Some stories are impossible to wipe from the mind, especially if one had a ringside seat in the unfolding of the macabre act.
An old friend ran into me recently at a sporting event, and all he wanted me to recall was the night one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant boxers nearly died under my watch.
The shocking near-tragedy happened before my very eyes when I was a young reporter of
THISWEEK magazine that was about to hit the newsstands.
The editor of the magazine, Sonala Olumhense, had told me not to bother to come to the office, insisting that I should devote all my time to follow the preparations of a boastful Nigerian boxer billed to fight the Ghanaian champion, Sugar Ray Acquaye, in an international contest.
I instantly got into the groove of the Nigerian boxer, staying even my nights in his Palm Avenue Mushin home, an apartment given to him by a Pentecostal bishop.
I would wake up very early every morning, wanting to do the necessary roadwork with the boxer.
What struck me instantly was that the boxer hardly ever did any training – not in the morning nor the afternoon nor night.
In the evenings, the boxer and I would saunter to the National Stadium, Surulere, where other boxers trained, and he would only walk about acknowledging cheers from doting fans.
Whenever I chided him on the necessity to train for the upcoming tough contest, he would reply me thusly: “E dey for body.”
This simply meant that he’s so naturally talented he did not need to train.
When I persisted on his need to train, he said to me: “Yeye journalist, I will just give you one blow for your jaw now and your yeye legs go wobble!”
As if to add feminine insult to masculine injury, the boxer’s sister who played basketball was fond of bringing the sexy female basketball players home almost every night, and it was all party and enjoyment and no boxing rigours.
Then the day of the boxing match dawned, and my heart was quaking like a locomotive train in full throttle.
Late in the evening, I accompanied the boxer into the indoor sports hall of the National Stadium, Surulere.
Even inside the dressing room, while he was being robed up for the contest, our boxer would not concentrate.
He told one of the boxers who had come to felicitate with him: “I went to Benin last week and I saw your fine sister. When I go next week, I go finish am!”
Another boxer who had gone to the Olympics with our boxer did some funny motions and both of them repeated the old phrase: “E dey for body!”
Then the announcement boomed that it was time for our boxer to come out for his fight.
We were three men in his corner: the trainer known as White Horse, a fellow Olympian boxer Charles Nwokolo, and poor me.
When our boxer entered the ring with us in tow, the cheers from the crowd nearly lifted the roof such that I almost swooned.
By the third round, our boxer was already gasping for breath in obvious exhaustion, and Charles Nwokolo walked away in disgust.
I was left with the trainer, White Horse, in the corner.
Our boxer would throw a punch and nearly fall down. He kept on grabbing his opponent for dear life, gasping for oxygen.
The crooked Nigerian officials were now cutting the rounds into less than the normal three minutes.
They would even allow us more minutes to resuscitate our boxer with smelling salts and aggressive rubbing of the thighs.
Then the judge suddenly announced that the last round had ended, and our completely fagged out boxer collapsed in the middle of the ring.
While White Horse and I rushed into the ring to take him to LUTH we heard the judges announce that the fight had been declared a draw!
After the boxer was deposited in LUTH, I feared the worst that he could die, and I would be arrested for homicide.
I could not sleep a wink.
Early in the morning, I nervously went to the stadium to nose around if there was news of his death.
The wife of the main restaurant owner in the stadium saw me and walked up, saying: “Didn’t you see how they wanted to kill your friend by sending a black cat into the ring?”
Black cat? I was confused. I only wanted to make sure the boxer had not died in LUTH.
“Did he die?” was the only question that could come from my mouth.
“No,” the woman answered. “I would do a survival party for him tomorrow for surviving the spiritual attack of the black cat in the ring. Make sure you come…”
“I will come,” I assured her, wondering at the fabulous invention of the magic of the black cat in the boxing ring.
Well, I guess it is the constitutional right of any boxer who did not train to see any hallucination – including a black cat – when knocked into coma.