Boxing as a sport or martial art is ancient to countless cultures across the world. A century ago, boxing in Urhoboland was known as ubi ejeh (the service of punches) or Urhobo Blow (UB) in pidgin. The sport of UB, many rue, has all but faded away even as folklore. Some have hoped for its revival, to no avail. However, arts long forgotten can become popular again and take on a new existence (cf. Olympic Games). All it takes is a chance of incidence. Efe Ajagba, a US based heavyweight boxer, of Urhobo heritage might be the man UB needs. He is a fantastic boxer whose fights prompt many of his people to desire the return of Ubi ejeh. Seeing two or more Urhobos watching an Ajagba fight will give you a sense of that revival spirit. We do not intend presenting claims about his future as world champion. The heritage of his fighting style and his need to upgrade it is our interest here.
If you watch the fights of Efe Ajagba, his style is distinct, despite his orthodox stance. He is a big guy standing 6 ft 6 ins and has a reach of 85 inches. Ajagba also won Commonwealth Games and African Games medals in the superheavyweight category. His professional fights tally of 15 wins, 12 by knockout helping him climb up the boxing ranks, is impressive. Ajagba, however, has suffered his first loss at the hands of Frank Sanchez in a title fight. He is a natural heavyweight and is working his way towards winning the world title.
In his twelve knockout wins, his decisive blows land on the side of the head or face of the opponent, rendering them befuddled. In Urhobo parlance, and as specified in Ubi ejeh, the side of the skull they call igberen (wall). The goal of throwing a punch is to kporo (wreck) the igberen or ikpero (cheekbone and outer eye socket area) of the opponent, as with a wrecking ball or battering ram. Obor’ode (descending hooks) and kperivwi (roundhouses) aimed at the ohwa (jaw) appear to be the main punches he uses with devastating delivery in his fights. Ukperun (upper cuts) feature little if at all in UB, but Ajagba puts them to good use in his fights. We hope to see him use the full range of punches, especially kperivwi, in his future fights when it’s pragmatic to do so. While I am not suggesting Efe Ajagba learnt any aspect of UB, we know somewhere up his lineage a UB fighter reigned. We call it periodicity.
If you read my piece Urhobo Blow (UB): A True Martial Art and Sport? (https://wp.me/p1bOKH-RG), you may recollect that UB fighters rely much on derieoma (feinting with upper body movement above the waist) to avoid taking blows from opponents. I believe Ajagba is working on his defences because commentators often remark how he leaves himself open. His managers must have noted such a flaw. It was Ajagba’s lack of derieoma and flatfooted approach that cost him his title fight against Sanchez. For UB fighters, I would consider such lags as sins. Professional boxing is a lot slower than UB and bouts are much shorter. That said, UB fighters of old underwent rigorous daily dance sessions to eliminate flatfooted fighting and increase body mobility. Omasasare oye ohonre [agility is the fight].
The blessing in the fight is Ajagba has had a taste of hard blows and the need for more mobility. We hope his first fight loss is the reckoning that will make him unbeatable in future. Ajagba needs to perfect his derieoma, he has little choice. Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury are not kindly foes in the ring. We must not forget; boxing is a dangerous sport and more boxers put safety before glory than we care to believe. May Ajagba have the wisdom and strength to do what is best for him. Then the glory comes.
Efe, Otor’Urhobo sivwe, Oghene sivwe.
Till Efe Ajagba’s next fight or earlier, Guynes!