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First Nigerian world champ





When Hogan "Kid" Bassey won the world featherweight championship in 1957 he created a sensation as the first Nigerian to win a world title.

Bassey won the world title on June 24 1957 when he stopped Cherif Hamia in the tenth round in Paris.

The ordinary young Nigerian boy, born on June 3 1932 in a village called Ufok Ubet in Creek Town, Calabar, in Eastern Nigeria was now champion of the world.

Times were not easy for young Hogan as he had to work on the family's small farm, in between going to school. Money was always in short supply.

He learnt to fight when collecting water at the communal tap in the village. While waiting with the bucket in the long queue, there were always those bullies who would jump the queue.

Hogan decided that no one was going to jump the queue on him and became involved in fist fights and found out that he had a natural aptitude with his fists.

At the age of 11 he went to live with his Aunt in Lagos and started boxing at a local club. At the age of 16 he challenged for the Nigerian flyweight title in his first professional fight, which he won when he defeated Dick Turpin over 12 rounds in 1949 and soon afterwards took the Nigerian bantamweight title when he defeated Steve Jeffra.

With very little money to be made in Nigerian boxing, Bassey, with the help of some friends who assisted with the cost of his passage, decided to try his luck in Britain and arrived in a cold and damp Liverpool in December 1951, making his debut in England in January 1952 with a stoppage win over Ray Hillyard.

Hogan was kept very busy and had 18 fights in his first year in Britain, winning 14, and losing only three fights on points against quality opponents like John Kelly, Frankie Williams and Pierre Cossemyns.

The year 1953 was not as busy, with Bassey having ten fights, which included a stoppage win over the highly rated Spaniard, Luis Romero.

After a six-month holiday trip to Nigeria, Hogan came back to Liverpool. Having put on a lot of extra weight, he decided to campaign in the featherweight division.

Despite thoughts that his small size would be a handicap, the move up to featherweight paid off when he beat the fancied Sammy McCarthy, who had an unbeaten streak of 28 before meeting Bassey.

The next big one was for the British Empire featherweight title in Belfast on November 19, 1955 against the Irishman John Kelly.

Bassey had lost on points to Kelly in their previous meeting in April 1952, so he was facing the toughest challenge of his career, especially in Kelly's backyard at the King's Hall in Belfast.

In his book "Bassey on Boxing" this is how he describes his fight with Kelly: "When I stepped into the Belfast ring I realised how alone I was in the vast hall thronged with Irishman. The cheer that Kelly received when he went to his corner was almost frightening. Plans can so easily go awry, and they nearly did so that night. It was the bugbear of all boxers, the cut eye. It happened in the fifth round.

"My greatest fear was that the referee would stop the fight. As I stepped towards the middle of the ring for the seventh round I knew I had to go in and fight. He had become a little over-confident and had been lured into my trap. As he came in I feinted to throw a left hook and, just as I had hoped he would, he swayed to his left. I put everything into a right cross that crashed against Kelly's jaw like a trip-hammer. I knew he had no chance of beating the count. Actually Kelly was down for five minutes before he fully recovered. I was the new British Empire champion".

In 1956 taxation nearly crippled boxing in England with a lot of the small halls closing down. Having recently married, Bassey was unable to get enough fights to live and maintain a wife and home, so he was forced to get a job as a motor mechanic's assistant in a big firm in Liverpool.

In September 1956 Bassey met a young man who had been boxing in Britain for several years, Alby Tissong, the South African featherweight. He had built up a reputation for himself up and down the country.

The match was made for Liverpool Stadium, where Alby had put up some of his best performances. The fight was won by Bassey on points over eight rounds in a what the press claimed as a boxing epic, something on par with the Nel Tarleton vs Al Brown contest at the Liverpool Football Ground some years before.

Shortly after this Bassey broke up with his long-time manager Peter Banasko and joined George Biddles from Leicester. Biddles began negotiations for a contest with Elijah Mokone, the South African featherweight champion, but Bassey was refused permission to enter South Africa.

A fight with Flash Elorde from the Philippines also fell through and Bassey became so despondent he even thought of giving up boxing.

However, at last there was a break in the clouds when it was announced that Sandy Saddler, the world featherweight champion, had decided to retire from the ring and so the search for a new champion was on.

