By Bennie Mundando
HE flew the Zambian flag high after the country’s hopes of winning the 1988 Olympics gold medal in football with the highly famed KK-11 inspired by soccer legend Kalusha Bwalya, agonisingly grounded to a halt after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of high-flying Germany.
But before then, Zambia was a team to watch especially after embarrassing Italy 4-0 in the game where Bwalya had an all-rounded perfect performance, making scoring look easy after he scored a hatrick. But that was not all. The KK-11 beat Guatemala by the identical scoreline in the next game and looked like the African sauntering train out to crush and conquer the whole world.
Bubbling with confidence from the two previous games in which they scored a plethora of goals, the KK-11 finally found their match when the Germany machines comprehensively battered them and consequently eliminated them from the tournament.
While history had been perfectly written over this uncharted feat, it also turned out to be a great disappointment for Zambia to a point where the entire nation forgot that it still had a chance of minting a medal in the tournament through boxer, Anthony “Preacher-man” Mwamba who was still in the contest.
Anthony Mwamba was born on August 8,1960 and stayed in Chingola up to the time he was 20 years old when his exploits caught the eyes of many promoters across the country but was eventually snatched by Green Buffaloes Armature Boxing Club sponsored by the Zambia Army.
This is because by the time he turned 14, spurring in the boxing ring as an armature boxer became his daily bread and his love for the sport sprung him to becoming a figurehead in armature boxing and a marvel to watch.
Moving to Lusaka seemed to be a perfect and well-timed decision for him as it cemented his boxing career and within two years of this switch, Mwamba stepped on the international scene but he only managed to mint his maiden gold medal at home during the International Military Sports Council (CISM) Games held in Lusaka,
Then, it rained medals for the soft-spoken boxer. In 1984 Mwamba again represented Zambia and shined at the World Military Games in Uganda but could not reach the finals of the prestigious tournament as he was eliminated in the semi-finals but this exposure to the international stage helped him grow in confidence in the ring.
A year later, Mwamba headed to Zimbabwe in the same CISM tournament that had given him his first gold medal and was part of the Zambian team that won the championship.
Mwamba was again in the squad that won the 1985 championship at the CISM Games in Zimbabwe and it was the Zimbabwe outing that caught the eye of the boxing world and it was in the same year that he was invited to the European championships in Germany where he minted bronze.
More achievements followed. In 1985, he won gold in the East and Central African championships in Mozambique. He repeated the same feat in the following year in Kenya. But could not participate in the 1987 All-Africa Games after being disqualified for being overweight.
In 1988, Mwamba was part of the he 1988 Summer Olympics officially known as the Games of the XXIV Olympiad and commonly known as Seoul 1988 in South Korea and after the elimination of the Zambia national soccer team, he remained the only one flying our flag.
He still vividly recalled the events that followed Zambia’s elimination and how the national teams players motivated him to work hard and put Zambia on the map since they had been eliminated from the global showpiece.
“After the Zambia national team was eliminated, they came back from Kwangju joining us in Seoul, the Capital City. I was being encouraged by the footballers who were taking me to the gymn.
“I had five fights to reach the quarter-finals and the guys who were accompanying me to the gymn were Webby Chikabala, Eston Mulenga, Efford Chabala, and Pearson Mwanza. We had a very good relationship with the guys,” Mwamba recalled.
In 1989, Mwamba reached the quarter-finals of the world championships held in Russia before fighting in the TSC tournament in Germany and another competition, the Goldova Gardin, in Cuba.
During the New Zealand 1990 Commonwealth Games, Mwamba won a bronze medal and then turned professional in 1991.
Among Mwamba’s contemporaries in the amateur ranks had been Chris Kapopo, Patrick “Malubilo” Chisanga, Henry “Nigger” Kalunga, Tex Mwanza and Keith “Spinks” Mwila. Mwila’s bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles remains unsurpassed in boxing to date.
After joining the ranks, a lot was to be expected from the hard-hitting Mwamba. In two non-title fights, Mwamba defeated national champion Stone Phiri. In only his third professional fight, he grabbed the national lightweight title from Lyson Njilamanda.
Later, Mwamba staked his title against national light-middleweight champion Mathews Mwape in a double title duel. Through a ninth round knockout, Mwamba became double champion.
Just when he appeared to be the next big thing after the days of Lottie Mwale, Charm “Shuffle” Chiteule, Chisanda “Kent Green” Mutti and John “Big Joe” Sichula, Mwamba dropped a bombshell.
Veteran writer Kennedy Limwanya, recounts that Mwamba disappointed many of his fans when he decided to quit boxing when he was at the peak of his career.
“Just after two years as a professional, he became born again and quit boxing. He began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, hence the nickname “Preacherman”. Seven years later, at 40, Mwamba made a comeback and defied age to register eight impressive fights. In 2002, Mwamba retired for good from active boxing to concentrate on grooming Esther and, later, other boxers under Exodus Boxing Promotions.
“I have known Mwamba at personal level for well over 20 years.
We lived in the same neighbourhood in John Laing compound in Lusaka from late 90s to early 2000s. I would, later, work closely with him in the background when Esther was still an unknown gem in the rough. By that time, I was working for the Times of Zambia. Esther’s ascendancy to stardom hugely helped in rekindling the interest of the Zambia people in boxing. The Esther Phiri success story is proof of Mwamba’s tenacity in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
“In a sport mainly associated with post-active career financial woes, Mwamba is the only former Zambian professional boxer to have ventured into boxing promotion and achieved relative success.
After many years of carrying the Zambian flag, many former boxers are in dire straits.
It is for this reason that Mwamba has organised exhibition fights aimed at raising money for the suffering retired boxers,” Limwanya recounts.
He says Mwamba returned to boxing to raise money to buy a rehabilitation home for boxers who were homeless.
“This is my vision. If I were as rich as Floyd Mayweather, I could have bought a house to accommodate all the boxers who are not doing fine. My heart is with my fellow boxers who are not doing well. I’m calling on all former boxers who are upright to join me and help our friends. They did not choose to be like that. They need help from us,” Mwamba said in his interview with Limwanya last year.
However, Mwamba’s return to boxing was not without controversy. His passion for boxing at times found him at loggerheads with relevant authorities.
Between 2013 and 2014, he and the Zambia Professional Boxing Board of Control (ZPBBC) had a tumultuous period with the earlier being embroiled in a number of discipline charges for openly criticising the World Boxing Council (WBC) over its rating committee, among other things.
Sometime in 2013, the ZPBBC had given a three-month suspension to Mwamba but thanks to former Minster of Sports Chishimba Kambwili who used his discretion to quash the suspension saying the decision was too harsh and detrimental to the promotion of boxing in the country.
Kambwili called on associations that were in the habit of banning their members to be considerate when making certain decisions and look at ways of improving the sport in the country rather than being personal when making decisions.
He said it was important for associations to put the interest of the sport ahead of their personal issues when making decisions but should work towards achieving their goal.
Kambwili said Mwamba’s boxing experience was needed to contribute to the development of boxing in the country adding that he had also heard that boxers at the trainer’s gymnasium were not training because their mentor was banned.
Mwamba had passionately and religiously participated in boxing, first, as a boxer, and secondly, as promoter up to his death in the wee hours of Thursday, January 21, 2021, at the Levy Mwanawasa Hospital in Lusaka Zambia.