The first time Phillip Matombo sparred with his Edmonton coach, a few jabbing punches left him defeated, in tears. But Matombo has learned, champions don’t cry — and they don’t quit.
The 18-year-old high school senior describes the sport as a blessing.
“It saved my life,” Matombo said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “It made me more responsible. It made me watch what I’m doing. It made more careful with the people I’m surrounding myself with. It made me wiser.
“It makes me think twice … is this going to affect my boxing career? Because boxing isn’t guaranteed.”
Matombo grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, before immigrating to Montreal to live with his grandmother at age 7. But it was a struggle to get settled and he was shuffled from place to place, staying with relatives and then friends. Eventually, he was sent to live with his older brother in Edmonton.
Before he found Cougar Boxing Club a year ago, he was living with a co-worker from Chili’s, where he works part time. Since then, the club, hidden in the basement of a building in Giovanni Caboto Park in downtown Edmonton, has become a second home for Matombo.
‘That’s not what champions do’
He walked into the club last year, looking for “something better,” and got into the ring with coach Alberto Jerez, known in the boxing world as Chico.
“He’s like a father figure to me now. I sparred him and he made me cry,” Matombo recalled. “I left and I was crying and my other coach came and grabbed and told me, ‘That’s not what champions do.’ ”
Matombo took that advice to heart.
Despite the rough introduction, Matombo decided to train with the club full time. He now sits at 7-1 in his amateur boxing career.
“Ever since then, I come to the gym every day. I try to work hard,” said Matombo. “I’m truly blessed. God does everything for a reason.”
‘He took it by storm’
The club is buzzing with activity, preparing for the 2018 national championships being held in Edmonton.
Matombo is representing his club in the Elite Men’s 49 kg weight division, going toe-to-toe against some of the best young athletes in the country. His Cougar Boxing Club teammate, Ethan Pasek, will compete in the Junior Men’s 70 kg division over five days of intense competition.
Matombo has made his mark, impressing staff and coaches across Boxing Alberta. Rick Jamerson, the director of coaches at Boxing Alberta, has high hopes for Matombo.
“He’s quite a boxer that’s new on the stage here in Edmonton, but he took it by storm,” Jamerson said. “He’s quite exciting to watch. He’s definitely one that has an opportunity to place for a medal.”
“The National Championships is an important step in any Canadian boxer’s career,” Jamerson said.
The competition gives young athletes like Matombo an opportunity to make the National team and fight internationally at major tournaments like the Commonwealth Games and — hopefully — the Olympics. For Matombo, that’s the ultimate goal, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“My ultimate goal is to go to 2020 Tokyo and my coach Chico is going to take me there. As long as I keep listening to him and the things that he tells me to do, I know I’ll get there. I never settle. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”