Manager George Biddles wrote to the British Boxing Board of Control staking the claims of Bassey, but the Board had other ideas. Bassey must defend his Empire title against Percy Lewis. On April 1, 1957 he successfully defended the title against the awkward southpaw.

Next up was an eliminator for the world title against Puerto Rican Miguel Berrios in Washington, USA, in a fight which the American press gave Hogan very little chance of winning.

However, he proved them wrong and was a good points winner over 12 interesting rounds after being down on the canvas from a left hook in the first round.

Now for the big one at the Palais des Sports in Paris, against the Frenchman Cherif Hamia on May 24, 1957. After a quiet opening round Hogan found himself on the canvas in the second when Hamia caught him with a vicious right cross to the jaw.

The big shot had given Hamia a right hand complex, which ultimately proved to be his downfall. He threw his right on every conceivable occasion, while Bassey concentrated on his boxing.

The Frenchman began to weaken as the fight progressed and in the tenth round, Bassey landed with a terrific left hook on the jaw and in his efforts to prevent himself falling, Hamia grabbed Hogan around the shoulders and brought them both down to the canvas.

Bassey was up immediately, but Hamia was forced to take a short count. Hamia was really in no condition to continue when he got to his feet, but the referee let it continue.

The Frenchman took a severe beating and as he was about to sink to the canvas the referee called it off and crowned Hogan Bassey the new featherweight champion of the world.

After Hogan became champion he decide that he needed a rest and set off to his home country, Nigeria. Little did he know that there would be very little time to rest when he got home as Nigeria's first world boxing champion.

Thousands of people welcomed him home when he arrived at the Ikeja Airport. Wherever Hogan went he was given a hero's welcome by thousands of people which at times became frightening for the new champion.

Possibly one of the greatest moments in Bassey's life was when he was awarded an MBE by the Queen in the New Years honours list in 1959.

He was awarded the Lion of Africa Award in 1973 and was also awarded Nigeria's highest honour of Member of the Order of Nigeria in 1979.

In two non-title fights, Bassey won a points decision over Victor Pepeder and gained revenge over Belgian Pierre Cossemyns early in 1958 before facing the first challenge to his featherweight crown from the hard hitting Mexican Ricardo Moreno.

The fight took place in Los Angeles on April 2, 1958 and in the first round Moreno came straight into Bassey, but Bassey was up to the task as he slugged it out with the challenger through rounds one and two.

In round three Hogan smashed Moreno to the canvas with a shattering left hook to the chin, which sent him down to the canvas with no hope of beating the count. The crowd went wild, as Moreno had never been knocked out before in his career.

As has happened so many times in the past the reported fancy purses that fighters are supposed to earn is not always true.

For the first defence of his title Bassey only received £4 000 from a purse of £25 000 after expenses and income tax had been paid.

After the successful title defence Hogan had three non-title fights, stopping Jules Touan in seven and the legendary Willie Pep, who was far past his best, in nine and then points wins over Carmelo Costa and Ernesto Parro.

Up next was the second defence of his title against Davey Moore in March 1959. With the first five rounds going to plan, Bassey was well in the lead and had Moore cut on the cheek, but it was at the end of round six that trouble came.

The bell went and he dropped his hands, but before he could turn away Moore hit him with several punches to the face which opened two cuts near his eyes. Hogan was so dazed his trainer had to lead him to his corner.

Bassey is adamant that no matter what anyone says, those two punches after the bell cost him the fight, because after those two punches he only came to his senses in round 13 when his manager George Biddles stopped the fight because of the cuts and the bleeding.

Bassey tried to regain the title in August 1959 in a return with Moore, but it was not to be. Once again his eyes were cut and Moore stopped him in ten.

Moore was to die tragically on March 23, 1963, two days after losing his title in a fight with Sugar Ramos.

After failing to regain the title, Hogan decided that while he was still healthy it was time to get out of boxing after a ten-year career with 74 fights, winning 59, losing 13 and 2 draws.

Not yet 30 years old, what now? Should he use his garage experience and go into the motor business. However, while still deciding what to do an offer came from the Government of Eastern Nigeria to become the National Boxing Coach.

One of his first tasks was to build up a team to represent Nigeria at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

On reflection Hogan felt that boxing gave him a lot in life and if he had his time over he would still be a professional boxer without hesitation.

He passed away at his home in Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria, on January 26 1998.


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