After recording a huge success organizing the just concluded Super Featherweight world title boxing bouts under the sanction of World Boxing Federation, WBF in Nigeria on 27th December 2020 at Ilaji Sports Resort, Ibadan where 23 year old Nigeria pugilist Ridwan ‘Scorpion’ Oyekola beat Argentin’s Lucas Mathias Montesino by unanimous decision to win the vacant belt for the first time in 57 years, and winning such coveted boxing laurel on Nigerian soil, the Chairman of the local organizing committee of the epic event, Sir Olawale Okunniyi shared his experience on how the feat was achieved, what the victory portends for youths and boxing in the country.
Can you share your experience on how you were able to organize a world boxing event within a short time and recorded such absolute success?
Well, all glory to God for grace and enablement. However, organising a world class boxing championship for the World Boxing Federation, WBF in Nigeria and the subsequent victory of Nigeria’s Ridwan Scorpion Oyekola were essentially driven by the patriotic and resilient spirit of all stakeholders in the Local Organising Committee, (LOC) of the historic event, because like I mentioned recently in the account of my stewardship to members of our LOC, although there had been ongoing discussions and negotiations concerning the bout by the Promoter and the leadership of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, (NBB of C), there was practically no operational support and solid awareness on the ground, as at the time I was drafted to come and lead the process of organizing the event.
Moreso, the time was quite short, just about two months to the event. So what we did, given our wealth of experience in mobilising and publicity, especially as national activists, was to quickly look around for available resourceful human capitals at our reach; of varying interests and co-opted them into the process to help guide the planning process, work as volunteers and consultants. What we did was to sell the historical and international significance of the project to them and they bought into it instantly. Some of these stakeholders we ran to include, the Oyo State Government, the respected Alaafin of Oyo, The Olubadan of Ibadan, a major promotional consultant and a media guru, among others, who in turn gave the project an instant morale booster, inspiring the event to a huge success and subsequent victory of the scorpion, (Oyekola) while we also interfaced in the LOC with the Promoter, the leadership of the NBB of C at the national and state levels as well as the management of Ilaji Sports Resorts, which hosted the event in Ibadan apart from the major donations and support from the Sports Resorts towards the successful hosting of the event.
The State Government was magnanimous to have given the LOC a veritable secretariat accommodation and rooms from where the committee operated throughout the planning of the event.
May I also acknowledge that my Co-Chairman, Dr Rafiu Ladipo brought a lot of technical expertise and guidance into the project, just as the Secretary of the NBBofC, Mr Remi Aboderin was also of immense asset to the whole project. So in essence, the success and victory of Nigeria in this event was collective.
How were you able to prepare the boxers, especially Ridwan Scorpion considering non availability of first class facilities here as against his opponent that came from South America & got better workout?
Well, we must give serious credit to the promoter of the bout, Mr. Sola Ford the CEO of Core Afrique Boxing Promotions and the trainer of our boxers Sunny Bruce, who were together able to enforce a Spartan programme of training and discipline in the camp. Both of them worked tirelessly to keep the boxers, especially Ridwan the Scorpion, in a killer shape and fit within their weights before the bout. The drilling was tough and concentration and discipline in our camp was very high, that the Nigerian Boxers were already roaring to go before the day of the bout.
Finances for the bout! What was the level of support from the government and corporate bodies?
Finance, as usual with Nigerians, was a challenge but the State Government and Ilaji Sports Resorts came to our rescue on different budget heads and at different times both in kind and in cash. While the State Government gave the LOC Secretariat operational logistics and accommodation and some financial support, as part of what was requested by the LOC, the Ilaji Sports Resorts apart from providing the venue of the event also gave the NBBofC and the Promoter inspiring financial support for the boxers and officials of the match in terms of boxer’s purse, flight tickets for officials and boxers coming from outside Nigeria and what’s termed sanction fee in Boxing to bring the world boxing belt down to Nigeria. However, I am aware there are still outstanding bills to be settled, especially as regards allowances to our consultants, volunteers and some of the boxers, and I hope Government both at the State and National levels will come to our rescue before it’s too late. We have already written to that effect and are waiting for their action.
Again, other corporate organizations are yet to respond to our request for support. But we hope that now that we have won the coveted world title belt for Nigeria, they will do the needful to help us offset some of our various outstanding bills.
What does Scorpion’s victory portend for Nigerian boxing?
What scorpion’s victory signifies for Nigeria is that Nigeria’s era of glory in boxing is back after 57 years, when the late Dick Tiger last won a world boxing title on our soil for the nation. More Nigerian youths will also derive a strong inspiration from this victory and move out of the streets to engage more in productive activities of sports especially if they see government show appreciation and encouragement to the new Super featherweight world champion by a way of grand reception and support for the boxer and his team. Boxing is now more acceptable to our youths as against the overriding popularity of football over other sports. As you can see how our own boy swept WBF awards, after the fight, Scorpion won Boxer of the Month for December 2020 Award, and also the prestigious ‘Newcomer of The Year’ award apart from his fight with Montesino, which was adjudged the best in 2020 according to official statement released on the WBF website over the weekend.
How were you able to ensure compliance with covid19 protocols despite recording appreciable spectators to cheer the Ibadan born-boxer to victory?
We must commend Engr. Dotun Sanusi, the Chairman and Management of the Ilaji Sports Resorts and Hotels in this regard for putting very strict Covid19 protocols and measures in place to curb any emergencies and eventualities. It was indeed world class measures that were put in place by Ilaji sports centre to the extent that the venue became very safe for spectators, officials, boxers and dignitaries. This was attested to by the President of WBF, Howard Goldberg, while passing his remarks on the event.
The Resorts with the Support of the State Government also ensured that there was maximum security in and around the arena so much so that it was impossible for anybody to breach Covid19 Protocols at the event. Again, I think we must appreciate the logistics support provided for this event in terms of secure transportation by Hamex Group, a key stakeholder in the LOC. The firm ensured safe movement for all our foreign boxers, officials and even members of the LOC from Lagos to Ibadan, the venue, throughout the period of the event. The CEO of this same firm Alh. Abdulwahab Adekunle Hamex has since donated a Jaguar car to Ridwan, the Scorpion to boost his morale to do better in future, and this gesture is going to serve as a solid motivation for Nigerian youths to be more focused on productive activities of sports.
What’s next after the belt? How soon should Nigerians expect another A-class boxing show like that, considering the acceptance boxing is getting from Nigerian sports lovers?
Well, since the successful hosting of this historic event and the victory of the Scorpion in the Super featherweight world boxing championship, we have received some overtures to organise more of this competition towards engaging our young population more with the aim of taking them out of the streets into more productive engagement of Boxing competitions. The Federal Government in the congratulatory message sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to Ridwan, the Scorpion and our LOC, has also indicated readiness to encourage more of this world class boxing competition in the country.
However, except the fatality rate in the spread of the second wave of Covid 19 pandemic gets higher, we should expect from the NBBofC again a major international bout before the end of the second quarter of the year 2021.