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Articles of 2005

Behind the Smile: Ali Nuumbembe



If it’s true that boxing sold its soul to television networks a generation ago, eagerly snatching pay-per-view’s thirty pieces of silver and prostituting itself on the behest of an array of clandestine figures and their grubby titles. the story of Ali Nuumbembe, a Namibian welterweight, and philanthropic publican Chad Parker with whom he plots a path to boxing glory from the obscurity of a refitted caravan in Glossop, England, will help remind fans that for all its faults, boxing remains the sport “to which all other sports aspire.”

From the economic ravages of the once war torn Namibia to the dark, moody skies of the Glossop community that now cherishes the smiling African as one of their own, Ali’s story is a timeless parable of generosity and one man’s determination to triumph over the adversity that plagued his early life.

The tale begins in the hills of northern Namibia, a country so vast it would provide ample eiderdown for a snoozing France and Germany and populated, or in truth not populated, by just two million people. In a childhood blighted by the abhorrent face of South Africa’s apartheid rule and their 25 years of conflict with the guerrilla freedom fighters of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), Ali, like others of his generation, lost many of his relatives during the painful quest for Namibian independence. Some of who simply disappeared. Ali, as always softly spoken, explains the extent of his personal loss, remarkable to us, a familiar story to the people of Namibia.

“I lost relatives. Lost my brother, my half brother, my uncle and aunt and some relatives. But that was before independence, they got independence in ‘90. My brother, my brother, my young brother and my sister, kidnapped, just gone; it must be ‘87 or something like that. I’ve never heard from them, nobody knows where they are.”

This week’s discovery of a mass, unmarked grave in Northern Namibia served to illustrate the scale of the atrocities that occurred during those troubled times, and further illuminates the wider world to the horrifying reality behind the numerous “disappearances” that befell those that dared to resist South Africa’s oppressive and separatist rule.

“Because Namibians were fighting against the South Africans, South African government, and … they used to do that, to people who helped SWAPO, you know, the freedom fighters. If the South Africans find out you’re assisting them, then you disappeared; otherwise they took you to a prison. But it’s a quiet place now. Peaceful.”

By 1990, almost twenty years since the United Nations declared South Africa’s occupancy of Namibia illegal, the proud Namibian people finally celebrated independence. A young Ali returned to the once troubled town of Oshokati from the safety of his aunt’s home in the remote Namibian countryside to help his mum. His schooling complete, Ali elected to join the NDF, the Namibian Defence Force, in 1996, driven in part by his thirst for revenge. An apparently natural affinity for fighting was first nurtured in the traditional playground game of Onghandeka and led Ali to boxing and subsequent success representing the army.

“In a village where I lived with my aunt growing up, when there is more going on we used to play a game called Onghandeka, kind of like, like fighting, condensed fighting, fighting games, like boxing but open hands. Soon as I started school I’ve been doing that, and that’s where I get the love of fighting, so when I moved backed to Oshokati I joined the boxing [club] because they don’t play traditional games in the towns.”

This natural talent blossomed and Ali was soon traveling the world to compete, though most of his fights took place in South Africa. Over the six years he competed in the unpaid ranks Ali built an outstanding 144-11 record and this pedigree culminated in a bronze medal at the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002.

“I was in the army since’ 96, I’ve been boxing in Amateur club, I’ve been boxing for NDF since 1996, when I was boxing in national championships I was boxing for the NDF. I went to the African championships, and then to the Commonwealth in ‘98, Kuala Lumpur and then Sydney (Olympics) and then Commonwealth and some more military games. Winning the bronze medal in Manchester, that was the first medal that Namibia had won on the boxing side.” Ali adds proudly.

In the days before competition in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, fate intervened to introduce the softly spoken fighter to Richard “Chad” Parker, pub landlord at The Beehive, Glossop and a former Amateur fighter himself. On arriving in England, the Namibian team discovered their kit had been lost in transit; Chad picks up the story.

