Nigeria’s sole flag bearer in boxing at the ongoing Rio Olympics, Efe Ajagba will today start his campaign for honours, as he takes on Trinidad and Tobago’s Nigel Paul, in a super heavyweight Round of 16 clash.
The bout is scheduled to begin at 6.30pm Nigeria time at the Riocentro-Pavilion 6.
Ajagba, clinched the Rio 2016 ticket during the AIBA Africa Olympic qualifiers in Yaounde, Cameroon, when he landed in the semi-final and also made it a golden finish through his victory over Moroccan Mohammed Arjaoui in the final, in a competition, where nine other Nigerian boxers failed.
This is the first time since Nigeria made its boxing debut at Rome 1960, that only a boxer had represented Nigeria at the Olympics, as the country had three boxers (Muiden Akanji, Lukman Lawal and Edith Agu-Ogoke) at the last Games, London 2012.
Ajagba, boasts rich pedigree despite his five-year stint with the punching business having started his sporting career as a footballer.
He became a national material when he lost in the final of the 18th National Sports Festival, EKO 2012 to home boy, Segun Ibrahim 2-1, as he later proved his mettle in the national camp the following year.
He won the bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow after losing in the semi-final to Joseph Goodall, but eventually announced his arrival when he won the gold at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville at the expense of Keddy Angnes of the Seychelles 3-0.
His victory in March this year in Cameroon, did not come as a surprise to many boxing buffs as he continues to enrich his pedigree in the sport.
Ajagba, tonight on paper stands a good chance to overrun Paul, who is in his second year in boxing.
Nigel last year won the National Novice Championships in his country and finished seventh at the AMBC American Confederation Boxing Championships.
Unlike Ajagba, Nigel finished second at the American Qualification Event to qualify for the Rio 2016.
However, a veteran boxing coach, Obisia Nwankpa says Ajagba must forget about the ring record of his opponent tonight.
“If Ajagba is a skillful boxer, he would easily have his way against Nigel who is a fresh boxer. Nigel does not care about the danger in boxing and will be fighting with great determination to make name for himself and his country.
“What would help Ajagba is experience since his opponent is just a year old in the game, but that is not to say the guy will not have something to offer. Any boxer who qualified for the Olympics must be respected and must not be underrated.
“I can’t advise Ajagba because I don’t know his strength and level of skill, but as a Nigerian, I believe he has what it takes to see off this Trinidad and Tobago guy. I support him with prayer that God will be with him on the ring. He only needs to be focused on the ring. His record so far is inspiring and I wish him the best of luck,” Obisia, a former Nigeria Boxing Federation head coach said.
The 1974 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, noted that seeing Ajagba in the medal zone would be thrilling.
“Once he wins tonight, I know that will give him more confidence to subdue any apponent and land in the semi-final which will guarantee automatic medal irrespective of the outcome of the bout. Since Duncan Dokiwari won the bronze at Atlanta ‘96 Olympics, no other Nigerian boxer has made it to the podium and that is why if Ajagba succeeds this time, it will be a feat to celebrate by boxing stakeholders in this country,” said Obisia, who lost the World Boxing Council (WBC) lightweight belt in 1981 to Saoul Mamby in Lagos.
To the current national boxing coach, Tony Konyegwachie, his ward is capable of coming back with a medal in Rio.
Though, the preparation of Ajagba after qualifying for the Rio 2016 was nothing to write home about due as he was unable to go on a training tour where he will have access to better training facilities, but the coach said there is no cause for alarm.
“All I know is that Efe Ajagba is as good as a medal here in the Olympics,” Konyegwachie said at the athletes Village in Rio.
“The truth is that he got here by dint of hard work and discipline. Those are the core ingredients in boxing. I know the boxer I have and I’m confident of what he can do.”
Tony, a younger brother to the 1984 Olympics silver medallist, Peter Konyegwachie, believes Ajagba, who is rated fifth in his category is better as a boxer adding that “He has improved from what he used to be. He’s good and focused”.