POWER MIKE OKPALA: THE UNDEFEATED WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT WRESTLING CHAMPION

Michael Okpala, a.k.a Power Mike is a household name in the world of Nigerian and African wrestling.  Nigeria retired undefeated World heavyweight wrestling champion Power Mike, made wrestling a household sport in the country when he clinched the world title in the 70s.

Power Mike, who was famous for his enormous strength was the pioneer of professional wrestling in Nigeria.

He was born Michael Okpala on the 8th of August, 1939, to Echeobi and Janet Okpala at Neni, in Aniocha Local Gorvernment Area of Anambra State, in the Eastern part of Nigeria. He was the first born of a family of three.

When he reached elementary school age, he was enrolled into the Anglican Primary School, Adazienu, a neighbouring town to Neni. It was at this primary school that he started building his career by being active in sports. He was so interested in boxing that he became an amateur boxer.

After primary school in 1952, he left his village for Onitsha, to learn how to organise and run a trade, a custom very common with youths of Igboland. At Onitsha, he joined the Dick Tiger Boxing Club as a middle weight amateur boxer; it was here that Dick Ihetu Tiger became his role model. On leaving Onitsha, he left for Kano to specialise in buying and selling of tyres. During his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic he realised his dream. This realisation sparked his rebirth and he acquired a new name, Power Mike. The exploits of Power Mike were too much to be briefly recounted. It is enough to say that unlike many of his wrestling contemporaries, he started his journey into fame not as a professional wrestler, but as an apprentice mechanic in Kano, he did things that were simply unbelievable. He lifted heavy-duty tyres that ordinarily required six adults to lift. His display of strength was so awe-inspiring that his friends and associates added the word “Power” to his name and dropped his surname Okpala.

While in Kano in northern Nigeria, he started a superman show business which made him popular locally. His imaginative exhibitions in Kano virtually cast a spell on people from various social backgrounds because they were yearning to see him perform. Showmanship took him around the world in the mid-50’s, his act included such feats as lifting four heavy men with ease, engaging several men in a game of tug-of-war, using bare hands to break a coconut and other jaw-breaking feats that left many wondering if there was no mystical link to his strength. He used his bare hand to drive a six-inch nail into a piece of wood and then pulled out the nail with his teeth. He held up a man with his left hands and pulled three others with his right and engaged several men in a tug of war. He lifted two bags of cement with his teeth and carried 12 bags with total weight of 600 kg on his chest. He stopped two cars driven simultaneously at opposite directions. He broke a six-inch nail into two and bent an iron bar with his teeth.

In 1961, he started a nationwide tour which took him to Onitsha, Enugu, Aba, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Jos and Kaduna. In 1964, Power Mike went to Ghana and his performances there were a tremendous success. He later toured Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal before he found his way into Europe in 1967, accompanied by his friend Engr. Onyeso, the Igwe of Nri. He got a one year contract in Sweden after which he went to Greece; it was there that he became a wrestler.

A wrestling promoter spotted him in Athens as a wrestler, than a super man. He was trained by Kalie Abdulkalie of Lebanon. Initially, he did not like the brutality in wrestling; however he later became an acclaimed wrestler and one of the best that Greece could boast of at the time.

When he left Greece, he went back to Britain to compete, and he truly started his career as a wrestler. He came back to Africa in 1970 and in the same year he defeated Gambia’s Massambula to become the African heavyweight wrestling champion and title holder.

He wrestled with and defeated Ali Baba of Lebanon in 1973. A match between Ali Baba vs Power Mike (Chief Michael Okpala) for the African title which took place at Nakivubo Stadium in Uganda reportedly drew 40,000 spectators. Johnny Kwango also became a victim of Power Mikes when he (Mike) defeated him in Lagos. Among the list of wrestlers that Power Mike defeated were Power Jack, Joseph Kovacs, Judd Harris, John Tiger of Canada and a host of other notable world superstars.

