John Baker Muwanga, one of Uganda’s most respected boxing champions, was born on April 2, 1956 in nearby Kampala, growing up in Nsambya. Joseph Nsubuga, another of Uganda’s renowned former boxers, was Muwanga’s older half-brother.
Equally unique and fascinating is how Muwanga started boxing, how he progressed and why and how he hung up his gloves. His path to boxing began when his half brother Nsubuga, who was born in Kenya in the early 1950s, performed in 1963 at the family home in Nsambya while accompanied by his sister and mother. The children’s father had been an employee of the East African Railways and Harbors, where he worked in Kenya. Muwanga was delighted to have an older brother close by. Nsubuga had dabbled in boxing. Soon, Muwanga would accompany Nsubuga to the police boxing club in Nsambya, a few times. But Muwanga was not impressed with the sport. Furthermore, Muwanga’s mother would soon leave home and take Muwanga and one of her sisters with her to live elsewhere. He soon ended up being a student at Mugwanya Preparatory School (Kabojja), a boarding school; and was subsequently transferred to sister school St. Savio Primary School on Entebbe Road.
At Savio in 1969, Muwanga ended up fighting a bully who turned out to be the son of a politically prominent person. As a result, Muwanga was expelled from the school. His father was very furious and assured him that he would never get anywhere. Meanwhile, Brother Nsubuga was making steady progress in boxing, Muwanga attracted attention for being the brother, although he was comparatively weak and not as tough as his boxing brother. It is here that Muwanga decided to try boxing. He was paired with gambling opponents, got hit hard and laughed at. The people of northern Uganda had a reputation for being good boxers, and Muwanga was discouraged from continuing to box on the grounds that those boxers would “kill you for nothing.” But the taunts only made Muwanga more determined to refute the skeptics.
Muwanga dared to enter the national youth championships that were held in the Nsambya police shed. He would represent the Nsambya Boxing Club. In that place and time, those days, medical tests weren’t up to scratch and weren’t taken seriously. Muwanga was allowed to box. He was paired with an opponent Tilima from the Naguru Boxing Club. In the fight, Muwanga did not prove his worth; his opponent, who was much better than him, tried his best not to humiliate him. Tilima even pretended to have been knocked down, even when he hadn’t been hit. Muwanga writes (personal communication, June 10, 2014):
“What a show !!! This guy tried his best not to humiliate me but failed people laughed until tears ran down his cheeks. The guy even pretended to be knocked down by the air with a punch he had thrown at about ten inches from him. ” He got a warning for that. I lost and the crowd laughed. “
Muwanga’s associates would laugh at him for that fight. This made him live longer to become a good boxer. One early Sunday he decided to go to the Kampala Boxing Club in Nakivubo. Muwanga writes: “I went to KBC in Nakivubo, determined to learn to box or die” (Personal communication, June 10, 2014). The club was closed.
Muwanga returned to KBC early the next morning. There, a fellow James Bond Okwaare made fun of how Muwanga had boxed. Okwaare was quickly rebuked by national coach Erias Gabiraali. Muwanga began training there when he met some of the national boxers who entered. These included Ayub Kalule, Cornelius Bbosa Boza-Edwards, Mustafa Wasajja, Ben Ochan, Alex Odhiambo, Ochodomuge, and David Jackson. Even Muwanga’s brother, Nsubuga, would come. To conclude, Muwanga writes (personal communication, June 10, 2014):
“One day I was surprised to hear that my brother was going to Scotland [Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, 1970] to represent Uganda. I couldn’t believe, not only that other urchins from the ‘village’ were also going to make the kids in the slum next door that was Katwe Kinyoro sweeter, people like John Opio were on the team too !!! There was justice in honest sweat, hard work and discipline … the rest is history. “
At the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh on July 18, 1970, 16-year-old Joseph Oscar Nsubuga (lightweight) was defeated by points decision by Olympian Kenneth Mwansa of Zambia in the preliminary round.
At the 1974 Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, the 20-year-old Nsubuga, now a light welterweight, defeated Philip Sapak of Papua New Guinea. This happened in the first preliminary round on January 27 when the referee stopped the fight early after Nsubuga had quickly overwhelmed his opponent. However, in the quarterfinals two days later, Scotland’s James Douglas defeated Nsubuga on points, thus stopping Nsubuga’s quest for a medal.
Months later, in August 1974, Nsubuga, fighting as a middleweight, would win a bronze medal at the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championship in Havana. Nsubuga had risen to the middleweight division.
The TSC Tournament was held at the Dynamo-Sporthalle in Berlin from October 3-7, 1974. In the quarterfinals, Nsubuga fighting as a middleweight defeated Zaprianov (Bulgaria) on points. But in the semi-finals he was defeated on points by Peter Tiepold of the German Democratic Republic. He settled for the bronze medal. here the Ugandans performed remarkably well: James Odwori (flyweight) and Ayub Kalule (light welterweight) won gold; Vitalish Bbege (welterweight) won the silver medal.
