Can you tell us about your childhood?
I am a medical marvel. I was born on February 27, 1956, in Lagos, Nigeria, and grew up in the United States of America. I went to the US in 1974 at the age of 18. My parents were from Etsako in Edo State. My dad died when I was six years old, so I never really got to know him. We were three boys and a girl. My sister is the oldest. I had an elder brother called Lawal but he died in 1972. I have a younger brother called Aminu who lives in Oakland, California. He is 61 years old and the youngest. I went to Ladi-Lak Primary School, Lagos, and later to Birch Freeman High School in Lagos. I enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a degree in Political Science. But I was a wrestler as a teenager and was the middleweight champion of Nigeria while still schooling at Birch Freeman High School. I was a big schoolboy; I was then known as the strongest schoolboy in the world. I was 17 years old when I won the title.
I got a wrestling scholarship at the age of 17 to further my wrestling career at the Mildred Burke’s School of Professional Wrestling in Los Angeles, California, USA. In 1974 at the age of 18, I accepted the scholarship and went to America. I did not do well because I did not wrestle. When I got to America, I found out that these wrestlers were giants; compared to the American wrestlers, I was a midget. So, I had to ‘respect’ myself and quickly remove wrestling from my mind.
You claimed to be a medical marvel. What did you mean by that?
How many 60-year-olds can run a mile and take punches? How many 60-year-olds are free from medical problems? I have been tested from the hair on my head to the nails on my toes and given a clean bill of health. The Americans don’t even believe that I am as old as I am. I am just an extraordinary human being and I will prove it on fight night.
Was your mum strict with you and your siblings?
No, my mum was soft and easy-going. She was not overbearing but very caring. Since we had no father, she made sure that she played both roles. When it came to religion, she gave us the freedom of choice; I attended a Christian school (Birth Freeman High School).
When did you develop an interest in boxing?
I developed an interest in boxing in 1978. It was by accident and not designed. I was looking for a job in California when I saw a big building with the picture of (the late) Muhammad Ali, a former heavyweight champion of the world, outside the building. I was curious so I went inside. Inside were two boxing rings with boxers sparring. I forgot about going to look for a job as I stayed to watch the boxers sparring and daydreaming about how I could do it, become a boxing champion and make plenty of money in my life.
While I was watching, I did not know that one of the trainers called Clarence Douglas was looking at me with keen interest. He later came to ask me if I would like to join them and I said yes. He asked me if I had ever boxed before and I lied that I had. He invited me to bring my training kits and join them the next day. I was very happy; I went home and never again went to look for a job as planned. I went home to get ready for training the next day. The next day, I went into the boxing gym all excited to get inside the ring to show my skill. After three minutes of sparring, I was so dead tired that my trainer asked me to get out of the ring to rest. He told me that if I was a boxer, Nigerians sure didn’t know how to fight. I told him the truth that I had never boxed before and that I had to lie to him so he could give me the opportunity. He smiled and said he would train me. I trained for six months before I had my first fight.
When was that and how much did you make?
I made $400. I will never forget that. Meanwhile, before the fight, I thought I was going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, you can imagine my disappointment with my pay. Before the fight, I had told my mum that I was doing a big business that would yield money so she should not worry and that I would send her money to buy a color TV. The boxer who fought the main event then, Pete Ranzany, made $80,000 and I was wondering if I would ever make that much in my life. I never boxed as an amateur because I would never fight for a trophy but money and don’t forget that I come from a poor family so it would not make sense for me to fight for a trophy. I had my professional fight against a big-time boxer called Junior Albers in his hometown, Sacramento, California, in 1978, and I was 22 years old then. It was for six rounds. I beat him but I was robbed of the decision because that was his territory. It was daylight robbery but that is boxing for you. I believe that I am the only boxer in the world who never fought as an amateur boxer and then went on to become a world boxing champion. I believe I’m also the only boxer in the world to win every boxing cruiserweight championship title conceivable: United States Boxing Association, North America Boxing Federation, World Boxing Council International (twice) and the current World Boxing Federation cruiserweight title.
What are some of the memorable moments of your life?
On September 9, 2000, I fought the then WBF cruiserweight champion, Terry Ray, at the National Stadium, Lagos. I knocked him out in the eighth round to win the title. I was offered $1.5m to have a return match while a group in Germany offered me $2.1m to fight a German boxer in Germany. I agreed to have the Germany fight but the WBF president at that time stripped me of my title for not agreeing to a return match with Terry Ray because he was his manager through a proxy. I sued the WBF for wrongfully stripping me of my title. The California Superior Court in Oakland found them guilty and restored my title with a wage loss compensation of $2.1m and damages of $5m. The $2.1m was paid but they appealed the $5m judgment, which is now worth over $20m. Now, I have the receivership to the WBF to satisfy the damages. The court in the permanent injunction stipulated that I can never again be stripped of my title unless I lose it inside the boxing ring. You can see that the injustice done to me in 2000 has turned out to be a great blessing today.
What were the things you avoided to remain fit as a boxer?
I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t womanize. I don’t use banned drugs. I live mostly on groundnuts and very little food. I can live on just groundnuts and Coke for weeks and then eat a little food and do lots of exercises. Groundnuts help to lubricate the veins in around the heart and since I’m not a foodie, I fell in love with them.
Do you also avoid sex to remain fit?
I love sex and don’t avoid it. It does not take away my boxing ability. If anything, it enhances it. I love sex, good sex.
How do you relax?
I love to dance. I love clubbing and watching people dance. Most of the time, I daydream in the club and wish that the world were a nightclub where people just dance and enjoy life.
