by Olatunji Saliu and Guo Jun
Sultan Adekoya jogged into a courtyard surrounded by several two-story buildings still under construction in the Egbeda area of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, to join other kids and adults for a routine boxing drill.
Warming up for the day’s training, the 12-year-old boy did a little bit of shadow boxing, building his arm strength, and practiced fast-moving footwork on the red clay ground, while awaiting the instruction of his coach Taiwo Adegbite, who was busy correcting the moves and punches of other trainees who arrived earlier before him.
Adegbite, also known as Coach Tipo, described Adekoya as a “strong and very hardworking kid” with an enviable talent in boxing.
Videos of Adekoya’s extraordinary performance in training and competitions have gone viral online. Nigeria’s Minister of Youth and Sports Development Sunday Akin Dare said on social media that “there is gold in this kid.”
“People know him very well. He is doing really well,” Adegbite, the coach, told Xinhua, noting that Adekoya has so far fought in over 60 amateur boxing competitions, including exhibition bouts, and won them all.
In 2016, the kid fighter was presented a World Boxing Council (WBC) belt after emerging as the Most Promising Boxer at the WBC Cares, an exhibition bout partly sponsored by the WBC. At least 40 young boxers, aged 5-16, participated in the competition in Lagos.
Adegbite said he has every confidence in Adekoya, who still has the same passion he had about seven years ago.
“Sultan came on his own during one of my training sessions outside my house,” the coach said. “He was just walking on the streets when he saw us. He was five years old back then.”
“He ran up to us and picked my gloves without permission. He started throwing jabs and hitting people,” Adegbite said.
Adekoya was told to bring his parents along with him. “I was surprised to see him arrive early in the morning with his parents,” the coach said. “They agreed that he could learn to box. Since then he started training.”
ASPIRATION AND EXPECTATION
“I love boxing. I want to take boxing as my career,” Adekoya told Xinhua in an interview, listing Nigeria-born British boxer Anthony Joshua and American boxer Floyd Mayweather as his idols.
From Monday to Friday, he goes for training after school, and during weekends, he trains all day and sometimes attends boxing competitions.
Born and raised in the neighborhood of Egbeda, a low-income suburb of Lagos, Adekoya lives with his parents, and a kid sister, inside a small rented room in a compound housing 15 other families.
“Sultan has brought fame to our family. A lot of people point at me at the bus stop and say: ‘That is Sultan’s dad going over there,'” Tosin Adekoya told Xinhua at the small room housing his family, showing all the medals, certificates and trophies Adekoya has won over the years, including the WBC belt.
The 40-year-old auto mechanic expects a good offer for his son to help the boy’s career “100 percent.”
According to Coach Tipo, boxing in Nigeria is next to soccer in terms of popularity, but unlike soccer, the boxing culture in the west African country is not well-developed; promising boxers always lack necessary support.
He said although several Nigeria-born boxers have claimed their fame internationally or regionally, few of them were “made in Nigeria by Nigeria.”
Adegbite said a major challenge facing grassroots boxing classes like his Tipo Boxing Academy, which was founded about nine years ago, is that they do not have a gym with proper boxing equipment to better train boxers. They train outdoors.
He said he is doing all these because he has a passion for boxing, as he has so far no sponsors and all the trainees under his tutelage can’t afford to pay.
“If I say that I want to charge some money and you bring your boy that has the talent and is willing to learn. If I tell him to bring money and he couldn’t afford it, he will just keep the talent at home,” Adegbite said. “These kids don’t even have enough money to eat.”
Greater investment is needed in boxing, in anticipation of a brighter and rewarding future for the sport in Nigeria, Adegbite said. Enditem