His 6ft 5in height gives him an immense reach advantage. You rarely get Ugandan athletes standing that tall today.
Boxer Shafik Kiwanuka’s professional debut on Friday night was packed with lots of razzmatazz.
And indeed the heavyweight did not disappoint as he went on to knock out Kenyan David Oduor in hardly two minutes.
We have had much bigger boxing names but they haven’t got that much attention on their professional debuts.
Fighters like John “The Beast” Mugabi, Kassim “the Dream” Ouma and Jackson “Action” Asiku were much more celebrated than Kiwanuka but they did not get off to such dazzling starts.
So, why is Kiwanuka so much in the news? For starters, Kiwanuka is a heavyweight. There is something in human nature that attracts it to big people fighting. No wonder the heavyweight is regarded as the marquee division of the sport.
Is it therefore surprising that it is names like Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield and now Anthony Joshua that have defined prizefighting?
Kiwanuka also has great potential. His 6ft 5in height gives him an immense reach advantage. You rarely get Ugandan athletes standing that tall today.
Olympian Dodovic Owiny is probably the last Ugandan boxer to tower to such heights. Then Kiwanuka is also charismatic. He is a journalist’s dream especially when it gets to the hype.
That Kiwanuka is a heavyweight starting his professional career at home also further endears him to Ugandans. That’s why the MTN Arena in Lugogo filled up.
Unlike most of Uganda’s other big names that started their prizefighting career in far off lands, Kiwanuka gave locals something to associate with.
That boxing is also just gaining stability after a tumultuous decade, also plays in favour of talents like Kiwanuka. The public is starved of boxing. It is for this reason that much less acclaimed kickboxing came to the spotlight. With it came names like Moses Golola. Kiwanuka’s popularity is bound to even further grow. All he has to do is keep winning.
But of course, he also has to learn how to fight like a real professional. Ghana’s Azumah Nelson gained cult hero status in the 1990s largely for being based at home.
In Mexico at about the same time, homeboy Julio Ceaser Chavez would fill the Aztec stadium with over 90,000 people.
Kiwanuka can also gain such status. All he has to do is continually raise his game.
With a management team led by international businessman Sam Buchanan in charge of Kiwanuka’s affairs, he can go all the way.
For starters, he will have to secure a record of about 10 wins then claim a shot at the African title. This title will automatically grant him a top ten placing in the ratings of major global bodies like the prestigious World Boxing Council.
That will make him an automatic candidate for a world title shot. It is on almost similar ground that another Ugandan Peter Okello got a world title shot against Russian Oleg Maskaev in 2006. It is just a matter of time before Kiwanuka gets such opportunities.
For now, he must ensure he packs the right punches, has the right footwork and game plan.