Celebrated Muthoga inspires boxers at ‘Madison Square Garden’

Joseph Mwangi “Don King” Muthoga points out the names on the honours list board at the Nakuru Amateur Boxing Club in Nakuru. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI |

What you need to know:

  • Former Kenya Police pugilist and self-confessed addict of the sport, brutally honest on what ails Kenyan boxing and what needs to be done to return the country to glory-laden days of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Nakuru can be considered the cradle of boxing in Kenya and has produced some of the country’s finest fighters. Muthoga is one of them, rising up from paperweight to flyweight in his fighting days to a respected referee and history setting judge before settling down to become a promoter per excellence that leaves little doubt as to why he is nicknamed ‘Don King’.

In the fullness of time, when the history of boxing in Nakuru County is written, it will only be complete with the special mention of Joseph Mwangi Muthoga.

Muthoga, also known as “Don King” at the popular ‘Madison Square Garden gymnasium’ in Nakuru - which is considered the cradle of boxing in Kenya - drinks, eats and sleeps boxing.

“Boxing is in my DNA. I am what I am today both physically and mentally because of boxing,” Muthoga said in Nakuru.

Just like American Don King who was the promoter of the boxing legend Mohammed Ali in US, Muthoga is one of the most visible promoters at the club.

Muthoga, born on March 26, 1960 in Nakuru, started his boxing journey in the 1970s while a student at Afraha High School.

He started out as a paperweight before moving to light flyweight and flyweight where he dazzled his opponents with stinging hooks that saw him win many local tournaments. Muthoga says that one of the attributes that made him and his peers succeed was discipline and hard work.

“We were so committed to the game, and we took it game seriously and that is why a majority of us were successful boxers,” said Muthoga.

One of the biggest motivation to boxers, says Muthoga, was the assurance that one would get a job after completing studies.

“Many of the boxers were employed in the disciplined forces, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Breweries, Kenya Post and Telecommunication Corporation (that was later split into three entities) and many defunct local government authorities unlike today where boxers are struggling to get even menial jobs,” laments Muthoga.

“Even disciplined forces, which are the only remaining employment avenues for boxers, are not employing as many boxers as they used to do in the past,” said Muthoga.

Muthoga, who turned out for Kenya Police’s “Chafua Chafua” boxing club, says one of his most memorable fight was in 1978 when he battled it with international boxer Sande Odanga in the flyweight category.

“We met in the Police championship and I floored him. That was and still remains my proudest moment as a boxer,” says Muthoga.

PASSION

But why is Muthoga so passionate about boxing?

“Boxing is part of my life. I can skip any function but not boxing. It is the only sport that makes my heart happy.”

He says his lowest moment was when he played with Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) team in Nakuru and lost to a boxer called Mwaniki.

“I was so heartbroken and I almost quit the game,” says Muthoga.

His greatest match to officiate was the Barcelona Olympic Games qualifier between Caleb Kuya and David “DK” Kamau at New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi.

“It was one of the toughest match I have officiated and I sometimes hear the boxers breathing and whizzing in the ring in my memories,” says Muthoga.

He has also officiated in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Melbourne in Australia, in five editions of the All Africa Games, at 2008 Beijing Olympics and at numerous international events.

Some of the boxers who have impressed him in the ring include Absolom Okinyi, Gabriel Kinyua, Omar Kasongo and Peter “Dynamite” Odhiambo.
But what does it take to be a good judge or referee?

“You have to know the game and master the rules and be fair to all boxers. Denying a boxer victory is one of the most unforgivable sins in boxing,” said Muthoga.

“Boxers invest a lot of their time and money in the game, and it is therefore unfair for referee or judges to be biased,” said Muthoga.

He has been a trainer of referees and most of the current officials have passed through his hands. One of his best students is Peter Morris who has nurtured some of the best pugilists in the history of Kenyan boxing.

“I will forever be indebted to coach Peter Morris. He is a top disciplinarian, committed trainer and a non-nonsense coach,” said Muthoga.

Besides Morris other coaches who shaped his boxing career include former Kenya Police coach Onyango Wamzee and former national coach Peter Mwarangu. Muthoga has spent virtually all his time promoting boxing at the Nakuru Boxing Club which has produced some of the best fighters in Kenyan boxing history.

When the national team “Hit Squad” was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, the team would not be complete without at least three or four boxers from Nakuru.

Kenya’s most decorated boxer Philip Waruinge, who is the only athlete in the history of the game in Kenya to win a medal in two Olympics Games (bronze in Mexico in 1968 and silver in Munich in 1972 is a product of Nakuru.

Other early pioneers of the sport include football legend Joe Kadenge before he shifted his gears to the team sport, Gabriel Musonyi, Isaa Gichangi, Gabriel Kinyua, Sammy Mbugua and Sammy Kipkemoi.

Muthoga climbed the ring alongside John “Duran” Wanjau, Isaiah Ikhoni and  Peter “Kawasaki” Kariuki.

Muthoga could easily be described as a mobile boxing encyclopedia as he understands the sport like the back of his gloves.

But where does he see the future of boxing in Kenya in the next decade? “The future is bright so long as there is sustained sponsorship that would see boxers get training gears and referees and judges update their skills,” said Muthoga.

He said one of the major reasons modern boxers in Kenya are not making any major strides in comparison to the boxers of the 1970s and 1980s, is that the current ones are not committed.

“During our time no coach was behind a boxer to push him to go for training. We worked hard on our own accord, and that is what is lacking today,” said Muthoga.

Besides, he said what ails boxing in Kenya is lack of exposure. He pointed out that boxers no longer feature in international matches such as Kings Cup in Philippines among others.

“Without exposure boxing will remain stagnant for a long time to come,” he said.

He said past boxers in Kenya and officials who brought glory to the country are rarely recognized for flying the national flag high.

“Majority of the past boxers and officials are ailing and are suffering in their sunset years without a medical scheme.”

However, he advises boxers to start saving for a rainy day and invest while they are still strong.

He said it was sad the Ministry of Sports had no data on the number of boxers and officials and it must now up its game if it is serious in giving the sport renewed hope.

“Kenya has been a powerhouse in boxing but its youth programme is moving at a snail’s pace as it is not incorporated in schools and institutions of higher learning,” said the father of three.

He said discipline in and outside the ring was key to the success of any boxer wishing to leave an indelible mark in the game.

He said his future plans were to establish clubs in Molo, Gilgil, Naivasha and Subukia, Kivumbini, Mwariki, Langalanga in the outskirts of Nakuru Town.

“With devolved units, the sport docket budget should be expanded by renovating social halls,” said Muthoga.

“If boxing is incorporated in the school curriculum Kenya would easily regain its lost glory,” simply said Muthoga.

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