Sunday, February 11, 2007


If the bloodthirsty, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin were still alive he would be smiling - in between bites of human flesh, that is. Ugandan heavyweight Peter Okhello is preparing to fight Oleg Maskaev for the WBC heavyweight title on December 10th in Moscow and Amin should get some of the credit because after all, he was the person that popularized boxing in Uganda.

The former dictator and British colonial army sergeant (and reported cannibal) was the Ugandan army heavyweight champion for nine years between 1951 and 1960. When asked whether or not he was a cannibal, Amin answered: "No, I don't like human flesh. I tried it once or twice but it's too salty for me." It’s fitting then that Amin’s fickle tastebuds would have sampled the cutthroat sport that is boxing - because no sport chews people up and spits them out quite like boxing can.

Amin was a ruthless tyrant who controlled the country of Uganda during the decade of the 1970’s. Although he was responsible for the massacre of 300,000 of his own citizens, Amin is credited with instituting an amateur boxing program within Uganda that produced fighters such as Cornelius Boza Edwards, Ayub Kalule and John "The Beast" Mugabi. Make no mistake though, Okhello is nowhere near as capable as those three former world champions.

Peter Okhello has received a "Rocky Balboa-like" chance of a lifetime to fight for what was once considered the greatest prize in all of sports – the heavyweight championship of the world. Okhello has been plucked from anonymity much like Rocky Balboa was when he was matched against Apollo Creed for the fictional version of the heavyweight championship.

A Ugandan born, Japan-based heavyweight, Okhello was hand-picked for the Maskaev bout which will take place at the Olympic Sports Arena in Moscow. Oleg Maskaev’s manager, Dennis Rappaport, needed a live body that would fight back just enough so that Maskaev will still be the WBC heavyweight champion at the end of the night and he found that body in the form of Peter Okhello. It will be the first world heavyweight title fight ever staged in Russia.

Little is known about Okhello. What we do know is that he was the Ugandan amateur champion for five years and he made the jump from the amateurs to the pros in 1997. In a nine year career he has compiled a record of 18-4 (16)KO. Okhello moved to Japan when he launched his pro career but he was overmatched in his early bouts and suffered two losses in his first seven fights.

While there may be lots of heavyweight sumo wrestlers in Japan there aren’t many heavyweight boxers and as a result, it was difficult for Okhello to get the proper sparring - and the proper opposition.

Okhello’s early competition had to be brought in from New Zealand and the results of those fights were not good. In April 1999, Okhello was an embryonic 4-0 (4)KO when he was put in a twelve rounder with Toakipa Tosefa who had a record of 24-2-2 (20)KO for something called the OPBF heavyweight title. Okhello’s lack of experience showed through and he did very well to last the twelve round distance considering he had never fought more than three rounds in a fight – amateur or pro. Okhello would lose a unanimous twelve round decision to Tosefa and also his undefeated record.

Only two fights and seven months later, Okhello was again thrown in over his head when he fought another New Zealander, Kali Meehan, who was 14-0 (11)KO at the time. Although Okhello decked Meehan in the first round he would later fall apart and was stopped in three short rounds. The loss to Meehan left Okhello questioning his future in boxing and he didn’t fight again for 15 months.

After six straight wins in Japan against non-threatening opposition, Okhello signed a managerial contract with Bill Cayton in 2002. Cayton seemed like a great choice for a heavyweight trying to make his way in the world for it was Cayton who deftly moved the careers of a few pretty good heavyweights in their own right – Mike Tyson, Tommy Morrison and Michael Grant. The plan was for Okhello to live and fight in America to gain notoriety and attention. It was thought that he would benefit from the improved sparring opportunities and that he would also face higher quality opposition as his career progressed.

In September 2002, Okhello was matched against former Cruiserweight titlist Imamu Mayfield in Jersey City, New Jersey in his one and only appearance on American soil. It was Mayfield’s first fight as a heavyweight and Okhello outweighed Mayfield 255 to 214. The fight was televised by ESPN and what we saw in Okhello was a big, well put together heavyweight with some basic skills. Unfortunately for Okhello, he came up short against Mayfield and dropped a unanimous six-round decision. After the Mayfield loss, Okhello moved back to Japan, resumed his career and scored six straight knockout wins before losing to Sinan Samil Sam in Germany last year.

The scouting report on Okhello is that he has a rigid, stand-up, European style and is clumsy and plodding on his feet. At 6’4" he carries 250 pounds well, appears to be in good condition and he has decent hand speed and what looks like the beginnings of a credible left jab. The real knock against Okhello is that he has never won a fight outside of Japan and he has never beaten another fighter even ranked in the top 20.

Teddy Atlas was behind the mic for Okhello’s fight against Mayfield in 2002 and when describing what he saw Atlas called Okhello "cement footed" and that "Okhello throws punches like he pays for them" meaning he was much too conservative with his punch volume. Atlas faulted Okhello for following Mayfield around the ring, not cutting the ring off and for not throwing his left jab.

All of the stylistic flaws that Okhello possesses should bode well for Oleg Maskaev on December 10th. Neither man should have to go looking for the other so it could be a good, old-fashioned, heavyweight brawl with exchanges of big punches. Maskaev is not taking the Okhello challenge lightly and has this to say, "I know he’s a decent fighter. Like all of us heavyweights he’s a strong, big guy and he has a good right hand punch. It’s going to be a tough fight for me because it seems I don’t have easy fights. It’s going to be another tough night. The fight will be in my hometown and my parents will be there, my wife will be there and so will my fans. It’s why I have to look good and it’s why I’m working hard." Okhello has won only two fights by decision in his entire career and Maskaev, like anybody that knows boxing, knows what can happen when one heavyweight hits another on the chin.

It could be a mouth-watering night in Moscow. Just hold the salt.

December 2006

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