Apart from his pro wrestling prowess, he was also a promoter of the sport and his Power Mike International Promotions brought foreign wrestlers like Mil Mascaras, Dick the ‘Bulldog Brower’, Buddy Rose, Michael Hayes, Mighty Igor, The Mongols, Carlos Colon, Chris Adams, Thunderbolt Williams and so on to the shores of Nigeria. He retired from active wrestling in 1976 and then focused on international promotions. Power Mike was given the title, Ide Neni, in his home town immediately he retired as a world heavy weight wrestling champion (undefeated).

Chief Micheal Okpala a. k. a. (Power Mike) was married to Felicia Okpala and they had five children (Obiageli Okpala, Ugochukwu Okpala, Okechukwu Okpala, Chioma Okpala and Walter Okpala). Power Mike brought joy to his country, Nigeria and also to the world as a whole. He was named THE GIANT OF AFRICA. He was indeed a hero and a legend. The legacy he kept is being rekindled by his children.

Power Mike also had investments both in Nigeria and overseas such as sports complex, stadium, hotels and resorts. He really achieved a lot and he has sown a fruitful seed in his country and the whole world. His impact will not be forgotten because of his achievements and his dedication. Power Mike was indeed a “GIANT OF OUR TIME.”

As a mark of honour to this great man, the Second Republic government, under the leadership of Alhaji Shehu Shagari bestowed on him the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON).

He devoted so much to sports, his chosen field. He not only promoted sports, he used it as a tool to build friendship, brotherliness and upliftment of the dignity of the black race. Most interestingly, he displayed rare spirit of sportsmanship. He was indeed a unique gem that left his footprints in the sand of time.

Wednesday March 10, 2004 will linger with its foreboding realities for the Okpala’s of Neni, Anambra State. It was a fiendish nightmare akin to a terminal abduction in chains of the head of the household while the family watched aghast.

It was on that fateful day that Chief Michael Okpala, patriarch of the house bade farewell at dawn albeit unceremoniously to a household and country that least expected it.

Power Mike, it was gathered, was hale and hearty until Tuesday afternoon when he was said to have complained of pain and was consequently taken to the hospital. He, however, passed on early on March 10, 2004 and the doctor on duty was reported to have diagnosed heart failure. He died at the National Hospital, Abuja, two days after he was taken there for a heart-related ailment.

The burial of the sports legend started on June 8 with the lying-in-state at the Abuja National Stadium Sports Hall after which the corpse departed for Enugu same day via the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The final burial took place on June 11. Thousands of wrestling faithful from near and wide converged for the last journey home of the undefeated world heavy weight wrestling champion where his remains were committed to mother earth at Neni, his home town in Aniocha local govenment area in Anambra State.

His Royal Highness, Chief Damion Ezeani Onwuamaeze, The Igwe of Neni  referred to Power Mike as one who is loved by all and a lover of peace at the burial ceremony.  According to the Royal Father, Power Mike was frequently called to serve in committees set up by the town’s administration to settle disputes. He tenaciously held to the belief that everybody should always try to speak the truth.  As the Ide of Neni, (one among many in Igboland), he coordinated activities leading to the establishment of the institution of Ide in Igboland.

The death of Chief Michael Okpala, a.k.a Power Mike, which came as a rude shock to his family, relations and admirers was an incident that would linger for long if not indefinitely. It is bound to be so because of the ideals he lived and died for. His eventful life that spanned 65 years, 1939 to March 10, 2004, was remarkable for the legacies he left behind. He devoted so much to sports, his chosen field.

Power Mike used the strong message of the sport in placing Nigeria in the World map during his active years. Even after his competing years were over, he did not relent as he founded clubs, through which he tried to expose many Nigerian youths. He met with little success, because of the prevailing unfavourable economic climate.

In 2011, the Anambra state chapter of the Nigerian (PRO) Wrestling Federation, unveiled plans to host the maiden edition of Power Mike Memorial Championship in the commercial city of Onitsha.

At the official inauguration of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the Championship by the state Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Lady Chinwe Anowai, the Anambra state chairman of the Federation, Emeka Ofolloma, said that the championship was conceived to relive and honour the late wrestling icon for his numerous contributions to the development of wrestling and sports in general which brought fame to the country.

