With Adebayo Olodan
Many Nigerians abandoned their beds to stay up midnight last weekend to watch the heavyweight bout between Shagamu-born Briton, Anthony Joshua and the undefeated Joseph Parker.
The boxing enthusiasts were however rewarded for their sacrifice as Joshua added WB0 to his WBA, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles with a grueling points defeat over the hard-fighting Parker.
The win was Joshua’s 21st straight victory and Parker’s first defeat in 25 bouts. Many who did not give the former any chance of rising to the apex of heavyweight boxing started giving him the attention after he defeated the fiery Wladimir Klitschko in the April 29, 2017 bout.
While there is no argument about the fact that Joshua’s parents hail from, Shagamu, Ogun State, I however believe that some Nigerians are claiming glory at a time we should cover our heads in shame.
The same Joshua who is arguably the most respected and adored active heavyweight boxer around the globe, at a time practically begged to represent Nigeria during trials ahead of the 2008 Olympics but no one gave him any chance. Joshua, who was born at Watford, United Kingdom was said to have returned to Nigeria to connect with his roots as a teenager. He was a hardworking teenager who will do any menial job to survive. At a time when he was residing at Ijebu-Ode, I was told, he engaged in bricklaying to survive, when no one noticed the talent in him.
His boxing talents would have died but for his persistence and will to succeed. Hardly had he returned to England when the coaches over there discovered Joshua is gifted hence he was listed among Great Britain’s contingent to the 2012 Olympics, where he won a gold medal.
Rather than celebrating Joshua beyond the British, I believe it is time for the Nigerian Sports Commission and other stakeholders to as a matter of urgency provide an enabling environment and better mechanism to discover and nurture talents at the grassroots.
The inter-schools competitions across the states and in the National Youths Games must be restructured and better planned in such a way that real talents within the age limit will be discovered. After such talents may have been discovered, it is imperative the needed facilities are provided for those athletes to train and develop. Those outstanding budding athletes from grassroots sports must be camped for a few years and allowed to compete internationally. With these in place, it will be effortless for the nation to replace most of its fading and ageing athletes ahead of the All African Games and summer Olympics.
Until, we put the right development plans in place with better funding and adequate facilities, Nigeria will continue to lose many of his talents like Anthony Joshua to advanced countries who will always give such athletes royal treatments.
Before the heavyweight bout last Thursday, Parker arrived Britain with an intimidating CV as he was undefeated though an underdog against Joshua.
Despite losing on unanimous decision, Parker at the end of the bout was able to justify his CV being the first man to take Joshua the distance in his professional career and even treatened to drag the champion into deep water.
On the night, Joshua yet again put in another promising display despite appearing to have weighed in almost a stone lighter than when he beat Carlos Takam back in October.
Worryingly, it seems Joshua, who is still in his late 20s, will rule the world of boxing for years to come. The likes of Wilder, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and even Tyson Fury will need more than their talent to get past Joshua because the young man seems to be getting better every week.
Age 26, Parker will need time to regroup, to recalibrate and to challenge Joshua or any other high profile boxer in the future.