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Current Issue: May 2004

Who wins, Saunders or Eubank Jr?

Saunders
Eubank Jr

Current Results:

Saunders: 50%
Eubank Jr: 50%

DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?

Light-middle contender Kassim Ouma served as a teenage frontline soldier in his native Uganda and was the victim of a drive-by shooting in America - but the punching machine is still smiling, as STEVE FARHOOD reports

Photo shot

OUMA DEFEATS rival J.C Candelo in yet another IBF Title eliminator. - Get Big Pic

Have a conversation with junior middleweight contender Kassim Ouma and you'll find yourself hesitant to bring up boxing. It's not that "The Dream" discourages talk about his fights or ring future. Conversely, he'll shoot from the mouth long enough to convince you that he's not only a punch machine, but a quote machine as well. Nor does his demeanour suggest a sullenness or sharp edge that makes him difficult to approach, a la Mike Tyson on a bad scare day. In fact, the good-natured Tim Witherspoon, who co-trains the southpaw, said of Ouma:

"It's the first time I've bumped into a guy who's as happy as I am." It's just that when you consider where Ouma's been and what he's been through, boxing seems so trivial. If this guy had any more baggage, he'd be a jumbo jet carrying 300 vacationers across the pond. Like Anna Nicole Smith, the junior middleweight division is changing shape before our eyes. Moving up from welterweight, Vernon Forrest is coming, and moving up to middleweight, Oscar De La Hoya is going. Winky Wright is hot, and Shane Mosley is not. Fernando Vargas remains a player, but physical problems have shelved him for now. Then there's Ouma, who has been defeating contenders and fringe contenders for the better part of four years.

"If anybody has paid his dues, it's Kassim," said Dino Duva, who promotes Ouma with Russell Peltz. "There's not another number one ranked fighter who's fought as many contenders." If Ouma's will is a way, there's no doubting or denying him. If you're not familiar with Ouma's history, you're not going to believe what you're about to read. If you already know about it, you're wondering why somebody isn't turning his story into a TV movie. The seventh of 11 children, Ouma grew up in Uganda, where his parents were farmers. At the age of seven, he was kidnapped from school by the National Resistance Army, which was in the process of overthrowing the government. By the time he was 10, he was carrying a gun and a hand grenade and situated on the front lines. Crying for his mommy no longer seemed appropriate.

More than once, Ouma tried unsuccessfully to escape. As you might imagine, those who recaptured him were not particularly sensitive to his emotional insecurity. Now 25, he knows there's no point trying to escape the nightmares. "I can't get it out of my memory, so I have to let it slide and keep going," Ouma said in reasonably good English. "Sometimes I get bad dreams where I'm in the war. And when I wake up, I think I'm home." The home Ouma refers to is not West Palm Beach, Florida, where he now resides with his five-month-old son Oundo Rahim, but rather Uganda, where his daughter Alima, nine, and son Umaru, eight, still live.

He hasn't seen them since they were infants. His handlers are writing boxing-friendly Senator John McCain in an effort to facilitate the relocation of the children to the USA. There's a good reason Ouma can't visit them in Africa: In 1998, he defected to America during a trip with the Uganda national boxing team. Political unrest continues to haunt Uganda, and if there's a temptation to ask what might happen if Ouma returned home, the urge is negated by the knowledge that in 2000, his father was beaten to death. "I'm waiting to become a world champion," Ouma said. "Then I'll call the president and see what he thinks of me."

After defecting, Ouma ended up virtually homeless in Washington, D.C. At one point, he was evicted from a shelter because he had no Social Security number. "I knew that if I could find a boxing gym, I'd be okay," Ouma recalled. Sure enough, he met a boxing manager at a Mark Johnson fight and ended up at the Alexandria (Virginia) Boxing Club. Soon after, he was asked to spar with Zab Judah in Florida, where he's been situated since. "I didn't have a childhood; I grew up as an adult," Ouma said. "When I first came here, I thought about going back, but I knew I'd either be killed or go to jail. It was a difficult decision, but I decided to stay.

"The adjustment was difficult, but I had always loved America. [In Uganda] I called myself `Americano'. I had a Chicago Bulls jacket and wore my pants low at the waist." Now his aim is to keep those trousers up with a championship belt. The wonder of the story doesn't end with the birth of Ouma's boxing career. He turned pro in 1998 and went 11-0 before suffering his only defeat to date, a first-round KO at the hands of Puerto Rico's Agustin Silva, who downed him three times. Silva was 10-16-1 going in, and followed his win over Ouma by losing eight of his 10 subsequent starts.

