Kenya’s ‘Boom Boom’ Okwiri yearning for a world title shot
What you need to know:
- The Kenya Prisons Service sergeant did not hide his displeasure at the change made by Solid Rock Promotions a day before the fight on January 13 at Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi
- Even as he is yet to clinch a world title, he believes that he has lived up to his name Okwiri, which in his Luhya community means a killer, a formidably impressive person
- One thing still on his bucket list, he revealed, is winning the big professional belts
If you thought Kenya’s top boxer Rayton “Boom Boom” Okwiri is about to retire, then you are mistaken. At 36, the Kenyan southpaw is looking for more conquest.
The Butere-born boxer is now hoping to clinch a world title in professional boxing.
His quest got a huge boost when he landed sponsorship from Finix Casino, and a management team chaired by Cliff Mboya.
He also has a new coach, Germany-trained George Gichuki who handled the national team for 11 years.
During an interview at his training gym in Lavington, Nairobi, Okwiri talked about many things, including his disappointment on the relegation of his main card fight to undercard recently, retirement and lessons learned in the sport.
The Kenya Prisons Service sergeant did not hide his displeasure at the change made by Solid Rock Promotions a day before the fight on January 13 at Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi.
The main bout, a middleweight affair between him and Tanzanian Shabani Ally Ndaro was changed to undercard and replaced by the super middleweight one of big-talking Tanzanian showman Karim "Mtu Kazi" Mandonga versus Kenya’s Daniel Wanyonyi.
“To change my fight from the main one to undercard is to belittle me,” fumed Okwiri after a vigorous morning training at AV Fitness in Lavington, Nairobi. “I’m an Olympian. None of the boxers who competed that day have a record like mine.”
Training at the spacious AV Fitness are some of the benefits he is set to enjoy thanks to the deal with Finix Casino.
He previously honed his skills at Advanced Fitness Centre in South B.
The former Africa Boxing Union champion featured for the national team, Hit Squad, between 2006 and 2016. He never lost a fight locally during that time.
“I have been to the Commonwealth Games, African Games, African Amateur Boxing Championships. The only thing remaining on my list is a world belt.
“So, for a promoter here at home to make me an undercard for the fight between Mandonga and Wanyonyi is to degrade me,” said a pained Okwiri, who turned professional in 2017.
He says it’s for this reason that the Mboya-led management team came on board, to ensure such things do not happen again.
Branding and legal representation are some of the services being offered to him by the management.
“With the management I have now, they (promoters) must commit themselves.
“In case a fight does not happen, I must get my dues. That’s why I have a lawyer (Mark Wakanyaga), brand manager (Tim Adeka) and operations manager (Cliff Mboya) and sponsor, all who are in one team. They saw the potential in me. So, we don’t expect to see such stupid things happening,” he said.
To the fans, who felt that Okwiri lost against Ndaro but was favoured by the judges (Charles Oloo, Charles Juma and David Watene who scored 79-73, 80-72 and 80-72 for Okwiri), he is not amused.
“From round two, all he was doing was holding me. Secondly, the referee seemed to favour my opponent. From my knowledge, a person who holds his opponent is warned and then loses points if he repeats it. Nothing like that happened. The referee never deducted points. Thirdly, my opponent headbutted me but the referee ignored this. I don’t understand some things about pro boxing in Kenya. There are boxers who suffer in silence,” said “Boom Boom”.
Even as he is yet to clinch a world title, he believes that he has lived up to his name Okwiri, which in his Luhya community means a killer, a formidably impressive person.
“I have registered eight knockouts in 10 pro bouts, drawn once and lost only once. People should not judge me with the most recent fight where I won on unanimous decision. I have kayoed many people. When I went to America, I beat a Colombian (Fidel Monterroza Munoz) via KO, so I should not be judged by one game. This is a sport and it’s boxing,” noted Okwiri.
“I have been at the top, but this is boxing and anything can happen. Even Muhammad "The Greatest" Ali was kayoed. One who does not admit defeat is not a good sports person.”
The Olympian promised that he will bring joy to Kenyans in his next fight.
He was supposed to face Apisit Sangmuang last Saturday in Nairobi but the fight was cancelled after the Thai picked an injury.
Okwiri’s management opposed efforts by Solid Rock Promotions to replace Sangmuang with a fighter from either South Africa or Tanzania on grounds that it would add no value to their client.
“We declined the offer because our client cannot do an under-card fight that is non-title,” explained Adeka, Okwiri’s brand manager.
A week today Okwiri will celebrate his 37th birthday. Retirement, however, is not on his mind.
“Maybe when I hit my 40s. Nobody goes to retirement by themselves. It’s the body that tells you time is up. Of course, you can know when you are approaching retirement. For example, when sparring partners are getting the better of you. If this happens, then know things are not right,” he noted.
At the moment, the Kenya Prisons Service officer says that when he enters the ring to do sparring, he leaves the young boxers on the canvas.
“It means I’m still okay. I know that in my next bout I will have sharpened my claws and I’ll make my fans and Kenyans happy,” said Okwiri who was introduced to boxing while in Form One at Serani High School by his uncle Hannington Okaya.
One thing still on his bucket list, he revealed, is winning the big professional belts. Never giving up is one lesson Okwiri has learned.
“There was a time in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when I asked myself ‘what am I still doing in boxing? Should I just go back to my prison job?’ But something told me to keep going,” he said.
During that time, the boxing calendar around the world remained suspended. Kenya suspended sports in March 2020 for almost a year to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“I weighed my options, and when my manager called me in the USA in 2021 to train, I accepted.”
In the US, he trained for about one month before travelling to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where he outpunched Ugandan John Serunjogi in the eighth round of their non-title fight in October 2021.
He had to wait until June 2022 for another fight against Congolese Emmany Kalombo in Johannesburg. The Congolese won the super middleweight fight.
“I think the long lay-off between the two fights cost me. But all in all that’s boxing. There are no excuses.”
After his stint in South Africa, Okwiri returned to Kenya and landed a matchup against Ugandan Kassim Ouma. “East Africa boxing lacks professionalism. I was supposed to fight Kassim in Uganda in December 2022 but due to unavoidable circumstances, it did not happen,” he explained.
With no bout on the horizon for him after his exploits in Uganda, Okwiri decided to spend time with his family.
It was not long before he got an offer to fight and he said “bring it on”, going ahead to win the fight.
What can he attribute for his longevity in the ring?
“You must have the heart to continue with boxing whatever obstacles you come across,” said the Ziwani Primary old boy.
“You have to be somebody determined, who cannot give up. If I did not have these attributes, I’d have ditched boxing a long time ago. My agemates and those I trained with many years ago, have retired, but here I am.”
Said coach Gichuki: “Okwiri is not in bad shape. He only needs to work on a few areas including his technique.”
Okwiri’s next bout is on June 24 in Boston.