–Nigeria pugilist bares it all as a professional boxer
SPORTS PLANET: Mr Segun Ajose, thank you for finding time to talk to us.
SEGUN AJOSE: Thank you for having me.
SPORTS PLANET: Segun Ajose has been a big name in the Nigerian boxing scene for so long. You’ve been like an idol to so many young boxers but they don’t really know too much about you or your background. Could you please tell us, who is Segun Ajose and how did you get into boxing?
SEGUN AJOSE: Segun Ajose is a Lagosian, even though my parents come from Ogun State. I was born and bred in Lagos, I schooled in Lagos and represented Lagos in the National Sports Festival, won a gold medal and joined the Nigerian Army. So all my life, most of my life, I’ve lived in Shomolu, before I started representing the country. I won gold at the All Africa Games in South Africa, went to the Olympics, won many international invitational tournaments in Europe and turned professional. I won the Nigerian title and the African title, won the Commonwealth title and the British title, fought for a world title and still going. So I went through my career stage by stage, I didn’t just burst on to the scene all of a sudden, it was a process.
SPORTS PLANET: You know a lot of boxers usually have vibrant amateur careers before they turn pro. At what point in your career did you know it was time for you to turn pro? What point did you know the amateur ranks were no longer for you and it was time for Segun Ajose to turn pro?
SEGUN AJOSE: Actually, I never wanted to turn pro , I disliked the pros in the past when I was growing up so I thought I was just going to do the amateur, then when I’m done, go to school then stop boxing. But then when I went to the Sydney Olympics, I was robbed against an American and when I got back, the Boxing Federation then wanted me to continue in the amateur ranks, but I was of the opinion then that if I wait in the amateur and I go to the Athens Olympics, there is no guarantee that I would also not be robbed in the Olympics and we weren’t really getting enough preparations here in Nigeria. So I thought you know what, I’ll just try to compensate for what I missed in the amateur, which is winning a gold medal in the Olympics because all the guys that won medals in the Olympics, I had beaten them on the international scene before the Olympics. The one who won a bronze medal, I beat him in the All Africa Games, the guy who won the second bronze medal, the Cuban, I beat him before the Olympics, the gold medalist was the most scared of me, the silver medalist was the one I was robbed against. So I was felt like, forget about it, maybe I would just try to compensate for it by turning pro and winning a world title in the process and that has been my goal so far, that’s what I have been working on achieving.
SPORTS PLANET: A lot of people say that being a professional boxer is one of the most difficult, most dangerous things a man can do. How true is this assertion?
SEGUN AJOSE: That is very true, it is difficult. But then you are aware of the risks so you try your best to avert it. Come on! Life itself is dangerous, you could be walking on the street and get hit by a car. You’re not even driving but on the street you get hit by a car. You’re minding your business and all of a sudden you have cancer, so life itself is dangerous, but then we boxers choose to risk our lives and get paid for it, then get some glory. So are we really smart or are we stupid? Looks like we are smart because life itself is dangerous but we still box. A lot of people die from motor accidents but you still take the bus, you still drive your car.
SPORTS PLANET: The reason I’m asking this is because you look at a lot of Nigerian parents, they readily let their children participate in Judo, Karate and any of the martial arts. But you would never readily see a Nigerian parent take his child into the boxing gym to actually learn how to be a boxer. Do you see this as some sort of hypocrisy that maybe boxing is more dangerous than any of the martial arts?
SEGUN AJOSE: Well, you are wrong and you are right. Once upon a time that was the case, thus you are right in that regard. Where you’re are wrong is that these days parents take their children to the gym. I can’t count how many parents have brought their children to me to train for boxing. It’s the best way to keep fit, secondly, it gives you a lot of confidence because you know you can defend yourself wherever you go, anywhere you go in the world. If the situation arises, then you can defend yourself. You can get a lot of accolades, you can represent the country and be famous like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquaio and yours truly, Segun Ajose. So now, parents are bringing their children to the boxing gym.
