Former professional boxer Waruinge struggling to survive, back under mother’s shelter
BY ROBERT KIBET
Philip Waruinge was once a celebrated champion and a force to reckon with in Kenya’s and global boxing sport.
Today, at 68, Waruinge lives in his mother’s homestead in Kanyi estate near Kabachia, commonly referred to as Kanyon by local residents, an estate well-known for its rampant illicit brewing business. He can’t afford his own residence because he left all his wealth in Japan when he was deported in 2007.
After several days of tracking his whereabouts, the legend and most decorated boxer in the history of Kenyan boxing, arrives at Nakuru’s Afraha stadium where he does his daily fitness training.
Armed with a polythene bag he uses to carry his training short and the once white but faded T-shirt, Waruinge, in a black cap inscribed “Ng’ombe”, cordially requests that I allow him first to go for a call of nature, also to change to his training attire.
Waruinge, born in Murang’a of Central Kenya, was raised in Nakuru where he went to school before his talent in boxing bloomed. His interest in football began in 1957 while at St Paul’s Primary School, Nakuru.
When he joined St Theresa Secondary Nakuru in 1960, he played for the school’s football team before a Scotland retired military officer named Max McCullough, who was on a mission to scout for boxing talent in schools, visited his school.
“Those were the days when the teacher would command you to do something then you ask why later. Our school head teacher asked me to join the boxing team and I had no guts to refuse as the teacher’s authority was final,” said Waruinge while wiping his left eye which had undergone four surgeries.
The same year, 1960, he joined Nakuru ABC, where he graduated from novice to intermediate, before he made his debut in the 1963 Kenya Open Championships where he became national champion in the flyweight category.
“Since there was no light-flyweight category those days, I was forced to play under the flyweight. In 1961, I participated in the annual competition between Kenya and Uganda. I lost in the first leg in Nairobi and the second leg in Kampala, both won by Uganda’s Meseka,” said Waruinge.
However, this did not deter his dream of making a name in boxing. In 1962, during the first All African Championships in Cairo, he was listed in the Kenyan team.
Despite complaints that Waruinge was too young while there were more mature boxers, the coach decided to include him to gain experience. He failed to get a medal after meeting tough opposition from Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt.
Waruinge proved critics wrong when he won Kenya a gold medal in the 1965 All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo, before bagging another gold at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966.
His star continued to shine and in 1973, he won gold at the All Africa Games in Lagos where he was awarded the MVP.Despite not reaching the medal bracket at his first Olympics in Mexico in 1968, his dream was realised when he won bronze medal and was also awarded the Val Barker award for the most outstanding boxer at the Summer Games.
He improved in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, where he won silver medal. He stayed for one year in Kenya before acquiring visa to Japan to play professional career as there was no professional boxing in Kenya then.
“My trip to Japan to pursue professional boxing began in Kiganjo Police College during practice where I met a Japanese judo coach who advised me to look for a visa,” he says.
“I became Japan national champion in 1978. I played for Japan in the 1979 World Championships in Panama and Mexico where I lost both games,” he recalls.
A left eye problem ended his boxing career. He underwent four operations in Japan, but those efforts failed to heal his problematic eye.
He quit boxing and wanted to come back home, but his fans in Japan advised him to change his visa and become a boxing coach, and also engage in business. He started exporting electronics to America, Kenya and South Korea.
He got into trouble with the law when he was arrested for having an expired visa, but he was freed when he apologised and explained that he forgot to check the expiry date.
“Japanese hate pride more than stealing. They assumed that I was proud. I failed to renew my visa the second time and it wasn’t business as usual,” said Waruinge.
He was immediately deported to the Kenya in 2007 upon being taken to court, leaving behind the bar he was running. His son, who went to Japan to pursue boxing, but changed to an English teaching job, learnt of his father’s fate on telephone after he had landed in Embakasi airport.
“I was deported after being taken court. I came empty handed apart from the clothes I had on. After I alighted in Nairobi, I telephoned my son to inform him of my whereabouts. He didn’t know where Embakasi is in Japan”, said Waruinge.
Among the items he left were nine medals, and a booming bar business named Champions Snack Bar.
He doesn’t understand why boxing standards are low. His attempts to start training young lads in Nakuru are hindered by lack of facilities.
“When I came back, I wanted to start training the youth. I approached the Municipal Council whether they could offer training facilities to train the youth at the Bondeni Menengai Social Hall, but this was futile.
He say he used the little coins he had to purchase two gloves and three punching bags, apart from using locally made ropes as rings. He now trains a young boxer who does medical course in Nairobi, and when on holiday he spends time with him.
He hopes to go back to Nakuru ABC, known as Madison Square Garden, to coach, but this will only be possible if he has his lower teeth replaced, after half of the lower teeth were knocked off.
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