I had the Fox gig on my CV, I have Quesi on my CV, so I started to apply for some big roles. I always had a fear that I wasn’t ready for Sky or anything like that, but I saw a vacancy for it and I thought ‘Why not?’
£38.23 was all that remained in his bank account. There was no money he was expecting to come in and he laughs at it now. Not because of arrogance as he has more, but because that’s all he had. Laughter was not his overriding emotion at that present time. He turned to his family during this time.
“Something I thought I’d never do, is going to my mom and ask for money. I was 37 at the time and felt like I’d failed when I asked for money. She paid for my rent for a couple of months. I was also hammering the YouTube videos, as I realised how much they were paying. The YouTube videos, after my mom gave me some money, were what paid my rent for the next five months.”
Things were so bad that his sister had to pay for him to fly out to Saudi Arabia to cover the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.
“She was a lifesaver, as I didn’t want to miss that fight. I’d missed so many fights because of the financial situation that I needed to get to Saudi Arabia.
“I’m thankful for my family. As a man, you never want to go with an open hand. I said to my sister that I needed to get out there for that fight.”
Getting out there meant that money could be made by doing interviews for various boxing outlets, including ESPN as well as for his YouTube channel. Around the same time, he had his interview with Sky. Having not burnt many bridges when working for Islington Council, a return was on the cards if the interview was not successful.
“I applied for a presenter role, and I remember speaking to a few people who I thought might apply for it. They did and I thought ‘I’m never gonna get this.’ I asked the person doing the interview how many people applied for the job. They say that 700 had applied and they’d narrowed it down to 60. I know it sounds negative, but I was thinking ‘Jeez. To make 60 is good. If I’ve made the 60 out of 700, I’ll take that.’
The interview was unsuccessful, but an impression had been made on the bosses at Sky. He received a phone call a couple of hours later.
“I did the interview, which wasn’t the best. It was quite difficult. The guy walked me out of the room, then called me two hours later saying ‘You impressed in the interview and at Sky, there are various roles and we think there’s something else you’ll be suited to. It’s called The Transfer Show. It’s about football. How’s your football knowledge?’
Two days later he auditioned for that show and got the job.
“When I got the call saying I got the job, I started crying. I remember phoning my mom and I broke down completely. The journey I’ve been through to get to Sky has been madness!”