SPORTS PLANET: So let’s talk about your career, you lost a world title, international welterweight title against Lucas Mathis of Argentina which must have been really painful for you. Ever since that time, your career went on a sort of hiatus or some kind of sabbatical. What happened?
SEGUN AJOSE: Yeah! When I lost to Mathis, which was a fight I should have won. Mathis is a very good boxer, a tough boxer but I am tough as well and technically better than him but unfortunately on that night, he was a better prepared fighter than I was. So after that, I won another fight then I was inactive for a while, then I lost a fight I had no business losing. I had some personal issues, some problems behind the scene, so when I lost to Hank Lundy, it wasn’t Hank Lundy that beat me. I should not have been in the ring on that night, because I had a lot of personal issues, a lot of home issues, you know, my family matters and all that, I had some problems I was going through. I wasn’t even training with a coach, my coach was in Nigeria sick, he was in hospital on admission so I had no business being in the ring but out of sheer greed because of who I am, a Lagos tough guy, I thought to myself, don’t worry I’ll win. So I went and gave a good account of myself but lost on points, so I was inactive for a while because I didn’t get the right fight. So I was trying to get myself back, you know, get myself together, so when I thought, ok, now I’m getting back to where I used to be technically and mentally because boxing is not just about your technical ability and strength, no, there’s a lot of psychology and mental ability going on . So I thought ok, I’m ready now, I came back in December and I won. Now I can’t wait to get back into the ring.
SPORTS PLANET: Why is it so difficult for Nigerian professional boxers to really establish themselves in the international scene, is it a Nigerian problem or an African thing or is it a black issue?
SEGUN AJOSE: It’s not a black thing because if you are a black American and fighting in America, you are getting a lot of support from your community. If you are black British and fighting in Britain, you are getting support from the locals. If you are an African and fighting either in the United Kingdom or United States of America, it’s always difficult because unfortunately, especially if you are Nigerian, Nigerians don’t want to spend money to buy tickets to come and support their own. Sad to say, but an average Nigerian will prefer to spend like 100pounds in a bar, eating and drinking, and spend more than that if accompanied by women, than to spend 30 or 40 pounds to watch a live boxing match in a wonderful atmosphere and support a Nigerian boxer. I cannot count how many times I’m preparing for a fight in the United Kingdom and when the time comes for them (Nigerians resident there) to buy tickets, they will be like “Bros how can we get ticket” and I tell them “the ticket is this or that amount” and they reply “ you need to get us free tickets”. So I’m like, no, I don’t own the show, the promoter has to get paid from ticket sales. How am I also going to get paid? You need to buy tickets. If you want to go and watch football, you are not going to say you want to get in to the stadium free, you pay to watch football so why should you not pay to watch boxing? It’s just the Nigerian mentality, we don’t really pay. So if a boxer is not selling a lot of tickets, why would the promoter put you on? So we keep training, working hard. You’ll see African fighters whom you know are well trained but they are not getting the opportunities and all the guys you see on television, we beat them easily in the boxing gym. All the white boxers you see on television, we beat them well in the gym, we school them there.
SPORTS PLANET: Really?
SEGUN AJOSE: Yes, really. I mean I’m talking literally, some of them I’ll beat them with one hand kept behind my back.
SPORTS PLANET: You mentioned people like Chris Agiri, former welterweight champion.
SEGUN AJOSE: Yeah, yeah, he used to be my former sparring partner, he used to spar me. He gives me a lot of respect. I also respect the guy for what he achieved now, but not in a million years could he have thought that he will be a world champion today before me. But because he is a white American, fighting in the United States, obviously, he will get opportunities before I will. I was number one contender for three years in the WBC, I didn’t get a world title shot. That’s criminal.
SPORTS PLANET: Why?
SEGUN AJOSE: It’s because we couldn’t play the politics, it’s all about business as well. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the support of the people that would push for us.
