The success story that saw 23-year old Nigerian pugilist Ridwan ‘Scorpion’ Oyekola win the win the vacant Super Featherweight World title last December on Nigerian soil remains one for many to cherish. One man behind the scene Sir Olawale Okunniyi who put together the Super Featherweight world title boxing bout under the sanction of the World Boxing Federation (WBF) in Nigeria on 27th December 2020 at Ilaji Sports Resort, Ibadan where Ridwan ‘Scorpion’ Oyekola beat Argentina´s Lucas Mathias Montesino by unanimous decision to win the vacant belt for the first time in 57 years shares his experience and what the victory portends for youths and boxing in the country. Excerpts
What’s your experience on organizing a world boxing event of this magnitude within a short time and the 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. Like I mentioned recently in my account of 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 organising 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, was to quickly look around for available resourceful human capital 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 and made major donations and support that led tothe successful hosting 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 NBBof C 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 facility as against his opponent that came from South America?
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 together were 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 rearing to go before the day of the bout.
In terms of finance, what’s the level of support from the Oyo State 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 kinds 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 NBB of C 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 the country’s era of glory in boxing is back after 57 year when the late Dick Tiger last won a world boxing title on our soil.
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. • Read full interview in Sunday SportingSun