Boxing career in Malawi is full of hardships as boxers survive at the mercy of promoters. No wonder most boxers have nothing to show when their career reaches the twilight, even after sweating so much in the ring.
Worse still, the boxers become either beggars or dredges of society as they end up on the receiving end of mockery.
Examples of the cruelty of Malawi boxing abound in Chikoya Mphande, Philemon Nkhakamila Banda and Kenneth Chinthenga.
At his peak, Banda was one of the most feared boxers in Malawi and his fights against the likes of Wilson Masamba and Nginjale â€˜Toughâ€™ Chitenje were completely sold out. But what went into his pocket was too little to even talk about. It was the promotersâ€™ pockets that got fatter and fatter.
â€œIt is hardship if you have no other means of livelihood. Sometimes, I even fought while sick because my family depended on my career to survive. The system was not managed properly to benefit the boxer,â€ said Banda in an interview recently.
Chinthenga, who was the most talked-about boxer in Malawi in 2009 and 2010, lamented that Malawian boxers are not given room to negotiate their share in fights.
â€œIt is difficult to broker a satisfactory deal with promoters as they pay you from gate collections. If you demand more than what they are prepared to give you, it means you will not have a fight and promoters will be shunning you,â€ Chinthenga explained.
Even now, Chinthenga is struggling to make ends meet as promoters are not willing to arrange fights for him.
More sweat but no money
Former promoter Blackson Mumba of Blakson Boxing Promotions said there is no money in boxing in this country.
â€œPromoting boxing in Malawi is always at a loss. We do not benefit anything. We were doing it just for the love of the sport. It is not fair for boxers to be accusing promoters of cheating,â€ he said.
But for Chimwemwe Chiotcha, Wilson Masamba, Crispin Moliati and Alick Mwenda, their retirement might be more rewarding, thanks to their engagement in the Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
They may not retire as millionaires such as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in the US, but they are most likely assured of a pension.
â€œEvery day I thank Allah for giving me the opportunity of employment as a soldier. It is something I never dreamt about. Now my focus will be on boxing than the emotional weight of the day-to-day survival of my family,â€ said Chiotcha who also survived on his exploits from the ring.
â€œLife is tough out there with promoters duping you of your dues. Even to find money for training is hard. MDF has given me the opportunity to pursue my boxing career alongside [being] a soldier. This gives me a chance to produce my best,â€ he said.
Director of training in MDF Brigadier General Macbeth Mkandawire is always challenging soldiers to pursue sports disciplines of their choice, pledging support and promotion for those who excel.
â€œSports are a key component of military training. We encourage all our soldiers and even officers to engage in sports of their choice. The Army Commander has challenged soldiers to excel in individual sports and break records. Those who have excelled have been promoted before. The same applies to these boxers,â€ said Mkandawire in a recent interview at Mafco in Salima.
Long distance runner John Kayange was recently promoted from the rank of corporal to sergeant after he broke a record in track and field events.
Moliati, who is still owed by some promoters, could not hide his joy at finding permanent employment.
â€œIt is tough being a boxer out there if you have no employment. We literally have no bargaining power because of our poor financial status. We still have years to go before boxers start benefiting from the sport. That is why when I was offered employment by MDF, I did not hesitate,â€ said the 23-year-old.
Wilson Masamba, who arguably has been the highest earner on the local scene, also thanked MDF for the lifeline.
â€œWe need big promoters who can really invest in the sport on a long-term basis, not just for three or four fights. The trend now is that promoters organise fights just to make a quick buck from gate collections. In most fights, boxers are paid from gate collections. If the gate revenue is low, boxes do not get their full dues. The situation is pathetic,â€ said Masamba.