SPORTS PLANET: It’s not as if other fighters were running scared or anything…..
SEGUN AJOSE: Well, that was part of the issue, but still WBC would have enforced the rules, you know.
SPORTS PLANET: Mandatory defence…
SEGUN AJOSE: Yes. I was mandatory challenger. Eric Morales wasn’t supposed to fight for a world title when he fought for it. I was supposed to fight for it, they bypassed me, gave Eric Morales the shot and promised me that when Eric wins, I’ll fight him, that Eric had to fight me. Ok, I went to the WBC convention, saying, now Eric Morales has won, how about a fight? But no, instead they brought Danny Garcia, saying, whoever wins the fight between Eric Morales and Danny Garcia, fights you for sure. That did not happen. I went to the Press Conference after Danny Garcia won, asking him, are you going to fight me now? He didn’t fight. So when they eventually brought Mathis, I had only four weeks to prepare for a world title fight! I wasn’t even training in the gym because I had exhausted all my savings preparing and I didn’t get any sponsorship. So it’s always very difficult and that is the same situation with a lot of Nigerians abroad, we’re not getting the sponsorship, so if you are not getting the sponsorship it is always difficult.
SPORTS PLANET: Let’s talk about your career now. You fought last in December and you had a good win. What does 2015 hold for Segun Ajose?
SEGUN AJOSE: I foresee a very good 2015 and a very good year for me. All I have to do is to keep working hard in training, hopefully get some sponsorship and prepare. Get some support for the government and corporate bodies, and get into the ring and do what I do best. You know, perform well. I’m a performer, I get there, I will perform so that’s what I need to do. Now I am with Al Hayman, having Al Hayman in my corner will bring opportunities so all I have to do is be ready to grab the opportunities.
SPORTS PLANET: Is there any chance of a world title fight this year?
SEGUN AJOSE: Absolutely! I see myself fighting towards the third or last quarter of the year.
SPORTS PLANET: I hope you know there are some particularly dangerous fighters in your weight category?
SEGUN AJOSE: I’m a Lagos boy, I’m more dangerous. Come on! I’ve been in this game for a while, those guys are good no disrespect to them and I am good too, probably even better.
SPORTS PLANET: Finally, what word of advice do you have for all the young aspiring boxers out there, those who are hoping to follow in your footsteps or even surpass you? Those who want to be world champions, Nigerian or African lads who you’ve inspired. What words do you have for them?
SEGUN AJOSE: Be determined and always believe in yourself. Unfortunately we tend to not believe in ourselves as much as we should do and when it comes to international sports you need to believe in yourself more than anything. If you don’t do that, well, unfortunately you’re not going to go far, you need to have confidence in yourself, it’s all about confidence. You have the ability, then you need to have confidence in yourself to be able to use that ability. Spend a lot of time in the gym, make the gym your house. That’s the way I’ve always done it. I try to live very close to the gym so if I think about a particular gym that I’m supposed to have, I just get dressed and go straight to the gym, I try to live somewhere that is a walking distance to the boxing gym. So that’s what they’ve got to do, even in Nigeria, I can guarantee you, if you come to my house, it’s like a 5 minute walk to the gym, not drive but 5minutes walk to the gym. That’s how I do it and I’ve seen a lot of boxers get successful like that. Not just boxers but sportsmen and athletes. You have to believe in yourself and you have to practice what you preach. You should also try to establish yourself in Nigeria before you go abroad, going abroad is not the ultimate, make your mark here then go abroad.
SPORTS PLANET: How can potential sponsors contact you? How can they join team Ajose?
SEGUN AJOSE: Please contact me on my twitter handle @ajoseolusegun or my Facebook page olusegunajose or through my agent, [email protected] He is the one handling my sponsorship, speak with him. Obviously it is going to benefit every corporate body that comes along, we are going to make it worth their while.
SPORTS PLANET: Segun Ajose, thanks for your time
SEGUN AJOSE: You are welcome.