Efe Ajagba: From street to stardom
From the streets of Ughelli, Delta State, to world boxing stardom, U.S based Olympian Efe Ajagba has announced his eagerness to take on top ranked heavyweight boxers including Anthony Joshua and Tyson fury. TAIWO ALIMI captured his words.
Efe Ajagba is only 26 and has fought in heavyweight division only 13 times yet his story has become folklore in boxing world. One epic tale has it that an opponent; Curtis Harper, walked out of the ring in apparent horror at the mere sight of him. It was widely reported, sarcastically, that he must have seen something others did not see in the former Olympian Efe Ajagba.
Another has it that before taking up boxing he was playing soccer. He got into a fight with an over-six footer body builder, knocked him out with one punch and his friends suggested he take up boxing. So, he quit soccer for boxing. This was in 2014 and within two years he had represented Delta state, country at the Commonwealth games, Africa games and Olympic Games.
He has been compared with George Foreman upon turning pro in 2016.
After knocking out Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury called out Ajagba as one of the tough heavyweights he would like to fight before retiring.
Remarkably, the over 6 footer boxer did not have interest in boxing growing up.
“In Nigeria, soccer is the number one sport and I wanted to be a successful footballer growing up. I played for a local team where I have to pay money before I get the opportunity to play. But, I did not mind because I just wanted to play soccer. In-fact I was not interested in boxing and did see any fight by Nigeria’s heavyweight fighters. I don’t know (Ike) Ibeabuchi but my father loves watching boxing.
“When Samuel Peter fought Vitalis Klitschko he bought the tape and was always watching it. Sometimes, he would invite me to join him so Peter is the only boxer I know. “
Confirming the incidence that led him into boxing Ajagba related: “I was walking with my friends after a soccer game one day when a lady working out with a body builder guy splinted water on me. I asked her to apologise but she became rude and her body builder friend threatened to beat me up. He thought I would be scared of his huge frame. A fight ensued and I hit him hard on the left eye. He fell and fainted. In-fact I was afraid but he was revived after water was poured on him.
“Two of my friends could not stop talking about it and they encouraged me to go into boxing. I thought about it and began to have dreams of boxing. I asked around and later went to Ugheli stadium where I met a coach who offered to train me for free. He said I must be focused and train hard. He said many had come and run away because they were not ready to train hard.
“I made up my mind to put in everything and within some time I got into the state team, made the Commonwealth games in 2014 and came back with a bronze medal. It was the first time I would be attending an international tournament.
“In 2015, I was at the Africa games in hosted by Congo and I won gold. During the Olympic Games qualifier that was held in Cameroon, out of 10 Nigerian boxers to the meets, I was the only one that made the 2016 games. I made it to the Olympics quarter-final but secured the fastest TKO in boxing event. From there I got a promoter and signed up. I also made up my mind to turn pro and that is it”
Reminded of the crazy drama of the walk out by Harper, Ajagba simply smiled before answering. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It is the first time such a thing would happen in world boxing. When the guy walked out I was upset because I was going to lose money for not fighting. If you don’t fight you don’t get paid. I was upset. However, I became calm when the fight was awarded to me by TKO and got paid. That excited me. But, guess what? That walkout made me popular. It drew the world attention to me. I guess it happened for a reason.”
Indeed, Ajagba is terror with a physical presence; a 6-foot 6, 240-pound powerhouse, with a high-level athleticism to go along with an 88-inch reach; he’s also a hardworking and passionate learner eager to hone his craft. A straight puncher with swift foot movement and dedication to excellence, any opponent would dread him.
He suffered his only knock down early this year and beat himself hard for it even though he TKO the offender, Lago Kiladze in the fifth round.
“After the fight, I was so mad,” Ajagba told BoxingScene.com. “I was not happy because my performance was terrible. It was terrible. I made a lot of big mistakes. So, for this fight Saturday night, I need to come back strong.”
When he wobbled Kiladze in the third round, Ajagba recklessly attempted to knock him out. A surprising right hand by Kiladze sent Ajagba flat on his back with 38 seconds to go in that round.
“I took a lot of punches, but the one I didn’t expect, that’s the one when I went down,” Ajagba said. “I didn’t see that punch. Any punch you see coming, you don’t feel it. But any punch you don’t see coming, that’s when you feel it.”
Ajagba recovered quickly, came back to drill Kiladze with a right hand that dropped him in the fifth round and unloaded several more power punches that made Kiladze’s trainer, Shadeed Suluki, throw in the towel later in the fifth.
Ajagba rebounded in the fight to deliver a ninth-round stoppage of Razvan Cojanu (17-7, 9 KOs), knocking him down twice en route to the victory.
Before the fight, Ajagba had predicted that he would KO Cojanu. “I don’t think the fight will go 10 rounds,” he said.
Ajagba is tough and ambitious. “I want to get into the Top Five of world heavyweight boxing. That is my problem. Few boxers can take my punch. I believe in myself and I work hard to get where I am. I’m still working hard. My belief is that if you work hard you can get to the top. I see myself as a champion. I’m not scared. I respect boxers like Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and (Deontay) Wilder. Joshua is a great boxer but he is not a Nigerian. That is the truth. AJ is successful but I’m the best heavyweight right now,” Ajagba added.
Efe Ajagba: From street to stardom