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Chiponda: Champ’s legacy lives on

Arigoma Chiponda takes a long swig from his 1L Coca-cola bottle, responds to its cooling effects with a thunderous belch before wiping the corners of his mouth with the back of a vein-roped muscular left hand.

For a brief moment, he allows his memory to waltz back to the dark, abysmal passages of time and suddenly, his face lights up in recollection: “It was in 1978 when I was matched against an opponent by the name of Rod Kemble for the national (Zimbabwe) light-heavyweight title,” he says his mind seemingly reconstructing the event and making it appear like he is reading from a page. “The house was full and also occupying a seat in the front row was his wife who was confident they would display the silverware in their cabinet soon after the fight.

“But to the contrary and to everyone’s disbelief, I went on to beat the lights out of Rod. His wife literally wept and had to be carried out of the Hellenic Hall, Bulawayo, which was the venue of the bout. “I was to beat him again in the reverse bout in the capital city (then Salisbury) to retain that title which I went on to hold for the whole decade. But that victory against Kemble stands out as one of my most memorable achievements in my career so far.”

During a sporting career that spans close to four decades, the highlights of his amateur boxing years were when he represented the country in the All Africa Games and the Olympics.

“Back in the day, representing the country was an honour and we did not do it for financial gains. Just the feeling of having the flag of my nation hoisted satiated my sense of patriotism sufficiently,” he says of the early formative years as an amateur.

He made history - during this entire five-year duration as an amateur - to fight from the middleweight right up to the light-heavyweight divisions without succumbing to a single defeat. Chiponda estimates the total number of bouts fought during that period at about 300.

And from the time he eventually graduated into the professional circuit, the celebrated pugilist has fought the crème de la crème in Zimbabwe and some of the names that quickly come to mind are Captain Marvel, Bonyongo Destroyer, Abrose Mlilo, Tarr Baby, Petros Masiyambumbi, Joe “Breaker” Makaza, Otis Manyuchi, Kid Power Mutambisi and Amasi Nenjani. “I walloped each and every one of them to the extent that when I could no longer find opponents in my first division (middleweight), I hunted more opponents in the light-heavyweight, heavyweight and cruiserweight categories, collecting the national belts in all of them.

“Non-withstanding the fact that our records were not yet electronic (they were manual and so could get lost), I’m probably the only boxer from Zimbabwe to have unified the three titles in the history of the sport,” says Arigoma whose memory – surprisingly -  of each bout is as fresh as an event that happened just a day ago.

His biggest shot at an international title was when he fought Briton Gary Delaney in London for the vacant Commonwealth light heavyweight title. He lost in the fifth round after he had allegedly been subjected to a thumb poke in his right eye.

Apart from beating all and sundry during his prime, Chiponda also travelled extensively, first as an amateur representing the country, and later when he had joined the professional ranks.

Among the countries he has been to on these tours of duty are Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Italy, United Kingdom, Netherlands and the United States of America.

In USA, for instance, I had a one-on-one with one of my favourite fighters, George Foreman and after we had exchanged a long chat, he signed an autograph for me which I still have today,” he beams, pulling the card from the voluminous bundle of photos and other memorabilia that he keeps in a suitcase.

“But my biggest influence was Muhamad Ali whose pictures I would paste on the walls of my rural home room. Coincidentally he was also Muslim like me, but it was his style that appealed to me more than anything else. Ali made jokes out of tense situations and could certainly fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I also adored past legends like Sony Liston.” Chiponda (nick-name Master Blaster) was born on March 3 1958 in a family of eight children. His father, a former fighter of the First World War, migrated from Tanzania and settled in the province of Manicaland situated in the Eastern region of Zimbabwe where he was to meet and marry his sweetheart, Enia Chigundende (Chiponda’s mother).

Arigoma’s father passed on at a very advanced age in 1996, but his mother is still alive.

The Chipondas subscribe to the Islamic faith whose church Arigoma grew up attending and makes sure he still does not miss mass the hour after midday each Friday.

“We were taught the Islamic way of life from childhood and this comprised the commandments and guidelines of the religion as well as singing hymns and praying for food and for good sleep.

“Unfortunately, our religion does not allow us to keep dogs, but we obviously had a host of other domestic animals we kept at home such as goats, sheep and cattle.”

Chiponda affectionately singles out one goat he was endeared to. “His name was Strokee and he was so obedient you could tell him what to do and he would do it. As young children growing up, he easily became our best non-human friend and he could offer us rides on his back just as people do with horses. “It was a tragic and heart-breaking loss for us when Strokee died of age and we mourned and laid him to rest like we do a deceased member of the uniformed forces – with full honours,” he reminisces and chuckles at the sad memory. Despite the fact that they were so many in the family (4 boys and 4 girls), Chiponda says they were fortunate in that father was able to adequately fend for all of them as well as send them to good schools by rural standards. Starvation, he lightly brags, was an alien word to the Chipondas

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