As a boxer, Peter Oboh has carved a niche for himself. He is a Nigerian/British professional Light Heavy/Cruiser Heavyweight boxer who won the British Boxing Board of Control (BB of C) light heavyweight title, World Boxing Association (WBA), Inter-Continental light heavyweight title, and Commonwealth light heavyweight title.
Despite his success, Oboh, in a dramatic move dumped his boxing career to win souls for Christ and in this chat with SportingSun, Oboh opens up on his tortuous journey to the top of his game and how he eventually over came alcohol, booze and women.
How did boxing begin for you?
It started when I was a young boy. I loved wrestling. Initially I thought I was going to be a wrestler but with time I discovered that wrestling is ‘mago mago’. Everything is staged managed so I went for boxing but before I made that decision I watched Mohammed Ali and George Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle, which inspired me, greatly and from there the interest just grew because I just wanted to be a champion like Ali.
Tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in the richest neighbourhood in Apapa, in Lagos. My father worked with ex-military Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and later became a contractor for NPA so I didn’t lack anything. Whenever we had a street fight which was rare, I came out winner. But there was a young lady who beat me one day. I was trying to bully her but she bit the hell out of me (laughter). That was when I discovered that age and size matters.
How did your parents take it that their son was going into boxing?
At first my mum thought that I was joking. But when she saw that I was serious she supported me. For my dad it was okay; he was a military man.
How did you get into the boxing world?
I got involved in martial arts because I wanted to have an advantage over my fellow boxers. When I left Nigeria for Italy in 1990 it was because I wanted to become somebody in life. I had just finished secondary education and I was adventurous. I did not really have financial issues. My father believed in education and his philosophy was that after secondary school, his kids have to go abroad to study. However, one of my brothers died in America and after that my dad said everybody must school in Nigeria and that was my turn to travel so I rebelled. I wanted to go to America or England but it was not possible because of visa. Eventually I got my visa and traveled to Italy but my mum said I would be back within a few days. And when I got to Italy it was so tough; I even wanted to come back. But because I did not want to become a laughing stock I stayed. I went through hardship. I worked as a farmer. I was picking fruits and also working on construction sites; I was humbled.
As an ajebutter, how did you adapt to the rough life?
I discovered that the old saying ‘na condition make crayfish bend’ is true. I had never done that before and it was quite tasking. But I discovered that I could be training as a boxer as well. I saw a window of opportunity because the day I fail to deliver, I would be thrown out and I would be back on the streets again and that would be disastrous so I said I would work harder so I could be an outstanding boxer beyond my peers. In that process the idea of even having a girlfriend was like bad news. So I started reading my Bible more and before I knew it I had become a champion in Italy.
How did you win your championship?
I was in the amateur. I couldn’t see a white man beating me but I was naïve. In the 1990s seeing a black man boxing was like watching an American movie in Italy. They thought I was American because I was black and they believed that blacks make very good boxers. So when I got to the contest, this white guy beat the hell out of me! I was so tired and discouraged. The contest was a draw but in my heart, I knew I lost but because my coach was very influential, they made it a draw. He told me I had the zeal and passion but I needed to be well trained so I started regular training but since I was an amateur, I was having financial problems because as amateur you don’t really get paid. And if I had to get a full time job, so I decided to go into part time studies as well and got a job in a club as a bouncer. I worked weekends and the money took me through the week but something inside of me was telling me that one day I would become a champion. I kept pushing. For three years I worked as a bouncer. In that process I trained Monday to Friday and did part time studies. I am a sports scientist.
We understand that you were in Nigeria in the early 90s for national championship and like Anthony Joshua; you were rejected, what happened?
That was in the early 90s when I came back to Nigeria for national championship. It was in the Light heavy weight category during IBB tournament but they played me what I will call ‘Nigerian ojoro.’ We were camped for nine months and I was number one and there was another boxer that was number two. They matched me up with a Ghanaian boxer and frustrated me and I got disqualified so number two because number one and he went to All African Games and won gold and qualified for the Olympics. But if I look back now I lost because I was naive. In Nigeria and England, the way they make their choice is different. In Nigeria you have to be very loyal to the coaches. You wake up in the morning and wash their cars and are very submissive. That is when they can push you forward. In England, they want to see your discipline in the sports; they want you to be a real champion. I realised that every morning, boxers woke up as early as 5am to wash coaches and trainers cars. I never understood what they were doing. I was like ‘what is this all for?’ That was how I discovered that in amateur boxing, the coaches could programme the fights sometimes. If they want you to be a champion, they will give you special training. If they want you to lose, they will ignore you when you make mistakes. It takes a miracle for you to be a champion if the coaches are against you.
Why did you leave boxing for ministry?
While I was in boxing, I became a Christian and became very religious. I was dedicated to the church and I was able to abstain from alcohol and women. The Lord called me. I kept seeing myself in dreams all in Africa preaching the gospel. It was so sever I thought something was wrong with me. I was having visions of people going to hell and seeing the end of the world and I felt I had to preach the gospel of repentance. Initially, I did not want to believe it because I was making money and becoming popular. At some point I realised that any contest that was arranged was canceled. I was the first British champion that had a title and did not get a fight for two years. It had never happened before! Once you have a title, people will want to fight you because win or lose, everybody makes money. Any contest planned fell through. At a point I told my manager that it seemed I had to stop boxing, that God doesn’t want me to box anymore. Initially he refused but later he budged. He knew why I took up the faith because I told him things that came to pass. I stopped boxing completely, embraced the gospel and never went back.