SPORTS: HOGAN ‘KID’ BASSEY: NIGERIA’S PIONEER  WORLD CHAMPION IN BOXING

 

The history of Nigerian boxing cannot be complete without a mention of Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey who shot Nigeria into international spotlight by winning a world boxing title in 1957. He was Nigeria’s first World Champion in Boxing and coached Nigerian Boxing Squads to Olympic Medals after his retirement from the ring.

Hogan “Kid” Bassey, was one of the great ambassadors for African sport, both during a two-year reign as world featherweight boxing champion and afterwards when he served as Nigeria’s director of physical education and coached the national amateur team.

He was a game battler with fast hands who could throw punches in a furious flurry when confronted. However, he preferred a slower pace of fighting. During his career, he won the Featherweight Championship of the World, the Featherweight Championship of the British Commonwealth, the Bantamweight Championship of West Africa, the Bantamweight Championship of Nigeria, the Flyweight Championship of West Africa and the Flyweight Championship of Nigeria.

Hogan the “Kid” defeated such men as Willie Pep, Jean Pierre Cossemyns, Jean Sneyers, Billy Kelly, Joe Quinn, Cherif Hamia, Victor Pepeder, Ricardo Moreno, Carmelo Costa, Jules Touan, Miguel Berrios, Alby Tissong, Aldo Privasani, Marcel Ranvial, Harry Ramsden, Luis Perez Romero, Bobby Boland, Tommy Proffitt, Eddie Carson and Peter Fay.

One of five children, Okon Bassey Asuquo, popularly known as, Bassey “Kid” Hogan, was born on June 3. 1932 to Chief and Mrs. Okon Bassey Asuquo, in a village called Ufok Ubet in Creek Town, Calabar, in the south-eastern edge of Nigeria near the border with what is now Cameroon. He started his elementary school education at Creek Town School, Calabar and he was still at school when he turned professional, although his early bouts were never recorded.

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 being 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 eleven he went to live with his Aunt in Lagos from where he continued his education at Ahmaddiya now Breadfruit Primary School, Olowogbowo, in the heart of central Lagos.  Before he plunged into boxing, he never knew what the future held. He started out with street soccer as was the case with many of his peers in those days. He played both in school and at home. He started boxing at a local club and at the age of sixteen, 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.  If not for his strong will and love for the sport, he would have quit due to the indisposition of his parents who wanted him to concentrate more on his education. But the young Asuquo hung on in the face of his parents’ objection. In no time, his boxing prowess became glaring and later on, his parents left him alone as they felt he was mature enough to chose his own vocation in life.

Hogan Bassey joined the professional rank after distinguishing himself in the amateur cadre. His first fight was against Jack Salami who, after absorbing Hogan’s solid punches got floored by a ferocious punch in the head. Shortly before passing out of school in 1950, he won the national flyweight title at the expense of Dick Jurein. He was the youngest boxer to win the national flyweight title at the age of eighteen while he was still in the secondary school.

He worked briefly with the Ordinance Depot in Lagos as a store keeper under a Briton called Sergeant Pearson after winning the flyweight title. His boss wanted to send him to United Kingdom to polish his boxing skills, but the idea of travelling abroad did not really appeal to Bassey. He had resolved not to travel abroad because of the cold climate in Europe. By 1951 he was both Nigerian and West African champion at bantamweight. However, with very little money to be made in Nigerian boxing,  Bassey, like many Afri-can boxers at the time, realised that if he wanted to earn any good living from boxing, it made sense to travel to England.

With the help of some friends, especially another Briton, Jack Fransworth, who assisted with the cost of his passage, he decided to try his luck in Britain, took the boat from Lagos and arrived in a cold and damp Liverpool in December 1951. He had little problem passing the British Boxing Board of Control which issued him a British boxing license to enable him fight in the United Kingdom. He made his debut in England in January 1952 with a stoppage win over Ray Hillyard.

