20 December 2012

Uganda: Fabulous Year for Joey Vegas Lubega

In a year the Ugandan boxing fraternity faced an unfamiliar reality of missing the Olympic gong, pro-fighter Joseph Lubega became the unexpected hero, writes Moses Mugalu.

Slim hopes of fielding at least two boxers in the 2012 Olympic Games in London were dashed in March after the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) and the National Council of Sports (NCS) blamed each other for the administrative wrangles in amateur boxing body, UABF.

The two bodies were mandated to step in for conflict-torn UABF (rival factions, one led by Godfrey Nyakana and the other by Dr Ntege Ssengendo, both claim legitimacy) and prepare national team boxers (The Bombers) for Olympic qualifiers. Unfortunately, such cooperation didn't happen, condemning the country's boxers out of the Olympics for the first time in more than 30 years.

But as pugilists and general sports fraternity nursed the Olympic misfortune, Lubega turned-up as the unlikely hero by winning the World Boxing Council International (WBC-I) light heavyweight title in September. Lubega, who fights under the names 'Fabulous Joey Vegas', earned the title shot in dramatic fashion and so did his victory as he stopped Trinidad and Tobago's Kirt Sinnette in four rounds.

Before the fight, Lubega was a massive underdog; he had lost six of his last 10 fights, compared to Sinnette's prior record of 21 wins and one loss. However, the 30-year-old Ugandan defied the odds and lived up to his 'Fabulous' nickname to knockout Sinnette before a noisy home crowd in Port-of Spain.

After capturing the WBC-I title, a subsidiary belt for the highly treasured WBC, Lubega joined the exclusive class of Ugandan legends Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Ayub Kalule, John 'The Beast' Mugabi, Kassim 'The Dream' Ouma, Justin 'The Destroyer' Juuko and Jackson 'Action' Asiku.

That further justifies why Lubega's achievement stands out in a troublesome year for the boxing fraternity. Some other positives in the year include a smooth change in administration in pro-boxing commission (UPBC), where Moses Kiyingi Bbosa took charge from Celestino Mindra after general elections in November.

In the same month, Ugandan amateur boxers celebrated their return to international action as three national team pugilists (Fazil Juma, Rogers Ssemitala and Emmanuel Nsubuga) competed in the AIBA world youth championships in Armenia. Results from the event are not as encouraging - the trio lost at preliminary stage.

Earlier in May, the boxing fraternity toasted to a rare visit by former world champion Cornelius Bbosa 'Boza' Edwards who migrated to the US after his illustrious career in the 80s. On a sad note, US-based Sharif 'The Lion' Bogere's scheduled world title fight against Cuban Richard Abril was cancelled in November due to an injury he sustained while training. Bogere, 24, had widely been tipped to win a world title this year.

And, a much-hyped fight between Isaac Zebra Ssenyange and Haruna 'Banabana' Ddiba turned chaotic with fans hauling objects into the ring at Lugogo Indoor Arena.

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