Coach Mwarangu: Ruthless in the ring, gentle giant off it

Peter Mwarangu

Former “Hit Squad” head coach Peter Mwarangu died in Nairobi on January 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • His peers are Cuban coach Alcides Garon Saggara who nurtured award-winning boxers like Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Fabre Savon and Jorge Hernandez.
  • He died last Sunday after ailing for some time at his Ndenderu home in Kiambu County. He will be remembered for revolutionising Kenyan boxing between 70s, 80s and 90s.

Coach Peter Mwarangu, who died on Sunday in Nairobi at the age of 82, was a soft-spoken man who understood the rules of the game and stood tall in the ring.

As a boxer, he floored his opponents in the ring, beating Kenya’s most decorated pugilist Philip Waruinge to take the national bantamweight title in 1962.

As coach, he guided Kenyan boxers to win a record eight gold medals at the 1987 All Africa Games (now African Games) held in Nairobi.

A year later, he coached Kenya to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea where Kenya’s Robert Wangila became the first African to win gold medal at the Olympics.

He was well-versed with boxing rules, knew how to read the game, and was a charismatic coach who did not aggressively contest referee decisions.

Serving at a time when coaches would storm the ring to remonstrate with match referees, he would calmly walk across to match referees, make his point and resume his seat on the ringside.

In 1987, coach Mwarangu, steered Kenya’s national boxing team ‘Hit Squad’ to win the overall boxing title at the 4th All Africa Games with eight gold medals.

And what a befitting choice of venue for coach Mwarangu’s home boxers to obliterate their opponents than Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi!

Quite rightly, he was recognized as the most successful tactician of the ‘Hit Squad’ which was once invincible in Africa and at the Commonwealth Games.

Since retiring from coaching two decades ago, he did not seek a position in the Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK). Instead, he started Ndenderu Boxing Gymnasium in Kiambu County, where he has been nurturing junior boxers.

As coach, Mwarangu never failed to enter junior boxers in provincial and national competitions.

He believed it was the path through which boxers would grow into stars. BFK’s director Albert Matito attested to this while eulogising coach Mwarangu.

“I am very much saddened that we shall miss our brother. However, I must say Mwarangu was an exceptional person who helped build young coaches and referees to succeed in their dream.

Former Commonwealth Games heavyweight gold medallist George “Foreman “Onyango, former Africa Games light flyweight gold medal winner Maurice “Kawata” Maina, former ‘Hit Squad’ captain, light middleweight Kenneth “Valdez” Ochieng’ and super heavyweight George Okoth Akura all remembered Mwarangu for helping raise the standards of Kenyan boxing, both at club and national team level.

“As a young coach of Kenya Police Boxing team ‘Chafua Chafua’ , I learnt different aspects of coaching under Mwarangu. Later when I climbed up to the national team, the skills proved very helpful,” Onyango explains.

Former Kenya Army (now Kenya Defence Forces) boxer, super heavyweight boxer George Okoth Akura who is based in Siaya remembers Mwarangu for giving him his first call-up to the national team.

“Coach Mwarangu once came to watch our training sessions which were being conducted by coach Eddie ‘Papa’ Musie at Kariobangi Social Hall in Nairobi. He noticed my punching power and strength, then called me up for national trials,” he says.

Kenya’s record of eight gold medals at the All Africa Games in 1987 has never been matched. The going has been rough for Kenya in subsequent editions, with no Kenyan boxer winning gold medal.

Mwarangu rose to the limelight early 1960s and was one of the founder members of Pumwani Amateur Boxing Club alongside boxers Jimmy Zablon, Ali Juma, Stephen Thega, John Olulu, among others.

He was appointed Kenya’s assistant coach in 1966 and served in the team’s technical bench until 2000.

In an interview when I accompanied the national team to a past assignment, Mwarangu told me: “ I have served for many years in boxing, and this has given me a good experience as a coach, which helped me reach the top.

“It is very important for a coach to treat all boxers equally in residential training camps, irrespective of their clubs. My co-operation with South African-born coach, the late Eddie “Papa”Musie also helped me.

For many years, he was in charge of Nairobi County City clubs, mostly those from Eastlands (Bangladesh in Kariobangi, and those in Jericho, Mbotela, and Pumwani) which produced good boxers and were later recruited to the armed forces teams (Kenya Prisons, Kenya Police, and Kenya Defence Force),” he confided in me.

Mwarangu’s motto was to mould a winning team, and he always reminded club coaches to adhere to the rules, be patient, and to support one another to instill discipline among boxers.

He led Kenya to glory in the 1988 Seoul Olympics in South Korea, at the 1978 World Championships in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia, the 1987 Africa Games 1987, at the 1996 Commonwealth Boxing Championships in Windhoek, Namibia, at the 1979 African Championships in Benghazi, Libya and at the subsequent edition in1983 in Kampala, the 1983 and 1986 editions of the King’s Cup tournament in Bangkok, Thailand, 1987 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, and the 1980 Kenya Golden Cup in Nairobi.

He always cautioned club coaches and team selectors to keep their boxers off drug abuse. Where needed, he stepped in to solve personal problems among his boxers.

He was disappointed when Kenya boycotted the 1976 Olympics in Montreal Canada, the 1980 edition of the Games in Moscow, and the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburg ,Scotland.

Kenya’s absence from these Games, he said, affected local boxers and it took the country long to recover when Kenya returned to the scene.

He produced the invisible Kenya’s “ Hit Squad” which had the like of World light flyweight champion Stephen Muchoki in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1978, the first Kenyan and Africa Olympic champion welterweight Robert Wangila in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.

Other stars Mwarangu moulded are James “Demosh” Omondi who captained Team Kenya to the 1984 Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Others are John “Duran”Wanjau, Kamau “Pipino” Wanyoike, Crispine “Rocky Marciano” Odera, Patrick “Mont” Waweru, Stephen”Black Bomber” Moi, Sebastian Wandera Okwaro, to mention but a few.

Other boxers who had passed in his hands are two time King’s Cup gold medal winner Kamau “Pipino” Wanyoike, featherweight the late Modest Oduori Napunyi, light heavy the late Patrick Lumumba and lightweight Frederick Munga a professional based in Australia.

Mwarangu holds the distinction of having guided Kenya Prisons team to six wins in the once famous Yamashita League trophy and in the Kenya Open Championships.

His peers are Cuban coach Alcides Garon Saggara who nurtured award-winning boxers like Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Fabre Savon and Jorge Hernandez.

He died last Sunday after ailing for some time at his Ndenderu home in Kiambu County. He will be remembered for revolutionising Kenyan boxing between 70s, 80s and 90s.