By - Victor Kekereekun
John “The Beast’’ Mugabi, born on March 4, 1960, in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, rose from a humble beginning. Even though the dictatorial reign of Idi Amin (who seized power in 1971) in the country made livelihood unpleasant for the people of Uganda, yet Mugabi became one of the most compelling stories in world sport as boxing took him from his home in Kampala, Uganda to a silver medal at the Moscow Olympics and big fights at New York’s Madison Square Garden, London’s Royal Albert Hall and an assortment of boxing arenas in America, France and Germany.
John Mugabi was one of the most exciting fighters of the 1980s. He was known for his all-action, seek-and-destroy style and bone-breaking power. Mugabi was mainly a fast-stalking head puncher more than a body puncher, and he was not much of a defensive fighter. Mugabi’s first language is Swahili but he found his voice in the boxing ring as he won his first 25 professional fights by knockout.
Popularly nicknamed as ‘The Beast’ for his devastating punching power and ability to terrorise the hearts of men inside the ring, Mugabi won the “WBC light middleweight” title in 1989 and is still revered as one of the hardest punchers ever.
“I was a knockout fighter. I just knocked the guys out and I liked that,” the Ugandan asserted.
The ferocious boxer went toe to toe with Marvin Hagler for the world middleweight title at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, in one of the great boxing spectacles of the 1980s. The Mugabi versus Marvin Hagler bout in 1986 is still regarded as one of the greatest fights in professional boxing history.
As a 16-year-old, Mugabi first caught the eye of the boxing world, taking silver after losing to Herol Graham in the final at the Junior World Championships. Two years later at the Moscow Olympics, Mugabi knocked out three of his four opponents en route to the final, where he met Andrés Aldama, a supremely gifted Cuban who, four years earlier, had lost in the final to Sugar Ray Leonard. This time Aldama would claim gold, besting Mugabi at welterweight.
Mugabi wasted little time making the transition to the pros and signed with influential manager Micky Duff after the Olympics. The Briton orchestrated Mugabi’s early career as “The Beast” campaigned at both junior middleweight and middleweight, terrorising everyone he faced.
Watch the highlights of John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi’s illustrious career below:
By 1984, Mugabi was being matched with opponents with generally good boxing records. Moving up as a pro, he fought Earl Hargrove of the USA in Tampa, Florida. Hargrove had a record of 26 wins going into the match but was knocked out in the first round by Mugabi. By that time, Mugabi had racked up a record of 26 wins, no losses, and all the opponents had been knocked out.
In November 1985, Mugabi was scheduled to face Thomas Hearns for the WBC 154-pound title. However, that fell to the wayside when Hearns elected to move up to 160 pounds to face Marvin Hagler in a super-fight. Mugabi, however, would wait in the wings for the winner. Hagler would stop Hearns in a thriller – which ultimately set up a bout against Mugabi.
The stage was set for Mugabi to challenge Hagler for the undisputed middleweight championship in March 1986. It should be noted that Marvin Hagler’s record was by no means easy as pie – with a mean record of 61 wins (51 by knockout), 2 losses, and 2 draws (one of the most excellent professional boxing records in history), Hagler had long been established as an imposing legend and American icon. And he had never, in his lengthy professional career, been knocked out! Hagler was the undisputed world middleweight champion given that he held the title in all the world professional boxing sanctioning bodies at that time: the WBA (World Boxing Association), the WBC (World Boxing Council), and the IBF (International Boxing Federation).
They met at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace and a brutal, back-and-fourth battle ensued. Ultimately, Hagler, though given the hardest fight of his championship tenure, stopped the Ugandan in the penultimate round. It was a tough loss for Mugabi, who, despite the loss, earned a career-high $750,000.
A disenchanted Mugabi walked away from boxing for a year before returning and leaving another trail of destruction behind him, winning eight consecutive fights, all by knockout inside four rounds – while he also earned a shot at Rene Jacquot of France. Mugabi ferociously defeated the Frenchman, leaving him with a twisted ankle, to eventually win the WBC 154-pound title.
The illustrious career of John “the Beast” Mugabi would end after his defeat at the hands of Anthony Bigeni in July 1998 in New Zealand for the PABA (Pan Asian Boxing Association) light heavyweight title; and in January 1999 when Mugabi was defeated by Glen Kelly in Sydney in the bid for the Australian light heavyweight title concurrent with the IBF Pan Pacific light heavyweight title. Although he won the Australia super middleweight title, he was no longer the force he once was and finally retired after losing to Glen Kelly in 1999.
John Mugabi’s professional boxing record stands at an impressive 42 wins (with 39 knockouts), 7 losses, and one draw – a staggering feat you only expect from ‘The Beast’.
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