What Ola Afolabi made out of very little will remain one of British boxing’s great success stories.
Ola will not be showered with the same level of appreciation that previous retired British fighters have, but this one of a kind Cruiserweight should not go down as a forgotten force in recent boxing history.
When the Londoner first stepped foot in a Hollywood gym, Afolabi – who was juggling life as a deejay and an overnight receptionist at a student hostel just to share a room with 6 foreign students – never envisioned he would ever meet the foes he came to face over the next 16 years.
At 20 years old Ola spent the majority of his time in the gym as a sparring partner for some of boxing’s biggest characters, including Francois Botha and one of Afolabi’s idols, James Toney. For two years Ola earned his stripes in the ring with men dwarfing him in experience, before Victor Martinez and Pedro Rosado discovered the hidden talent.
A 14 year career passed by for Afolabi, and as his record and the man himself will tell you, his prime years in boxing were not spent in the ring, they were spent on the sidelines. Bouts of inactivity plagued Ola thanks to injuries and a shortage of willing opponents.
That 14 year venture saw Afolabi fight some of the best to offer in the Cruiserweight division. But Ola remained a smart man, despite looking up so closely at a lucrative Heavyweight division, he was fully aware that the size difference would be too great. However there is no doubt had the opportunity been offered to Afolabi, he would have snapped it up in the matter of milliseconds.
In spite of the inevitable fact that Ola will not go down as a British boxing icon – although he certainly should do – Afolabi has remained proud of the country that raised him. Despite his Nigerian roots and living much of his life out in the States, Afolabi brandished the Union Jack with pride, the red, white and blue emblazoned on his trunks at basically all of his contests – I cannot be exact as to whether Ola wore the Union Jack on his shorts for all of his 31 fights.
Ola’s only bout on these shores produced arguably his greatest victory. On that March night in Manchester, Afolabi faced an Enzo Maccarinelli who was a year removed from demolition at the hands of David Haye. While it was never considered an easy fight for Enzo, he was certainly favoured against the inexperienced Afolabi.
Maccarinelli was still believed to have the ability to once again reign as champion of the world. But Ola had far differing plans. In a close contest that had both boxers swinging from the hip in the latter stages, Afolabi uncorked a tremendous overhand right to remove Enzo from reality. Being the gentleman he is, the first thought on Ola’s mind was to embrace his foe as he was helped to his corner, prior to celebrating a career altering win.
That win led to the first of 4 exceptional fights with Cruiserweight king Marco Huck. ‘Kryptonite’ never got the nod in any of the contests, although he was consolidated with a draw in the second meeting – a contest that Ola firmly believes he won. Following the first exhilarating contest, Ola was offered a chance of a lifetime when he was signed by the Klitschko’s and Tom Loeffler for K2 Promotions.
5 successes later and nearly 11 years after his professional debut, Ola contested in just his 22nd outing in yet another world title shot against WBO champion, Huck. This time a large majority felt the underdog had won, but Huck held onto his titles via a draw.
A year later the pair fought again, but Ola’s prime had now passed him by, and with the need to produce yet another career best display, Afolabi’s body was not answering his call. Huck was pushed hard, but retained on points once again.
In the year of 2014, a man who never had ambitions of boxing until he reached his 20’s was fighting at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden – an accomplishment every boxer dreams of achieving.
A loss in Argentina at the hands of the now IBF champion, Victor Ramirez seemed to show signs that the end was nigh for Ola. But one final extraordinary performance against Russian banger, Rakhim Chakhiev, afforded Afolabi one final payday against his biggest rival.
This time however they did not meet at an even physical peak, Huck was still primed at world level, while Afolabi could do little more than grit his teeth and show the bravery that he had shown in every one of his professional contests. This time it wasn’t enough as Afolabi was pulled out at the end of round 10 – the only stoppage defeat of Afolabi’s career.
On his 36th birthday, Ola Afolabi happily retired, brandishing a record of 22 wins (11 coming inside the distance) against 5 defeats and 4 draws. Afolabi only fought once in his home country, and even then he was the away fighter. Ola Afolabi is a modern day road warrior.
He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. No, Ola Afolabi went out into the big wide world, grafted hard and made a silver spoon of his own.
As the great man himself would say:
“Life gave me lemons and I turned them into a fucking chocolate milkshake!”
(Image source and credit: WBO Boxing)
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