As a young boxer, were you a lady’s man?
I’m still a lady’s man. I am now better and more mature with age. Women love to be around me. That I don’t smoke and drink does not mean they (ladies) are not free to be themselves around me. Women feel comfortable around me because I am a gentleman always. Above all, I am a giver without condition.
You have not had a professional fight in more than a decade. Did you retire?
I have never been retired. My last fight was in 2004 when I knocked out the then British cruiserweight champion, Tony Booth, in the fourth round. It was after that fight that we started to plan the Guinness World Records boxing championship fight but corruption and bad administration delayed it. That GWR fight will make me the oldest boxer to fight for a world title and to also defend his title. Once I step inside that boxing ring at the young age of 63, win, lose or draw, I would make history as the oldest boxer to fight and defend his title. But I want to make positive history as the oldest boxer to successfully defend his title and win another title. I must win and that is my goal. I want to break the jinx that you cannot make it in Nigeria unless you compromise. I must break the jinx.
Why have you not been able to achieve that dream?
It started on November 9, 2006, when (former) President (Olusegun) Obasanjo, through the National Sports Commission, inaugurated the Bash Ali Boxing Project Local Organising Committee to organize in Nigeria, in a transparent manner, the first GWR Fight to hold on African soil. The corrupt government officials wanted money for themselves instead of Nigeria and my saying no to them made them put the fight aside. I was told that the only way for the fight to hold was for me to agree to share government money with me and I refused. On January 7, 2014, (former President) Goodluck Jonathan, again, inaugurated another BABP LOC and the same corruption and bad administration took over and, as usual, I said no.
On May 29, 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for the first term, I wrote a detailed letter to him about the unnecessary struggle I had been through in my quest to bring honor, glory and financial growth to Nigeria, through sports, and in less than a week after receiving the letter, the President, again, approved the hosting in Nigeria. I took my fight to Vice President (Prof Yemi) Osinbajo before former Minister (of Youth and Sports), Solomon Dalung, finally called for a meeting and inauguration of the committee on May 21, 2019.
Who is funding the project?
It is being financed by the private sector. The Federal Government has put together a solid group to host this historic event and right now, I am 100 percent confident that, this time around, corruption and bad administration will be knocked out. The proposed date for the fight is November 30, 2019. The venue will be determined by the state that bids the highest. The opening bid is $1m. This is a big business so let us milk it.
What is your greatest regret in life?
(It’s) being born. I wish I was never born and I showed my protest by crying when I was born. This world is horrible. People kill for the sake of killing. Life means nothing. The world is not safe. We lie and cheat each other in the name of God by hiding behind the mask of religion. We are terrible and selfish. I can go on and on forever. This is why I don’t want to get married and want any child. I cut down on things that can bring me sorrow. I am not married and have no child because I don’t believe in this world. I don’t believe in this life. I wish that I was never born; but since I’m here, I will make the best out of my situation. This life is horrible and regardless of how much you enjoy it, you will never get out of it alive. Never! So, why bring in a life?
What religion do you practice?
Religion? To be honest with you, I am still wrestling with that in my mind. How can God exist and the world is all messed up? Poor people are dying every day because they cannot afford N500 to buy malaria drugs while criminals who have made the people poor have the best of everything and the poor have no choice but to pray for them for their livelihood. Would you tell me that God exists if I lose my wife, my children, and everything and die a miserable man? Imagine that on a Sunday, a school bus with children aged eight to 10 on their way to church is crushed by a tanker driver, whose brakes failed, and all the children burnt beyond recognition and, on that same Sunday, four armed robbers were able to successfully move from their destination to another destination to rob, kill and rape? They would successfully go back to their destination and share their loot and praise themselves. Now, how do you equate that? How?
What would you do if you had the opportunity to turn back the hands of time?
(I would) kill all the corrupt government officials who disrupted my life for the past 15 years because I say no to corruption and bad administration. I would have loved to do that but the law of the country does not give me the luxury. Seriously, I would have had this Guinness World Records boxing championship fight in America if somebody had shown me the future 15 years ago that I would go through hell in the process of bringing honor, glory and clean money to Nigeria.
You talked about corrupt government officials and that bribes were demanded from you.
Too many (demanded bribes). I fought with them by saying no to them and I paid dearly for it. I have been detained at eight different police stations in Abuja. I have been beaten and I spent days twice at the National Hospital in Abuja to treat my wounds. In all these travails, I never threw a punch because my profession does not give me the luxury to do that. A former minister wasted my life for almost four years because of corruption. Now, he is gone and the fight will hold in his lifetime.
So, would you say that corrupt politicians ruined your career?
The corrupt criminals tried but they did not succeed. All of them, including my critics, later became my disciples.
Do you think you’d have had a better life without boxing?
No way. Boxing has been good to me. I have traveled all over the world because of boxing. I have met different people and experienced different cultures because of boxing. I have made millions of dollars because of boxing. I can go on and on forever. I hate boxing but it is a job. It is a dangerous job. I hate to beat people and hate people beating me. I don’t enjoy inflicting pain on people and neither do I enjoy people inflicting pain on me. I fight and get paid big money but I am not in love with boxing and that was why I never fought as an amateur boxer because there is no fun being beaten up for nothing and neither is there fun beating up somebody for nothing. Show me the money and I will beat you up. If I had a child, I would never allow them to be a boxer; never.
What would you do when you retire from boxing?
Well, I have always said that boxing is the vehicle to my next destination. I want to fight till I am 65 years old, retire young and healthy with a lot of boxing and go into politics. My ultimate goal is to become the President of Nigeria and so shall it be. Mark my words and remember this interview.