Nsubuga would debut as a professional in May 1975, after which he moved to Finland and then to Norway; I would fight mostly in Europe. Nsubuga stopped competing in 1981 after he was knocked out by famous future world champion Davey Moore. Nsubuga’s most significant fight was his energetic gladiator battle (non-title fight) with renowned Panamanian Roberto Duran on January 13, 1980 in Las Vegas. The Panamanian appeared to be tired, but Joseph “Stoneface” Nsubuga was eliminated at the end of the fourth round. He retired from boxing in 1981 with an impressive record of 18 wins and 3 losses. Nsubuga passed away in Helsinki on May 4, 2013, at the age of 59.
During the 1970s, while at Namasagali College in Uganda’s Kamuli district, Muwanga showed himself to be a skilled, feared and popular boxer. At the national amateur level, he is said to have twice defeated renowned future world champion and fellow Ugandan Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa). In April 1973, the annual Golden Belt tournament was held in Bucharest. Most of the winners and silver medalists turned out to be Cuban and Romanian. It was here that 17-year-old Muwanga first entered an international competition. Here Muwanga, along with his accomplices on the Uganda team, Ayub Kalule, Vitalish Bbege and James Odwori, won bronze medals in Romania. Later, in the same 1973, Muwanga fought for Uganda twice in two Urafiki tournaments (Kenya vs. Uganda); he was victorious. Muwanga was soon overwhelmed when veteran Ugandan boxing legend Alex Odhiambo, who until now had been so critical of the younger boxer, subsequently gave him the thumbs up and thumbs up.
Locally and during training, Muwanga fought Odwori and another famous Ugandan boxer, “Kabaka” Nasego, several times, but did not win. Among the Ugandans he defeated were Vincent Byarugaba and several others. Muwanga’s stint as a national amateur boxer ran from 1973 to 1977, when he was also a student at Namasagali College; thereafter he attended the University of Oslo while wrestling as a professional. Muwanga recalls that in training ground, where behavioral attitudes varied from boxer to boxer, as an admired example, the skilled Odwori was particularly talkative, while Ayub Kalule preferred action to words (Personal communication, October 29, 2015):
“… guys like Ayub Kalule … preferred action to talking, a phenomenon in my opinion. James Odouri spoke at a mile a minute, but he had the rare ability to back up everything he said. A very rare quality. we call ‘Kasuku’ [parrot] behind your back. “
John Muwanga, as a lightweight flyweight, represented Uganda at the inaugural amateur world championships held in Havana in August 1974. In particular, Kalule and Nsubuga won gold and bronze here, respectively. Muwanga was eliminated in the preliminary round by points decision in favor of Bejhan Fuchedzhiyev (Bulgaria). Quite remarkable is the aspect that six massive Ugandan contingent in Havana had studied at Namasagali, one of the few schools in Uganda that embraced boxing. In addition to Muwanga, boxers who attended Namasagali included Nsubuga, Odwori, John Byaruhanga, Vincent Byarugaba, and Shadrack Odhiambo.
Muwanga’s national status continued to rise and, at age 20, he was selected to represent Uganda at the Summer Olympics in Montreal. Most African countries, twenty-eight of them, boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to ban entry to Olympic countries where athletes had participated in sporting events in South Africa. apartheid. The New Zealand rugby team was then on tour in South Africa. Countries like China, Iraq and Guyana also withdrew; although with China it had to do mainly with a problem of recognition of political name: the non-recognition of “Republic of China” vs. “People’s Republic of China.”
Ugandan boxers who withdrew from participation due to the boycott included Baker Muwanga (bantamweight) alongside Venostos Ochira (light flyweight), Adroni Butambeki (flyweight), Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa) (featherweight), David Ssenyonjo (lightweight), Jones Okoth. (light-welterweight), Vitalish Bbege (welterweight) and John Odhiambo (light-middleweight). None of these fighters had represented Uganda at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Vitalish Bbege had won gold at the African Boxing Championship held in Kampala in 1974.
Muwanga began his professional career in Norway in April 1978 and ended it in October 1982. He mostly boxed as a lightweight. All of their fights took place in Norway, in addition to the last two that took place in Finland. He didn’t lose any of the bouts, but he probably would have liked to be exposed to more intense competition and also box in the western countries, where there are more top contenders and champions. One factor was the ban on professional boxing in Norway, officially effective since early 1981.
Muwanga finished undefeated as a professional boxer with 15 wins, 0 losses, with 6 knockouts (Boxrec.com). He regrets to some extent that he didn’t flourish as much as he would have liked as a boxer, but at the same time he’s grateful that boxing has taken him places and opened up many advantages for him. He writes: “… my boxing career, in my opinion, was not as exciting as I wanted it to be, but I am not complaining, it opened many doors for me and took me to places I never thought I would see.” .. “(Personal communication, June 10, 2014).