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Efe Ajagba: ‘My time is coming’

Heavyweight Efe Ajagba. Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp/TrappFotos
Fighters Network
21
Dec

NEW YORK — In seven pro fights, only one has not ended officially in a knockout for Efe Ajagba. That fight was the shortest and has done more to build his reputation in the sport, even though he’s still competing at the six-round level.

His fight against Curtis Harper this past August was set for the Minneapolis Armory, a historic venue where Sugar Ray Robinson and Charley Burley had once passed through to fight. Harper had figured to be a step-up, having gone the eight-round distance against Chris Arreola a few years earlier. What went through Harper’s mind as he stepped through the ropes and walked back to the dressing room in front of a live television audience, only he knows. Harper, who was disqualified, claimed it was in protest of a pay dispute; his trainer has repeatedly dismissed those claims.

Ajagba believes Harper had seen video of his previous knockout wins and was acting in self-preservation.

“I think the guy’s very smart. He knows what’s going to happen,” said Ajagba (7-0, 6 knockouts), an imposing 6-foot-4, 235-pound heavyweight from Ughelli, Nigeria.



The clip went viral on social media, inspiring everything from memes to conspiracy theories. However Ajagba wasn’t happy; since turning pro in July of 2017, he has had just 11 rounds of action (the round against Harper was comprised of but one second) and the struggle to get the 24-year-old experience has been real.

Ajagba returns to the ring this Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against Santino Turnbow (4-3, 3 KOs) on the undercard co-headlined by the Charlo Brothers Jermall and Jermell. It’ll be his last fight before stepping up to the eight-round level, where Ajagba hopes to find opponents more enthusiastic to step in with him.

It wasn’t too long ago when Ajagba didn’t have to look for fights; they’d look for him.

One day, as a 17-year-old soccer player, Ajagba was walking home when a woman splashed water on him without provocation. She had her musclebound boyfriend next to her for back-up and Ajagba was indignant. Words were exchanged and tensions escalated.

“I told the guy, ‘Your girl threw water on my body and she didn’t say sorry. So what is the point?’” remembered Ajagba. Ajagba demanded an apolog, and when one wasn’t forthcoming, Ajagba cracked the muscleman in the left eye with his fist and put him down. Problem solved.

His friends convinced Ajagba to put down the soccer ball and put on gloves to cultivate this natural talent they had seen in him and a year later, Ajagba had made the state team in Nigeria. Two years later, in 2014, Ajagba represented his country for the first time abroad, earning bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and taking gold at the African Games in 2015.

 

It wasn’t until 2016, when he face-planted Nigel Paul with one right hand, in his opening fight at the Rio Olympics, that the world first got an inkling of his punching power. He lost a decision in his next fight to eventual bronze medalist Ivan Dychko but Ajagba was now in demand as he weighed his options before turning pro.

First he linked up with international dealmaker Mirko Wolf, who began courting potential managers. There was Floyd Mayweather Jr. but Mayweather wasn’t interested in heavyweights. Then there was Lennox Lewis but Ajagba wasn’t excited about fighting out of the Great White North (“I’ve never heard of boxing in Canada,” said Ajagba). Then Wolf brought up the name Shelly Finkel, whom Ajagba had never heard of. Ajagba ran his name through a Google search and saw he had worked with previous world champions Wladimir Klitschko, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and many other top heavyweights.

Ajagba says Finkel offered him twice what Lewis had and, soon after, Ajagba was on board.

He now trains with Ronnie Shields down in Texas and has become a staple of Premier Boxing Champions cards around the United States.

Given his young age, there’s no rush to move Ajagba. Ajagba isn’t even beginning to look into the realm of facing lineal champion Tyson Fury, WBC titlist Deontay Wilder or IBF/WBA/WBO beltholder Anthony Joshua. All things in due time, he says.

“I don’t want to talk about them. It’s not my time. My time is coming,” said Ajagba.

 

 

 

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