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Mustapha Wasajja – Uganda’s Mysterious Boxing Champion
Mustapha (Mustafa) Wasajja (Wassaja / Wassajja / Wasaja) was born on July 16, 1953 in Kampala, Uganda). As an amateur, Wasajja fought at welterweight, light-middleweight, and middleweight. Wasajja, weakened by years of weakness and shaking, eventually succumbed to Parkinsonism on April 26 2009, near Kampala in Uganda
In the early 1970s, Wasajja was under the leadership of Uganda’s legendary and most famous coach, Peter Grace Sseruwagi (Seruwagi) and national coach Kesi Odongo (who won a silver medal in the lightweight division at the 1962 Commonwealth Games held in Perth in Australia). As a light-welterweight, Sseruwagi represented Uganda at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome but was eliminated out of medal contention. Long-time Ugandan sports official and former Ugandan army chief, Francis (Frank) Nyangweso, then a light-middleweight contender, was also eliminated in earlier bouts at the same Games.
Wasajja’s first notable international achievement came at the African Amateur Championships held in his native Uganda in Kampala in November 1974. Wasajja won gold in the middleweight division. Gold medal won by compatriots James Odwori (Oduori), Ayub Kalule, Vitalis Bbege, Mohamed Muruli; along with silver medal winnings from Ali Rojo and Jacob Odongo, who further established twice (1970 and 1974) the overall Ugandan Commonwealth boxing champion as an international ring master. Earlier in January 1974 at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wasajja, as a Ugandan middleweight, was a quarter-finalist who was knocked out in the first round by Les Rackley of New Zealand.
And in the World Boxing Championships held in August 1974, Wasajja was outpointed in the quarter-finals by Dragomir Vujkovic of Yugoslavia. A big outing for the glorious Ugandan would have been at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in Canada. Many African countries, including Uganda, boycotted these Games. Notable Ugandan boxers such as Wasajja, Ayub Kalule, and Cornelius Bbosa (Boza-Edwards), would henceforth move into the growing field of professional boxing. These are the seeds of Uganda’s golden age of boxing in the 1980s when Ugandans, especially Ayub Kalule, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, and John “the Beast” Mugabi became professional world champions.
It is worth noting that the tune for the 1976 Olympics included the international Pre-Olympic Boxing Tournament held in Montreal from November 27 to December 1, 1975. Uganda was represented by Wasajja (middleweight), a hard hitting and fearsome specialist and Champion Africa Vitalis Bbege (welterweight), and Jacob Odonga (light-heavyweight). Only Wasajja emerged the winner, while his counterparts were defeated in their finals. In the quarter-finals, Wasajja defeated Pietro Contarini from Canada. This was followed by Wasajja beating Jacobus Schmidt from the Netherlands on points. The finals featured Wasajja beating Canada’s Bryan Gibson by 4:1. Vitalis (Vitalish) Bbege was also due to compete for Uganda in the upcoming Olympics but was aborted. Bbege soon moved to West Germany (FDR) where he boxed as an amateur club and even represented Germany in a dual friendly with the United States. He is well settled in Germany with family and is a fitness and boxing instructor in Flensburg.
Wasajja fought in 28 official bouts as a professional boxer. These fights against Wasajja took place between March 1977 and March 1983, and Wasajja became a top ten light-heavyweight and cruiserweight in the world from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Apart from his last three bouts, his bouts basically took place in Denmark and Norway. Of his only professional wins and one draw (25 fights), 76% of them went the distance, Wasajja registering 24% as knockouts to his opponents. Wasajja stood out as a southpaw, an agile, fast and mostly stamina puncher who would endure all rounds except deliver as a striking power pugilist.
On September 9, 1978 in Copenhagen, Wasajja technically knocked out Bob (Robert Lloyd) Foster, world famous light-heavyweight, by retirement in the 5th round. The lanky 6’3″ Foster, considered one of the world’s all-time greats (light-heavyweight) has been in many vicious battles with notable fighters over the years, including epic heavyweights such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier , and Ernie Terrel. He is considered the best boxer to be from the state of New Mexico in the USA. Foster had mixed results when fighting the heavyweight boxers. Foster had also retired several times and came back. When Foster fought Wasajja, he was 40 years old and no doubt a long way off. After one more fight (a rematch with Bob Hazelton in which Foster was hit), Foster would retire for the last time. Wasajja was only 25 at the time .Foster laid down his gloves, finishing with an impressive 56 wins (46 by knockout) and 8 losses.
