Greatest African: John Mugabi

By Joburg Post

Most people think that without education you can never make it in life. John Mugabi is the perfect example of a great boxing champion who made it without education. John Mugabi is known as “The beast”. He is a former professional boxer, a great punching middleweight contender and a light middleweight champion.

Mugabi was born in 1960 in Kampala Uganda. In his childhood, he was inspired to be a boxer by the American undisputed Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali. Mugabi grew up desiring to be as good as Ali.  As a young boy he always resorted to fighting, he would fight at school with other kids. His passion for becoming a boxer got him into trouble as the fights at school escalated that he ended up fighting his teachers and this affected his education. He got expelled from all the schools he went to because of his fighting habits. Seeing that he was always causing trouble at school, Mugabi started going to the boxing gym near his house, to watch people fight. This is when he started losing interest in school as his love for boxing increased. Subsequently, Mugabi started boxing at Kiswa Zone East of Kampala.

At the age of 16, his boxing career took off and he received his first Silver medal after losing to Herol Graham in the Junior World Championships. Two years later, Mugabi represented Uganda at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, this is when he earned another silver medal after losing to the great Cuban boxer Andres Aldama in the final. The former Ugandan boxer was considered to be one of the talented light middleweights champions alongside the likes of the top rated contenders Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.

In 1980, Mugabi moved to London after winning by a complete knock out against Oemer Karadenis in round one in Cologne.  When he was in London he got hold of Mickey Duff, a marketing boxing expert. Mickey built Mugabi’s reputation and he ended up being famous in Europe and winning eight fights. Victory made John hungry for more, as a man on a mission he moved to Florida where he received great recognition and was the most favoured boxer on the TV networks in America. On the 2nd of May, Mugabi fought against boxing legend Curtis Ramsey and defeated Ramsey in two rounds.  The “beast” who was known for his extremely aggressive attacks went on to fight and defeated Gary Guiden in 1983. Mugabi was becoming unstoppable later on that year he took on Eddie Gazo, a former WBA Junior Middleweight Champion as a champion Gazo tried to give his best punches but he lost to “the beast” who ferociously attacked him. In the same year, Mugabi fought against a former Pennsylvania Golden Gloves amateur champion Curtis Parker.  Parker was defeated dismally by Mugabi he lost about by a total knock out. Parker had never lost by about knockout, this was the worst fight for him. February 1984 “the beast” victory lap continued this time he fought against the boxing champion James ‘Hard Rock’ Green. James managed to be consistent in fighting Mugabi but little did he know that he was fighting a tactical boxer who ended up shamefully defeating him by a knockout.

Mugabi on Ringside magazine 1984

On the 10th of March 1986, Mugabi was on a journey of becoming the number one contender for the middleweight champion. He wrestled against the undefeated boxing champion Marvin ‘Marvelous’ Hagler, Marvin was well known of defeating every opponent he ever fought with. John was also known as a champion who won by knockouts. When the match began ‘The Beast’ had everything under control. He counter-attacked every punch he received from Hagler but in the eleventh round, Mugabi lost to Hagler by an absolute knock out. This was the first time in years to lose, he felt humiliated that he eventually retired after the match and went back to his home in Uganda. He went into depression mode he started eating unbalanced meals and drinking too much alcohol, he gained too much weight. In September 1986, John made a decision to go back to boxing, he got hold of Mickey Duff his former boxing marketing expert. Mugabi had to lose weight in order for him to fight again. He lost weight and the WBC gave him an opportunity to fight for the world light middleweight title. He still had many supporters that believed he could rise up just like the phoenix rose from the ashes.

On 5 December 1986, John had to wrestle Duane Thomas, this match was very tense as Duane brutally attacked John and broke his eye socket. This is how John was defeated by Duane and the fight could not proceed.  After losing twice in a row, Mugabi stayed away from the boxing ring for 14months, he was so depressed that he found comfort in food and he started gaining weight. In January 1988, “the beast” came back stronger than before and he challenged Bryan Grant and destroyed Grant by a quick knockout. August 1988, Mugabi took the number one contender for the WBC 154  lb title.

In 1989, John went on to win WBC light middleweight championship against René Jacquot. The year 1991 on the 20th of November, Mugabi’s boxing career was in trouble as he faced Gerald McClellan for the world title who defeated him in the first round by a total knock out. Mugabi took some time to himself after losing and relocated to Australia for five years. He decided to come back and fight again in 1996 and he won quite a number of matches that made him qualify for the world title championship. In November 1999, Mugabi’s boxing reign came to an end as he faced the undisputed boxing Champion Glen Kelly. Glen finished Mugabi in round eight by a knockout. This day marked the end of his boxing career until today Mugabi never went back to fight again. He is now a boxing trainer for kids that aspire to be boxers.


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