Nigerian-born British heavyweight boxer, Anthony Olaseni Olawafemi Joshua is taking a deep level of inspiration from his recent trip to his ancestral roots and a visit to a Lagos slum, Makoko, as he seeks to rewrite history in his rematch against Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jnr this Saturday.
Ahead of the epic rematch in Saudi Arabia, ‘AJ’ recalls how he journeyed to Nigeria for the first time in 17 years, in a trip that saw him visit his father’s extended family in Sagamu, Ogun State then take a tour of shanties, charity homes and non-governmental organizations in Makoko, where he recalls seeing the efforts people put in to survive amazed him.
Makoko is a floating slum in the Lagos lagoon, a city built on stilts and struggling to stay afloat, easily within view of visitors and often attractive to tourists, with an estimated population of up to 300,000 people, but there is no official record of their existence.
Memories of those images have now stoked the zeal and fire in him to go all out and regain the world heavyweight belts he lost to Ruiz on June 1st in New York, USA, and ‘AJ’ recounted that seeing people battle to eke out a living in such a place of hardship, struggles and difficulties has encouraged him to overcome all odds, at a time when he is being doubted like never before.
He also recounted a visit to the pad of late Afro Beat music exponent, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in the state capital, and what a grand reception he received, but the biggest impact on his mind was how many of the people he met charged him to regain his lost belts from Ruiz.
Joshua told Sky Sports: “Nigeria has a massive population – the mega-rich, the poor, and not much in between. Makoko is at the lower end. It is overpopulated. We went into the back, back, back streets. They say politicians don’t even go there. The transportation is on boats.
“People were baffled that we went there. It is the ghetto. It is quite dangerous. Let’s say a space that could hold 500 people had 2,000 people in it. Imagine trying to walk. We were shoulder to shoulder. Even if they didn’t know who I was, they understood that there was something happening in the air that they wanted to know about. They didn’t want to let us go.
“We went to the Fela Kuti Shrine. It has become a social club where they can all watch my fights. They told me: ‘Make sure you go get those belts back’. That is massively inspiring.”