The championship was aimed at spurring the youths to channel their strength into meaningful activities like sports. It would also encourage other sportsmen to continue doing their best for their country to see that the past sports heroes were celebrated and their visions kept alive.

His immense contributions to sports especially in the world of pro and amateur wrestling in the World, Africa and Nigeria will be difficult to surpass.

Power Mike was at the height of popularity in Africa and later the world. He could blow to full capacity a hot air balloon only inflated by a compressor. He sustained eleven 25kg bags of cement on his chest his back clear off the ground propped up only by his head and feet.

He could have each hand tied to two Fiat 127 cars pulling as if to rip him up into two. He would then begin to strain slowly but surely until his hands were clasped. He would be a silhouette figure in the twirling dust, with sixty thousand capacity stadium filled to the seams.

Power Mike left no one in doubt that he was a major player in the world of wrestling by the way he subdued opponents until there was none in sight before his voluntary retirement in 1975 as the undefeated champion of the world. During his years of conquest, Power Mike bestrode the world with confidence commanding the attention of world leaders who became his admirers due to the raw energy with which he dealt with opponents in the ring.

His humility was exemplary and this also reflected in his lifestyle even as a world acclaimed wrestling star. At a time many promising careers were truncated by drug abuse and such untoward behaviours. Power Mike stood above board. His reign gave wrestling the credibility it enjoyed over the years.

Even after his retirement, he was no less an enigma given his contributions to sports development and promotion. It is to his credit that the former champion invested his resources in the development and provision of sporting infrastructure, at least to get the youths engaged and to expose their talents.

He single-handedly built the multi-purpose sports complex in Onitsha which for many years hosted professional football league matches and also the Power Mike Sports Centre in Abuja.

Power Mike used his wealth of experience to create opportunities for youths to realise their potentials in sports through his promotion of competitions thereby creating a means of living for the hitherto neglected youths of this country. It is on record that the greatest wrestling contest which featured the great Mighty Igor and Mexican star, Mil Mascaras was brought to Nigeria courtesy of Power Mike.

In his later years he fully identified with his immediate community by participating in their development programmes and other social affairs. He was an active player in job creation through the edifices he established.

But beyond that, Power Mike either consciously or unconsciously immortalised his name as he touched a number of lives in a number of ways. And the best way to honour him is for the living to ensure that the ideals for which he lived are forever upheld and sustained.

Such a talent who did the nation and the entire sporting world proud need to be immortalised. It is a challenge for the Federal Government to ensure that his dreams for the development of sporting infrastructural facilities are realised at least to keep the memory of this great son of Africa alive. We commiserate with his family and pray God to grant him eternal rest. Adieu Power Mike!

Power Mike Okpala, brought joy, honour and glory to his nation, Nigeria, as she was waking up from the edge of breakage, as a result of the civil war that consumed almost half the population of the citizens of the South-Eastern states of Nigeria.

Mike Power’s interest was not limited to wrestling. As a sports ambassador and entrepreneur, he was appointed a member of Nigeria ‘95 Organising Committee, which successfully hosted the Africa Youth Football Championship in Lagos and Kaduna that year. There is no doubt that his exploits served to inspire other wrestlers and sports promoters. His demise has led to a sudden yawning gap and many have wondered aloud whether Nigeria could ever produce another Power Mike. It is equally sad that no one with the right financial and social muscle was around to support Power Mike’s dream of nurturing Nigeria to a great wrestling height after his retirement. The result is that wrestling, a traditional and cultural pastime of Nigerians and indeed Africans, is fast dying an unnatural death.

But thanks to Governors Adams Oshiomhole and Fashola of Edo and Lagos States respectively who had re-awakened the Nigerian Wrestling Federation by organising and hosting pro wrestling championships in their respective states and by bringing both Nigerian and foreign wrestlers together for the competitions.

Power Mike was described as a man of great vision who dreamt of greatness and set about doggedly to get it realised. An inveterate optimist, there was no room for despondency in his life.

Nigeria indeed produced Michael Okpala, a world wrestling champion, who remained unbeaten.

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