“The Kid” proved so popular with British fans that he made 18 appearances in that first calendar year, 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, so 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 won the British Empire featherweight title in Belfast by knocking out John Billy “Spider” Kelly with a perfectly delivered right hook in the eighth round. 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 back yard at the King’s Hall in Belfast. This time around, the glory was for Bassey who got Kelly on the seventh round. On this particular day, the hall was packed full with the Irish who had come to cheer up Kelly. At the fifth round, the bugbear of all boxers, the cut eye happened and Bassey feared that the referee would stop the fight. However, by the seventh round, Kelly had become a little over-confident and had been lured into Bassey’s trap. As he came in the latter feinted to throw a left hook and as Kelly swayed to his left, the Nigerian champion put everything into a right cross that crashed against Kelly’s jaw like a trip -hammer. The Irishman knew he had no chance of beating the count. Actually Kelly was down for five minutes before he fully recovered. That was how Hogan “Kid” became 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 that year, 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 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.

On April 1, 1957, he successfully defended the title and retained the Empire championship with a 15-round points win over Percy Lewis from Trinidad at Nottingham.

Next up was an eliminator for the world title against the 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 across to the jaw. The big shot had given Hamia a right hand complex which ultimately proved to his detriment. He threw his right on every concievable 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.

When Hogan “Kid” Bassey won the world featherweight championship on June 24, 1957 by defeating Hamia, he created a sensation as the first Nigerian to win a world title. He was greeted heroically both in Britain and Nigeria.

He became a Member of the British Empire (MBE) when he was knighted by the Queen of England, Elizabeth II on January 1, 1958 at Buckingham Palace. He was also honoured with the Lion of Africa award in Senegal in 1973. Six years later, in appreciation of the honour he brought to Nigeria, the then Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo bestowed the great lion of Africa with the Member of the Order of Niger (MON) award in 1979.

After Hogan became champion he decided 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 heroes welcome by thousands of people which at times became frightening for the new champion.

On a rainy night in April 1958, he travelled to Los Angeles to defend the world championship against a Mexican, Ricardo “Little Bird” Moreno. Moreno was a sensational fighter with 29 knockouts in 33 fights, who was mostly responsible for drawing a crowd of 20,000 fans to Wrigley Field.

George Biddles, his manager, negotiated hard and Bassey grosssed $70,000 – a record for a featherweight champion. Storms kept ticket sales down, but just when it seemed as if the promoters Cal and Aileen Easton were going to take a financial bath, the weather eased and $50,000 worth of tickets were sold in the last two hours before the show.

Biddles always said when he saw Moreno spar in a headguard that looked like a crash helmet he suspected there must be something wrong with the Mexican’s chin. Moreno turned out to be heavy-punching, dangerous but technically crude, and Bassey used his speed and clever boxing before opening up to knock him out two seconds before the end of round three.

Bassey returned to the United States in September 1958 for a non-title fight with the veteran former champion Willie Pep at the famous Boston Garden. Pep was 36 but, knowing this was his last chance to clinch a championship fight, he drilled himself into magnificent shape.

For five rounds, Pep was dazzling. Slowly, however, Bassey took over and in the ninth he put the old master down with right hands. Pep proudly struggled up, but the referee waved it off. The fight increased Bassey’s profile in the States, and he and Biddles stayed on with their wives, mixing in personal appearances with two non-title wins in New York and Hollywood.

Hogan successfully defended the title twice before losing it to Davey Moore through a deep cut in the right eye which he sustained in the seventh round of the world title fight. That fight turned out to be Hogan’s last fight as he quit the boxing ring at the age of 27.

The fight was for a guaranteed $45,000 against Davey Moore, the leading contender, in Los Angeles in March 1959. Bassey, still only 26, boxed badly. He was behind on points and cut over both eyes when he retired at the end of the 13th round. He was criticised for not continuing. In a rematch in August 1959, Bassey again retired, this time after round 10. He never boxed again.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 could he do? 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 therefore, became a boxing coach and a successful one at that.