Well it’s strange, because it’s never been a story to us, it’s just how it happened; none of it was ever planned. I used to box, only amateur, and I kept in touch with the boxing club and they (the Namibian team) were using the gym when they came over here for the Commonwealth Games. I replaced their lost kit to allow them to compete. So we got to know them and they were a great set of lads. I went to see them at the Games and before they left I had a party for them here. They were based in Manchester, in the athletes’ village, and they were all given cars and drivers, so they brought them up to the party and took them back, it was really good. You know I watched Ali, watched him training, watched him boxing and thought he’s good, really good, and on that last night we got talking to his coach and it rolled from there.”

Despite his love of boxing and the Namibian’s pedigree and hunger, Chad knew little of the nuances and difficulties he would face trying to manage Ali. A spontaneous and committed character, he only bought his local pub because it was threatened with closure, but Chad didn’t let his lack of experience dull his enthusiasm for the challenge. He was determined to bring Ali to England, and to guide him into the professional ranks.

“He went back to Namibia and then he flew to Ireland a couple of weeks later for the Military games, I flew over to see him to show I was seriously interested and after the games he went back to Namibia. We kept in touch and then about three months after the Commonwealth Games we managed to get him over, set him up with his visa, his work permit, and of course the caravan on the backfield.”

Although a regular to foreign soil, the cultural and social difference between a scarcely populated Namibia and the “down to earth” essentially white community of Glossop, a town perched in the hills of Derbyshire, was a daunting one for the then 24-year-old. Despite the kindness displayed by benefactor Chad Parker, Ali was naturally concerned about the reception awaiting him. After all, the fighter dubbed the “Silent Assassin” by Parker and fellow benefactor Dr. Guy Wilkinson over a few pints in the Beehive was accustomed to a very different view of racial integration.

“When I think of coming over here I thought it was going to be like, to look at my background, in Namibia, independence and apartheid things. It’s like White here Black here. And there is … (laughing) I’ve never been near white people, lived amongst the white people. I wanted to do boxing but I didn’t know what it was going to be like. But when I came here, it was different. Yes, I was a little nervous coming here. But days go by. I’m loving it.”

Ali’s love affair with England runs deep and his relationship with Chad and his family has become one of surrogate son; Chad often describes his role as part-agent, part-dad to the now 27-year-old. Despite this closeness, Ali still travels home and dreams of one day returning to help develop Namibia’s embryonic boxing scene.

“I would love to help with the boxing side in Namibia. They need people like me, professional boxing is very small, it’s less than ten years old and there are only twenty professionals in Namibia. I want to do my boxing here, and then go back, but I’d love to come back and visit.”

The impact a single African has had on the Glossop community in which he lives is evident when Ali fights. A strong ticket seller and always entertaining, he’s also become popular with SKY television who’ve showcased a couple of his fights – most famously when he pitched in at four days notice for the Commonwealth welterweight title versus then undefeated prospect David Barnes. The moral victor in the drawn verdict, Ali is humble but blunt when talk turns to that encounter: “I won that fight.”

Such is the respect and esteem in which he’s now held in his adopted town, Ali’s influence reaches beyond his performances in the ring. A regular visitor to local schools and youth groups, Ali promotes a message of good behaviour and self-respect. Though shy and reticent, Ali smiles when pressed about his contribution.

“I just talk to the kids really, you know, how to behave themselves. Like in this country I have seen a lot of kids drinking, smoking and using drugs, it’s not good for them. I think for me it’s a chance to speak to them and maybe they wont pick up something and they do, they do, really listen to me, and they love me and I love them so,” he said with a laugh.

In his fledgling career, 13-1-1 (5), the likeable Namibian has collected two nicknames, Silent Assassin and Ali, the name by which everybody knows him, which was bestowed on him back in Namibia during his early ventures into the ring.

“Muhammad Ali my hero. Ali’s not my real name, Paulus is my real name. When I started boxing, well before I started boxing, I used to watch Muhammad Ali on telly doing all the shuffles and all that, so when I went to the ring I started doing the same thing. I wasn’t good with my hands but with my legs (grinning) and the fans started shouting ‘Ali, Ali, Ali,’ and since, well, it’s Ali.”

The fistic connection between the soft-spoken African and the sport’s most famous son may be tenuous, and their personalities polar opposites, but their respective struggles to emerge from the bigotry that blighted their youth creates a bond far beyond their shared name.

Something else for Ali Nuumbembe to smile about.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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