IBF European welterweight title holder, Larry ‘The Natural’ Ekundayo, talks about his career as a boxer and many more in this interview.
How did you become a boxer?
I started boxing when I was 12. I took to boxing as a form of self-defence because there was a kind of rivalry between my elder brother and I, which usually ended with no victor. It was from there I started having the love for boxing. Not every child wants to become a doctor, lawyer and engineer as parents would want them to because their cognitive abilities are not the same. So, when I chose to start boxing, it was not an easy choice because the support didn’t come naturally.
You represented Nigeria at the 1999 All Africa Games and the 2002 Commonwealth Games but you didn’t win medals at these competitions. Did you regret not winning any medals for Nigeria?
As an amateur boxer, the dream was to bring back laurels to the country. But after participating in competitions and not getting the medals, one would naturally be sad because it meant one’s target was not achieved. But looking back, I don’t regret those times I didn’t win medals at the amateur level because I am focused on working hard to bringing glory back to the country now as a professional.
What did you become a professional?
I wanted to explore the world of boxing beyond the amateur level. I was hungry for more success that could only come through professional boxing and I felt I had more to give than what I was giving as an amateur.
Were you dissatisfied with the happenings in the amateur ranks?
I wasn’t dissatisfied with the happenings then because we used to see the situation as normal – even though it wasn’t the best. But the hunger to earn more glory and win laurels did it for me.
You defeated Ghana’s Joseph Lamptey in 2016 to defend your African Boxing Union welterweight title. How did you achieve that?
I had been out of boxing for some two years before that fight because my youngest daughter – Theresa – was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and I had to stay out of the sport to take care of her. I place more importance on my children than on my career; so, I left boxing for those years to nurse her back to health. After I returned to the ring, I had one fight, which wasn’t much publicised, before fighting Lamptey. I fought him with an injury – a rib injury – which wasn’t fully healed as of the time of the fight. I had the injury before the fight and still decided to continue since I was already on treatment. I prepared well for him and was able to get victory.
How is your daughter now?
She is very fine and healthy. I thank God she is cancer-free.
Was the Lamptey fight one of your toughest fights?
It was a tough fight but not the toughest. I was working and boxing then and I still managed to prepare for it despite the injury. It is never easy to be working and fighting. If I had the kind of support I had now back then, it would have even been an easy fight.
What are the challenges of being a professional boxer?
The challenges are numerous but the biggest of them is sponsorship. I faced a lot of challenges after turning pro. Getting people to believe in my dream was tough but I was grateful that I had a good management team both in the UK and in Nigeria. They were the ones who kept me going when I felt like giving up.
You recently won the International Boxing Federation European title, defeating John Thain. How would you describe the fight?
That fight was one of the toughest I’ve had. Thain is one of the toughest fighters in my division. The fight went all the way to the 12th round even though it could have ended earlier. He is a strong fighter but I was able to beat him because I had good preparation for the fight. The sponsorship and support provided by the Love of Christ church and Mother Esther Ajayi went a long way to prepare me well for that fight. I had a sparring partner who had the same fighting style and height as Thain – which all consumed money. Without that support, I wouldn’t have succeeded in that fight.
There are young boxers, such as Efe Ajagba and Efe Apochi, doing well in the pro ranks in the United States of America. What do you think can be done to help other boxers who want to be like them?
Nigeria is blessed with boxers who can win laurels. I am not surprised that those guys are doing well because they are talented. For instance, my mentor, Segun Ajose, was a mandatory challenger in his weight category for three years on a row but no champion wanted to fight him. Anthony Joshua is a British-Nigerian but he represented the UK. If he were to be born here, he may not have realised his potential to the fullest as he currently is. If he (Ajose) were from Europe or America, he would have been fought and he would have won the world title once or twice. These two boxers have good management which ensures that they are realising their potential. Nigerian boxers need all the help they can get to be their best. There are talents in the country but the right things need to be done.
At 36, you can be said to be a veteran. Do you believe you still have much left to win in the sport?
I know I have a long way to go in pro boxing. I have the target to win the world title and I know it will happen soon. If someone like Bernard Hopkins can box till he was 50 years and he was beating those who were younger than him, why will I consider myself a veteran? I only see myself as an experienced boxer – not an old boxer.
What is the difference between Nigerian and foreign boxers?
The difference is the structure. They have the structure needed for them to excel but Nigerian and African boxers don’t have that structure; everything they need to excel – the training gym, facilities and others. That is why we have to struggle a bit when we travel abroad to start our professional careers. That is part of my plans. After my retirement, I want to give back to boxing in Nigeria and help to groom young ones, who will be future champions – like Mother Esther always tells me, when you are blessed, you bless others. I want to have a gym in London and Nigeria so that I can train boxers here and have them fight with ease when they travel to the UK.
Can you tell us about plans for your next fight?
Plans are going on for my next fight and very soon, after all arrangements have been perfected, it will be announced.
How would it feel for you having one of your fights in Nigeria?
Staging a professional fight in Nigeria won’t be easy but it is possible if the right arrangements are made. I think if the government can support it, it is a dream that is achievable.
Which was the toughest moment in your career till date?
The toughest moment in my career was when I went away to fight a guy – I can’t remember his name now – and I won convincingly but the fight was awarded to the home guy. It was a tough one for me but there was nothing I could do because he was at home. Before the fight, I was made to prepare for another person and he was brought in at the last minute when I couldn’t reject the fight again.
How can the sport be developed in Nigeria?
Just like what I am doing at home now – the awareness of the sport has to be created. The Nigerian boxers, who are excelling abroad, need to be publicised and exposed so that the ones at home can be inspired. The talents are here but they need to be polished and motivated to give their all and be the best they can be. The sport needs sponsorship and the boxers need to be exposed quite early so that they can realise their full potential. I believe Nigerian boxers can rule every weight category available in both the amateur and professional ranks but they need to be invested in and given the opportunity to shine.
Have you had any cause to use your boxing skills outside the ring?
No. Boxing is one of the most misconstrued sports. People believe it is as a dangerous sport but I call it a gentleman’s sport. As a boxer, I can’t fight anyone on the street because I am paid to fight. If anybody looks for my trouble, I look at them and tell them that I can’t give them a free show that they want – my price is expensive; so, I won’t fight for free.
Are any of your children into sports?
I have two boys and a girl. My 14-year-old and nine-year-old boys are into sports but my girl is not interested in sports at all.
What is your advice for the up-and-coming boxers?
Life is full of challenges – so is boxing. When they start, they will face a lot of things that will push them to the limit and make them want to quit. I almost called it quits several times but the efforts of my team kept me going. There is a champion in every one of them, so they should wake up that champion in them and stay committed to training. They need patience and perseverance because they won’t reach the top the same day they start. The environment is tough but they will make it if they remain steadfast.