Ganiyu Salman with agency report
Prior to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last July, little was known about Elizabeth Oshoba. She was among the Nigerian boxers training hard and waiting to hit the stardom at any slightest opportunity.
And when the opportunity came, the Ogun State-born amazon did not fail to utilise it, as she made the headlines by the time the Birmingham 2022 ended with a silver medal to show in the featherweight category.
Interestingly, Oshoba was the only Nigerian boxer who won a silver medal at Birmingham 2022 as the three other boxing medallists from Team Nigeria- Ifeanyi Onyekwere; [men’s super heavyweight] Cynthia Ogunsemilore; [women’s lightweight] and Jacinta Umunnakwe, women’s middleweight only settled for the bronze.
At Birmingham 2022, Oshoba outpunched Erin Walsh of New Zealand 5-0 in the round of 16 and Tianna Guy of Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 in the quarterfinal while she triumphed over Australian Tina Rahimi in the semifinal 4-1 before she suffered her first defeat [0-5] eventually in the final of the featherweight at the hands of Michaela Walsh of Northern Ireland.
Following her exploits in the amateur ranks, Oshoba relocated to the United Kingdom and settled down in Bristol to begin her pro career winning all her four fights so far.
Oshoba on pro debut in Lagos on September 18, 2022 floored Margaret Ibiam by TKO and Haminat Yekini also in the first round, before she had her first fight in UK last November where she outclassed Gabriella Mezei at Regent Circus, Swindon also by TKO.
Again, Oshoba on March 10 also subdued her fourth opponent, home lady Kirsty Hill, at York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, winning by 58-56 points after six rounds of exchange of blows to take her pro record to 4-0.
Hill, who was unbeaten before the fight gave Oshoba the toughest opposition in her career and no wonder, the latter admits this through her social media posts.
“Thank God for the winning, congratulations to me. Never give up on your dreams …
“It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nothing is impossible. Big future ahead trust the process,” an elated Oshoba writes after her victory over Kirsty.
She admits the pound-for-pound for trade is not an easy venture.
“Making it in boxing is tough, so you have to take your opportunities,” Oshoba told BBC Sport.
The 23-year-old is a promising featherweight prospect currently fighting out of Bristol.
Originally from Ogun State in Western Nigeria, what makes Oshoba’s case so unusual is that she chose to do that not in her home country, but in western England, supported by promotional company Neilson Boxing.
She is joined in this venture by Oluwatosin Kejawa, a 21-year-old super middleweight from Lagos. A former two-time Nigerian amateur champion, Kejawa shares Oshoba’s outlook.
Kejawa also on March 10 at the York Hall outclassed Ukrainian Serhii Ksendzov 60-54 to take his pro record to 8-0 including 5KOs.
“In Africa it is very hard to build a career as a boxer. There are no good promoters. It’s impossible to find sponsorship, but in the UK, things are different,” he told BBC Sport.
That’s not to say their move has been straightforward. The shift from living and training in Nigeria, to the Gloucestershire-Somerset border has involved a lot of adjustment.
“The weather is a big issue and of course the food,” Kejawa laughs.
“But the training facilities and the potential to develop are so much better.”
‘How I embraced boxing’
Interested in many sports but especially football and table tennis, Oshoba grew up as a villager in a rural area. She admits she was reluctant at first to try boxing.
“When I was around 12, my brother had the idea for me to box, but I wasn’t keen,” she recalls.
“I didn’t know much about boxing and didn’t even know girls could do it. It seemed very risky. I was scared about getting hit in the face.”
In the end, Oshoba caved in, went to the local gym, and fell in love with the sport despite her initial misgivings. Fear was rapidly replaced with excitement.
“There were other female boxers there, which encouraged me, and I improved quickly,” she says.
“Although the gym was very basic. It had just one heavy bag, for example, which was filled with sand.”
From that starting point, Oshoba went on to have around 60 amateur fights, winning all but three, culminating in her Commonwealth medal.
By contrast, Kejawa began his journey with greater enthusiasm. He grew up in Bariga, a poor district of Lagos, where he was fascinated with combat sports from a young age.
“As a kid I especially loved wrestling” he explains. “WWE, all that stuff.
“I used to enjoy kung fu movies as well, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and all those guys. Then when I was around seven years old, a boxing coach moved into the compound where I lived.
“It was so lucky. He began training kids right there and I joined in. It all took off fast.
“I had my first competitive fight at eight years old and I’ve been boxing ever since.”
By the time he was in his teens, Kejawa had established himself as one of Nigeria’s top amateur fighters.
As many young people do, he began posting updates and videos to social media, not knowing that it would lead to something unexpected.
Murray to the rescue
Both boxers found their lives changed when they were approached online by Somerset-based businessman Sean Murray.
Having set up a fledgling sports management company, Murray scoured Instagram for inspiration, where he came upon videos of Oshoba and Kejawa in action.
“The first time I spoke to Tosin on a video call, he explained how much he needed to get out of Nigeria to further his career,” Murray recalls.
“I could see the talent there, so that’s what started the ball rolling.”
Murray is aware that this represents something of an unusual move. He financially supports Oshoba and Kejawa with the hope they can become stars in the future.
While it is common for away corner fighters to travel from abroad, it is less common for a boxer to set up home so far away from their own base.
As covered on previous editions of Small Hall Spotlight, the way small hall boxing is financed means early career boxers are generally under great pressure to sell tickets.
Those unable to sell enough, don’t fight. At this stage, Murray’s company is swallowing that expense.
“I knew it was going to be difficult financially, but I believe that as their careers develop, the eventual commercial rewards will come,” Murray says.
Responding to the victory of Kejawa on March 10, Murray posted through social media: “This young man has the world at his feet. 21 years old- learning every single fight and with this team around him he’s going to the very top. Very lucky to be working with two of the best young fighters in the game.”
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