Last Saturday, Glynn Evans quizzed him about his traumatic journey.
What part did your upbringing in Lagos play, in fashioning a fighting mentality?
I’m second youngest of 10 siblings, eight boys, so you definitely had to be able to fight. I really couldn’t get along with the brother I followed so we fought at least twice a week!
My father served in the Nigerian Army so I was initially brought up by him in a military barracks. Then, aged 11, I moved back to my mum in a Lagos slum. But she left mysteriously for two years. She ran a restaurant and got into debt so I was left to live on the streets, often sleeping outside. Life was tough. Boxing was the only thing that kept me going.
What did you achieve as an amateur?
Starting as a tiny 12 year old in Lagos, I had 127 bouts and you could count the ones I genuinely lost on one hand. My parents didn’t know I’d started boxing until they saw me on the tele. They were against it. African parents like their kids to be lawyers or doctors.
However, when I won the national (senior) bantamweight title in 1998, aged just 15, I was able to clear mum’s debts with the money I received for getting a medal.
I failed to make weight as a bantam for the 2000 Sydney Olympics so bypassed the feather and lightweight divisions to return and win the Nigerian title at welterweight (2000). I decided to eat well. That made me box well!
I went out in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. I remained in the UK thereafter with the intention of going pro but struggled to secure a work permit. I entered the English ABAs three or four times but never won them because the judges didn’t like my cocky style and, because of the uncertainty, I lacked stability of mind.
Because of visa complications, you didn’t turn pro until two months before your 30th birthday. Despite entering, and winning, Prizefighter in just your third contest, and stopping Dale Evans (rsc5) in a British eliminator in your ninth, you’ve been restricted to just a dozen starts in five years. How come?
It’s not that I’m avoided. It’s just that I’ve had nothing to bring to the table. I’m very interested in the British title but rules are rules and presently I’m not eligible to fight for it because I don’t possess a British passport. I’ll finally be able to apply next year.
Also personal circumstances have restricted me. I thought I was on my way after winning Prizefighter but my daughters’ situations determined otherwise.
My daughters are real fighters; one survived cancer and the other was born with a hole in the heart, two days after my mum died with a hole in her heart. She only had 40-50% chance of survival. My eight year old son has just started boxing. We’re a family of fighters.
Is there a danger that, now 35, you’ve missed the boat?
No. Everything happens for a reason. I’m a very young 35 and I’ve led a good life. I’m more mature as a person now and wiser inside the boxing ring.
Besides, over the years, I’ve sparred everyone -Richie Williams, James DeGale, Darren Barker, Ajose (Olusegun), Chris Eubank Jr, Lee Selby – and been competitive. That can only give me confidence and improve me. Make silly mistakes in that quality and you get a hard smack in the face!
Once I win the WBO Inter-Continental on Saturday, everybody will want to fight me.
You’ll have crossed paths with Corcoran at The Peacock Gym in Canning Town. How do you get along?
Over the years, we’ve sparred quite a bit and there’s definitely no bad blood. Gary was my main spar mate for my British eliminator so there’s respect. But he warned me we need to put our friendship aside and take care of our business so that’s how it’ll be.
I thank Gary for stepping up and allowing me the chance to fight for this belt which could finally advance my career.
What problems does he set and how do you solve them?
Everyone knows how tough and game Gary is and Peter Stanley (Corcoran’s coach) is sure to have a game plan.
We know he’ll be aggressive, right in my face, trying to rough me up but that’s all he brings to the table. One way. Anyone can fight. I’m called ‘The Natural’ for a reason. Others gave me that name, not me. I’ll find a way out.
I just feel I’m ahead of him. I can box, I can fight him if I need to, and I generally please the crowd with my movement and tricks. Watching me is like watching a live action movie!
Fans will enjoy this. Stepping into a ring with Gary can never be boring. Our styles are so different they can’t clash.
It’s a great bill with great fighters. But I pray that I’m the one who catches the eye.