Mohamed Ali has lost his last fight against Parkinson’s disease, but he will forever remain in the hearts of the boxers of the “Mohamed Ali head held high” club the one who once won the “Fight of the Century.”
At the Tata Raphaël stadium in Kinshasa, the thirty boxers, men, women and children who train almost every night seem astounded by the news: On the 3rd June 2016, Mohamed Ali died in Phoenix, United States as a result of a respiratory failure. The King of the ring was 74 years old and had spent 32 years fighting against Parkinson’s disease. 32 years is the age that he was when he fought George Foreman, who had only 24, on the 30th October 1974, in this same stadium. A fight whose memory is still vivid in the minds of these boxers, although most of them are too young to have witnessed it. Here, everyone claims the legacy of Mohamed Ali. For Safi Kikongo, the new champion of Kinshasa, he is “an inspiration”. For Jonathan, who just got his bachelor degree and joined the club a week ago, “is a legend.” Then he says, “it is when watching the documentary “When we were kings “, dedicated to the Fight of the Century that I made the decision to become a boxer. His death hurts a lot! We lost a great boxer. ”

Congolese boxers exercising at the Tata Raphael stadium in Kinshasa, DRC.

The fights and warm-ups keep coming amid a crowd of onlookers. Among them, many came to observe the fierce Rosette Ndongala, 23, Cameroon gold medalist at the 4th Junior African Women’s Championship, distinguishing herself from others with her muscular figure distinguishes which proves the seriousness of her training. With her stern face, this former street child starts air boxing to warm up. Then comes her coach: “Left! Right– right!’’. Rosette hits hard, letting out an angry growl. Judex Tshibanda established the boxing club in 1984 under the name “Olympiad Youth” after hanging up the gloves, but not before he won 2 titles of champion of Africa in 1979 in Egypt and 1981 in Angola. His meeting with Mohamed Ali has perhaps contributed to his victories. “At the time of the Battle of the Century, I was the youngest junior boxer of the Boyoma neighborhood’s club. I used to accompany Mamba Shako and Mukanda Bilsuza, who worked as sparring partners for Mohamed Ali. So I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend his training! When I became a senior boxer, I trained using a rope like him”. In 1995, Judex became the first coach to open his club to girls. “Mobutu had said that all the women had to work like men in every discipline in every area, so I told myself why not boxing!”. Since 3 years, the club renamed “Mohamed Ali head held high” in 2009, as a tribute to the champion and following the visit of one of his daughters, also welcomes young children for educational boxing sessions. With 67 licensees of all ages, despite the serious lack of financial resources, succession seems guaranteed for Congolese boxing. And with the death of his idol, Judex begins to dream of a great commemorative event directing international spotlights on Kinshasa … “with the help of the US Embassy”.

Text & Photos Gwenn Dubourthoumieu