Sierra Leone is one of 14 countries expected to compete in the regional West Africa Boxing Championships known as “Zone 2” in Togo this weekend (April 1-4). However, Sierra Leone will not be represented. This missed opportunity is not due to lack of talents and dedication of its top boxers or coaches. Meet the four members of the National Boxing Team who were selected to represent Sierra Leone in the tournament, but who sadly will not have the chance to bring home medals this time
. Franklyn Mayei, 25, is the Team Captain. He is a lightweight fighter (60kg) who was recently recruited to box for the Sierra Leone Police. Franklyn is considered a versatile and intelligent fighter with a combination of remarkable hand speed, footwork, power and endurance. He is also known for his distinctive taunting style that provokes and avoids blows. He is considered a top candidate for representing Sierra Leone professionally after his amateur career. Franklyn started boxing at the age of nine, encouraged by his uncle who spotted his talent earlier on. He has since had a vibrant international start to his career. At the age of 15, he took bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, where he remained and competed in regional and national competitions. For two consecutive years, he won Great Britain’s largest and most prestigious amateur boxing competition, the ABA Championship (2004 & 2005). After this, he was invited to represent the British National Team, which he did with great success for two and a half years; winning gold against the USA and Sweden in 2007. He returned to Sierra Leone in 2009 and has proved to be undefeated in national competitions. In 2010 he set a record at the Zone 2 West Africa Championships in Mali for the fastest knockout in the competition. His role models have been Mohamed Ali, whom he admires for his style and footwork, and Mike Tyson, for his powerful punches.
Mohammed Sillah, from Guinea, was recently selected through trials to be the welterweight fighter for the team (69kg). At 20 years, he is also the youngest member of the team. Sillah is a promising upcoming fighter who demonstrates good hand speed, mobility and excellent defensive skills. Sillah won 3/5 bouts in Guinea, and counts 5/6 wins in local friendly fights in Freetown. He has yet to get the opportunity to prove himself in international competitions. Sillah followed his boxing mentor and inspiration, Mohammed Samura, a National Team Coach known to the boxers as Coach Pisting, from Guinea to come train in Sierra Leone.
Abdul R. Bangura, 28, from the Sierra Leone Police is a middleweight fighter (75kg). Abdul is considered an intelligent and skilled technical fighter with excellent mobility and speed who has to work on his ability to take blows. He started boxing at the age of 10 in Makeni, encouraged by his father, former Head Coach Ali Bangura. He is inspired by Mohammed Ali, for his ability to entertain the crowd while fighting. He has fought internationally in the Zone 2 tournament in Gambia in 2006, where he won the bronze medal, and lost his first international middle weight competition at Zone 2 in Mali in 2010. At home he has fought in 19 inter-forces competitions, winning 16.
Edward Bangura, commonly known as Song, is 25 and a light heavyweight fighter (81kg). He is considered by many to be the best military boxer. He is a pound for pound fighter, known for his strength and his courage in taking and giving powerful blows. He has great potential to compete at the international level, and needs to expand his skills and tactics. He is also dedicated in his training and is not easily discouraged. He has won 15/17 fights (a mix of local friendly and inter forces competitions), including 4 knockouts.
Three of these were fought against West African boxers in the 2008 Zone 2 competition held in Freetown, where he won the silver medal for the middleweight category. Song started boxing at the age of 20 when he was identified during a military football match. He is inspired by Manny Pacquiao, for his speed and powerful punch, and by Mike Tyson, for his aggression, strength, energy and courage.
These impressive boxers will not have the chance to test their skills against other West African fighters or to honour Sierra Leone on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary of Independence. The question they all ask is, why? Why did they only learn of their selection a week before the start of the tournament, and for some, by radio? Why was it not possible to foresee the need for funds and to plan accordingly? Why, one day before they should be stepping into the ring, have they still not been officially notified that they will not be competing after all? Beyond this, why have they never received medical or any other kind of support necessary to be a fighter? Why has the Governing Association been so inactive in organizing local competitions? Why have the boxers’ own attempts to unite themselves across uniform and civilian clubs, and to organize their own competitions been frustrated? Why is the sports Ministry seemingly oblivious to this problem? And finally, why, in this type of environment, do they continue relentlessly to train and fight? Surely this fact, if nothing else, testifies to some of the real diamonds that Sierra Leone should be noticing and harvesting.
Noëlle Rancourt is an Independent Consultant who trains with the National Boxing Team in Freetown