Not many men and women made it further than the borders of Kenya in the 19th century as Kenya was fighting for independence.
However, the burden of hardship can often be lifted to reveal a better future as was for Mohammed Abdallah Kent who was born in 1953.
Despite the political challenges, Kent came out of a slum in Nairobi to be an international star after representing Kenya in numerous local and international boxing tournaments between 1966 until his retirement in 1986.
Throughout his career, he won numerous bouts, gold, silver and bronze including a silver medal he won in Nairobi after narrowly losing to American James Broad in what was seen as an Olympic bout after a number of countries including Kenya boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Russia.
However, his encounter with the greatest boxer of all-time American boxing legend Muhammad Ali remains to be his most treasured moment.
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When the Standard Sports visited him in his rural home in Bar Korwa Village in Seme, Kisumu County, we found the six feet tall, well built and energetic boxer looking after his cows and tending to his trees.
The ageing former heavyweight boxer had mixed emotions on his boxing journey and the encounter with the boxing legend Ali.
“Ali was not only an idol to the world but my mentor. I am the man I am today because of Ali’s extraordinary exploits and achievements in boxing,” Kent said during an interview with the Standard Sports from his home in Seme.
He says it was in 1980 at the Starehe Boys Centre when he met his idol and unexpectedly trading blows with the former world heavyweight champion in a sparring contest.
“I had come from Germany not knowing I would meet him. When I learnt he was around, I joined the rest who had gone to Starehe to see him one on one with no idea I would go to the ring with him.”
“Marsden Madoka, the then chairman of the Amateur Boxing Association came to me and asked if I could do a sparring contest with Muhammad Ali. I told him no,” he said.
Kent said he could not fight because the then-current Kenyan heavyweight champion James Omondi who was there.
“Omondi was the heavyweight champion then. Madoka insisted I fight Ali, saying the rest had refused. I quickly rethought my decision.
“I accepted telling myself I am going to do my country and self-proud in the four round bout,” he said.
On the ring, the historical encounter saw Kent put Ali down for the count before ‘The Greatest’ rose to floor him for the knockout.
“I started aiming at his stomach, because I didn’t want to aim above the chest which would have exposed me to his lethal punches. It was during the second round break that Madoka urged me to hit him all over. When we came back in for the third round I got him on the jaw and knocked him down.”
Kent was waiting to savour his moment of glory but soon, it all disappeared in a flash.
“It was counted until seven before he rose. He hit back, finding my neck on the left and knocked me down.”
He describes the late Ali as fast and a powerful puncher who would dance all-round the ring without getting tired.
“He threw six quick consecutive left hand punches, it was like fun. After the bout he told me I was good to box in America, I will never forget it.”
Born as Simon Kent on September 20, 1953, he would later change his name after converting to Islam just like his hero who was born as Cassius Clay.
“I read a translated Quran and I was convinced to convert after understanding the faith. Kent was from my mom, Abdallah from the Muslim who guided me in the process of converting and Mohammed from the legend, who really inspired me.”
Now a 67-year-old man, he calls upon the Government to improve the standards of boxing in the country which he says is below the standards that were there in the early 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
“The Kenya Boxing Federation and government should provide facilities across the country if we are to return to dominating the sport in Africa again. For instance, in Kisumu, we have only one place for boxing which already lacks standard training facilities like gym, ring and sportswear,” he said.
He also called upon the Government to remember its legends not only in boxing but across other sporting events like athletics, football, motorsport and many more.