From his professional debut in March 1977 until February 13, 1982, Wasajja achieved a 100% winning streak. It was then that he fought the legendary Michael Spinks (who later became Heavyweight Champion of the World) for the light-heavyweight crown, in Atlantic City New Jersey in the USA. Wasajja’s crossing to the Atlantic for a chance at the belt, spelled his demise. Before the fight with Spinks, Wasajja, who was considered a mystery man (whose names were difficult to spell) by American fans and writers, was becoming the main contender for the WBA light-heavyweight crown. Previously, in 1980, Wasajja had become the 3rd ranked WBA contender.
Subsequently, Wasajja was knocked out by Spinks in the sixth round, and thus failed to capture the World Boxing Association (WBA) title. In July of the same year, Wasajja lost his next fight (which went the distance) to Tony Mundine in France, and subsequently in Lusaka (Zambia), Wasajja was knocked out by Zambian Lottie Mwale in just three rounds, failing with capture British Commonwealth Lightweight title. At the age of 29, Wasajja had fought his last professional fight. Undoubtedly the last three were some of Wasajja’s hardest and most significant attacks; they were against match opponents. Unfortunately, in all three Wasajja surrendered. These three are seriously injured and expose Wasajja’s weaknesses. Nevertheless, Wasajja established himself as one of Uganda’s greatest boxers, and significantly as one of Uganda’s pioneering professional boxers.
It is worth noting that Lottie Mwale, who was the same age as Wasajja, boxed professionally until 1994; he stands out as one of the greatest boxers in Africa. He took part in 53 professional bouts winning most of them by knockout and was also the African Boxing Union (ABU) champion. The greatest Zambian boxer succumbed in 2005, aged 53, to Parkinson’s disease, which is the same affliction that the legendary Muhammad Ali suffers from. Apparently Zambians, with their love of boxing, hold a very lasting memory of Mustapha Wasajja. And Zambians have, for decades, been Uganda’s traditional boxing rivals. Charles Chisamba, Zambia’s light-heavyweight champion, carries the nickname, “Wasajja” (“Wasaja”). On January 24, 2009 in Lusaka, Chisamba outclassed Mbaruku Kheri of Tanzania in the vacant African Boxing Union (ABU) light-heavyweight title and thus became the African champion. Wasajja has led young and promising boxers in Mulago Yellow Boxing Club, some of whom have starred as professionals abroad…mainly in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries.
In an October 8 2005 article by Moses Mugalu in the Ugandan newspaper “Daily Monitor,” Wasajja is said to be talking about investing in Kenyan businesses (along with long-time boxing partner Ayub Kalule) after retiring from boxing, until 1990. But He claimed Wasajja that he was eventually cheated by Kenyan business counterparts; and as a result he became a poverty-stricken slum dweller in Mulago in Kampala. His five children were having similar difficulties, some young and not registered at school. Wasajja talked about his memorable match in the amateur exhibition with his acting President, Idi Amin, shortly after Wasajja won the African Championships title in the series held in Kampala in 1975. Wasajja had to lose in that puppet. In the “Monitor” interviews, Wasajja is described as “weak, frail, shaky, and sometimes stammering,” but that his memory and speech are quite clear and very focused; and he maintains his pride and to humor
In the Ugandan newspaper, “Bukedde,” dated 28 July 2008, Wasajja who is ill in bed tells Ibrahim Katongole that his children Rehemah Namuddu, Nakayiwa and Salif Abdul are taking care of him. According to former national boxer, Charles Lubulwa, some of Wasajja’s sufferings stemmed from disconnecting himself from the boxing bodies and the people who had employed and supported him during his boxing career abroad. They had, to a large extent, lost touch with him.
Regarding the memorable fight with Michael Spinks in which he lost in 1982, Wasajja strongly suspects that the food he was given before the fight (in Atlantic City, New Jersey) was contaminated and consequently weakened him and’ to disable: he claimed that his losing the battle was due to foul play. This was Wasajja’s most memorable and grandest battle. And who knew? Wasajja fought with the two Spinks brothers who became heavyweight champions of the world! One of the brothers beat Muhammad Ali, and the other was beaten by Mike Tyson, among other things! Also, notably, Wasajja fought during what is considered a golden age for light-heavyweights. These included Michael Spinks, Dwight Mohammed Qawi (formerly Dwight Braxton), Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (formerly Eddie Gregory), Marvin Johnson, and Mathew Saad Muhammad (formerly Mathew Franklin, born Maxwell Antonio Loach).
Wasajja was a distinguished Ugandan amateur boxing champion and African amateur boxing champion, but his victories were not as numerous or impressive as those of his counterparts such as Ayub Kalule and James Odwori. In the professional ranks he rose to notable heights, but never won that coveted world title. Wasajja’s fame is intertwined with his being a mysterious Ugandan champion, one who had shots at the world title and the African professional title but came up short. Wasajja, Uganda’s secret champion became outstanding as one of Uganda’s pioneering professional boxers, one of those who had the ability to challenge some of the best boxers in the world.
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