Ade Oladipo: ‘I would love to see AJ fight in Africa’
By Chris Akers
Commentating on fights in Africa gave Ade Oladipo a greater understanding and greater knowledge of the boxing scene on the continent. He even visited the Bukam Boxing Arena in Ghana, which Oladipo describes as ‘like our version of York Hall.’
African produced many wonderful fighters from the 1980s through to the early 2000s. Yet while there have been world belt holders since that time, they haven’t been of the quality of Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey.
“Truth be told, when I watch these guys fight, they’re been matched so hard so early,” explains Oladipo. “Over here and the US, a guy can go 15 and 0 and not fought anyone. In Africa, these boxers are been matched against each other when they are three or four fights in and they are emptying each other. And they’re desperate. They’re doing it for small money, but for them, it’s a lot of money.
“I’m commentating on fights and seeing guys that look talented at 4 and 0, and they’re fighting another guy who is 6 and 1, who’s also really talented. Yes, the guy 4 and 0 will win and may take his record to 20 and 0. But by the time he gets to America or the UK, he’s done. He’s had wars to get there.”
It’s not just in the matchmaking where Oladipo thinks methods need to change in the African boxing scene. The nutritional side of fighters has been neglected, best demonstrated by an event Oladipo describes that took place in the north of England.
“I did an event where we brought some African fighters over here in Manchester. We brought five of who were considered the best African fighters to take on decent Brits. I remember being at the weigh-in, and the Brits weigh-in and were immediately on the electrolytes and the water. The African fighters were just standing around not knowing what to do. We had to go find them food. So they didn’t rehydrate until about an hour after weighing.
“I think there’s so much they can learn. There are some good fighters from Africa still, but they are being matched too hard. A lot of them are going over to Russia and Germany, taking fights against unknown and unbeaten Russians and Germans and they’re getting beat, as they’re not ready for that level. But they need it as they have to feed a family of 10 or 15 back home. There are so many different reasons, but I think they are years behind what we see in the US and the UK.”
Yet the spotlight may turn onto African boxing if they had a David Higgins figure. A manager from the region who is well connected worldwide and knows the business side of the sport very well.
“MTK launched in Africa about two years ago and they signed a guy named Colin Nathan, who is a top trainer. He is trying to become the Higgins type figure over there. But the problem is that’s just South Africa.
“I’ve spoken to people on DAZN, talking about getting to Africa, fixing it up, and putting on events there. That’s their plan as they realise that there’s a lot of raw talent over there that’s almost been untapped. I hope fingers crossed with MTK and DAZN, in the next 12 to 18 months, we can see it a bit more regulated and better fights. Having been up close and personal with the fighters, it breaks my heart to see the money they’re getting paid, the wars they’re having. It’s just not fair. Then when they do get a big opportunity and get smashed to pieces, it’s because they’ve already been smashed to pieces in Africa without even knowing.”
From this, in theory, boxers with talent have a better chance of not just reaching the peak of the sport, but transcending it. From there the next generation of people from the continent will be inspired to take up the sport, in a similar way to which Mexicans look up to their modern-day heroes such as Canelo Alvarez and their fighters from years gone by, like Julio Cesar Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Erik Morales.
“That’s why I would love to see AJ fight in Africa,” says Oladipo. “Obviously AJ’s of Nigerian heritage. What he could do in giving young African kids that hope, they would run to him, like the way the Mexicans are running to their heroes of the past.
“Let’s be honest, it’s about getting through hardship as well. Collecting all the belts is one thing, but it’s about making money. It’s about living the good life. I don’t think any African boxer coming up right now is looking at these African boxers and thinking ‘I want to be like you. I want to emulate you.’ There is no Azumah Nelson. There is no Ike Quartey. There needs to be a young kid, flash, good looking, who’s coming through and kids think ‘I want to be like that.’ Right now it’s difficult. There’s a lot of brick walls getting in the way of these fighters.”
Oladipo himself almost became that David Higgins figure to an Eastern European boxer. The story begins in one of the most unlikely places a weigh-in has ever been held.
“I did an event for Quesi with Dom McGuinness, who’s a commentator. We were invited to go to Austria and commentate on an event. The weigh-in for this event was in a strip club and strippers were still working in front of us. It was surreal!
“Ivana Habazin was fighting on that card as well and she was pretty good. She came up to me after the interview in the ring and asked for my details. I didn’t know what for. She reached out to me a few months later saying that she was struggling and was trying to get some fights in America. She was fighting boxers in Europe who were poor. Really poor. I’m not saying Ivana’s a world-beater, but give her a go.”
From there, Dmitry Salita, who promotes Claressa Shields, was called. Oladipo explains who he was, emphasizing why Habazin would be a good signing for his promotional company. Her strengths as a boxer. That she had been the IBF belt holder at welterweight. That she held the IBO belt, which according to Oladipo “has more prestige in female boxing than in men’s boxing.” His persuasiveness sounds more like a pitch at home on Dragon’s Den. But it worked.
“I set all that up for her, sent her an email saying that Dmitry would look after her. She then asked if I’d be her manager. Truth be told, there was a part of me that thought I’d done half the work away, so I could do it. But it was also a case that this is kind of out of my depth. So I said ‘No, I can’t be your manager. But I’ve hooked you up with this fight in America.’”
About a year later, she fought Shields in Atlantic City.
“She reached out and thanked me. She hadn’t forgotten the work that I’d done for her. Yes, she didn’t win, but hopefully, she made some nice money and her profile got raised doing it. I felt good doing it.”