"Can you skip over that?" Ouma said with a laugh. "I'd like to fight him again … with one hand." Ouma's hot run started in 2000, when he stopped fellow prospect Alex Bunema in four rounds. Five months later came a points win over Uzbekistan's Kuvanych Toygonbayev, who was 12-0 and has since established status as a fringe contender. Ouma took that fight on seven days notice. The streak continued in 2001, when, over a nine-week period, Ouma decisioned a still-useful Tony Marshall and top-10 contender Verno Phillips. Against the former, Ouma threw 953 punches and on one card, won every round. Versus the latter, Ouma triumphed by close but unanimous decision. Over the first three rounds, he averaged 123 punches. Phillips connected with the harder shots throughout, but in the ninth, Ouma dropped the veteran with a hook to the body, and at the final bell was the much fresher fighter.

But remember, this is Kassim Ouma's story, and marching to the world title by defeating a handful of world-class opponents would be a bit too conventional. In December 2002, Ouma engaged in an argument with a co-worker. A few days later, he found himself in the hospital, the victim of a drive-by shooting. Segments of his intestines were removed in surgery. (At trial, his "friend" was acquitted.) "I said to him: `You suck,'" Ouma recalled.

"I don't think that's something to get shot over. "I saw myself on the news the next day. I figured my boxing career was over. I was ready to start over. I was going to fly to Hollywood and become a movie star." Instead, he became a boxing star. Only six months later, Ouma engaged in an IBF eliminator against rugged Angel Hernandez, who would challenge for the world title later in the year. So much for tune-ups. The numbers would suggest that Ouma won easily; he threw 1,190 punches and landed 374 — to just 144 connects for his opponent. But the 12-round decision was split. In most of his fights, Ouma applies the pressure. Against Hernandez, however, he was repeatedly forced to the ropes. "I feel I beat him all the way, inside and out," Ouma said. Rather than wait for a championship bout, Ouma kept challenging himself by challenging others.

In August '03, he stopped Pernell Whitaker-conqueror Carlos Bojorquez, and in January '04, he halted fellow contender J.C. Candelo in the 10th round of yet another IBF eliminator. And before you assume that Ouma is rolling on a smooth track, consider that while in training camp in Pennsylvania last year, his car flipped over during a night-time drive. The fighter emerged without a scratch. As is the case with most volume punchers, the 5ft 8ins Ouma, 19-1-1 (13 KOs), isn't going to remind anyone of his countryman, highlight-film KO artist John Mugabi. But against Candelo, he was the muscleman. Well-conditioned pressure fighters are always difficult to deal with. Add the fact that Ouma is an awkward left-hander and he's a puzzle that's nearly impossible to solve. At the end, Candelo was broken. "With Kassim, you never know what you're gonna get," said unbeaten middleweight prospect Daniel Edouard, who spars with Ouma in Florida. Ouma doesn't want to wait one more single day for his title shot — nor should he be made to do so.

But as is the case with many of today's contenders, he remains a work in progress. Enter Witherspoon, who has joined former junior welterweight champion Johnny Bumphus as co-trainer. (Bumphus, who was a southpaw, has trained Ouma from the start, and when Kassim first moved to Florida, they roomed together. Ouma is co-managed by Tom Moran and Jim Rowan.) "When I was first starting, I sparred every day for a year and a half with Randy Mack, who was a southpaw," Spoon said. "So I know how to fight a lefty. One thing I can teach Kassim is to stay away from [his opponent's] right hand. You have to stay away from the right side of your opponent, move to the right, keep your left foot moving to the outside, and keep your left hand up.

"All we need is a camp for six weeks and Kassim can get the job done. He doesn't need more time. You put a monster in front of him and Kassim is gonna kill him." Winky Wright is the unified champion of the junior middleweight division — but not for long. In all likelihood, he'll have to relinquish either the WBC title (he must defend against interim champion Javier Castillejo) or the IBF crown (Ouma is now the mandatory). If Winky elects to face Castillejo, or if he opts for a big payday against Mosley or Felix Trinidad, Ouma would presumably fight the next highest-ranked fighter for the vacant IBF title. That's Verno Phillips, whom he defeated almost three years ago. "They're all going to run away and go to middleweight," Ouma said. "Vernon Forrest and Fernando Vargas would be interesting fights. "This is my year." If you want to bet against Ouma, you'd be wise to do so with someone else's money. As his story continues to unfold, it's become apparent that boxing isn't so trivial after all. In fact, it's become Ouma's identity. Hollywood will have to wait.

Articles in this issue

THE BIG TIME


The pasting of Barrera put Manny Pacquiao firmly on the map. But can the Filipino become a featherweight champ by beating Juan Manuel Marquez, the man Naz avoided? Preview by GRAHAM HOUSTON

IT PAYS TO BE NICE (EVENTUALLY)


Itís been a long, hard road for Ronald Wright, but the paydays await after his light-middleweight title unification win over fellow-good guy Sugar Shane Mosley. GRAHAM HOUSTON reports from ringside in Las Vegas

DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?


Light-middle contender Kassim Ouma served as a teenage frontline soldier in his native Uganda and was the victim of a drive-by shooting in America - but the punching machine is still smiling, as STEVE FARHOOD reports

World Rankings:  
See where the top fighters were rated when the May 2004 issue went to press..



 

 

 

 
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