It is to his credit that some of Nigerian boxers were nurtured from obscurity to limelight, the likes of Nojeem Maiyegun who won the first Olympic medal for Nigeria in 1964, Isaac Ikhuoria, bronze medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Joe Mensah, Obisia Nwankpa and Davidson Andeh all passed through his tutelage at one time or the other.

Hogan Bassey also helped late Dick Tiger Ihetu who won a world title for the country in the middleweight and light heavyweight categories respectively.

According to him, the late Dick Tiger had it rough when he got to Britain in the fifties. “He lost his first four fights and he risked having his licence revoked”.

Bassey was appointed director of physical education by the Nigerian government in 1963, and for many years was a major force on the amateur scene, once putting his name to a teaching manual, Hogan on Boxing. In 1980 he accompanied the Nigerian team to the Moscow Olympics.

During his lifetime, Bassey was noted for his blunt position on contemporary sporting issues. He was of the opinion that the right set of people were not given the opportunity to administer boxing. He also believed that square pegs were put in round holes. With such situation, he remarked that the game will continue to plummet. According to him, “Government should take a cue from developed countries like America where people with the right qualification, knowledge and technical expertise administer sports.”

Hogan also believed that another cog in the wheel of progress in sports is the fact that politics has been mingled with sports administration. He bemoaned a situation whereby merit had been sacrificed on the altar of tribalism and ethnicism. As a matter of fact, Bassey wanted the country’s selection process to incorporate merit if Nigeria really wanted to excel in sports.

The highly celebrated boxer died in Lagos on January 26, 1998 at the age of 65, after a failed battle to overcome a heart ailment which reportedly defied medical treatment and he was buried inside the National Stadium, Lagos. He was married twice with 6 children.

The entire nation was thrown into mourning because Bassey was actually one of the earliest athletes who brought honour to Nigeria, emerging a world champion in 1957 after overcoming French-Algerian Cherif Hamia in Paris in an explosive bout.

In death, Hogan Bassey’s memory still lingers on because of his remarkable contributions to sports development in the country. His first daughter, Pauline Hogan Bassey stated: “Hogan was more than a fighter; he was a wonderful companion to all who knew him.”

He was Nigera’s first World Champion in Boxing and coached Nigerian Boxing Squads to Olympic Medals after his retirement from the ring.

He was voted by the Nigerian people as the greatest of Nigerian Athletes of the twentieth century.

He was the youngest boxer to hold a national title.

He won the British Empire Title in 1955.

He was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) in 1958 for his services to sport.

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

 

SOME OF HOGAN KID BASSEY’S BOXING RECORD

Date                Opponent

1959-08-19      Davey Moore

Bassey was unable to answer the bell for the 11th round.

1959-03-18      Davey Moore

World Featherweight Title

Bassey’s manager George Biddles stopped the bout after the 13th round.

1958-12-13      Ernesto Parra

Bassey was knocked down in the 5th round

1958-10-31      Carmelo Costa

Costa was knocked down twice in the 3rd     round

1958-09-20      Willie Pep

Pep was down twice in the 9th round

1958-06-24      Jules Touan

Touan was knocked down once in the 4th and 6th round, and five times in the 7th round

1958-04-01      Ricardo Moreno

World Featherweight Title

1958-01-23      Pierre Cossemyns

Bout was fought at 128 pounds, though no official weights were announced.

1957-10-07      Victor Pepeder

1957-06-24      Cherif Hamia

Vacant World Featherweight Title

Bassey was knocked down in the 2nd round

1957-04-26      Miguel Berrios

Eliminator for World Featherweight Title

Bassey was knocked down in the 10th round

1957-04-01      Percy Lewis

Commonwealth (British Empire) featherweight title Lewis was knocked down in the 1st, 4th, and 8th rounds. Bassey was knocked down in the 10th round.

1956-11-26      Joao dos Santos

1956-10-20      Jean Sneyers

1956-09-06      Alby Tissong

1956-05-03      Aldo Pravisani

1956-03-22      Louis Cabo

1956-02-07      Jean Sneyers

1955-11-19      Billy Spider Kelly

Commonwealth (British Empire) featherweight title. Bassey knocks Kelly out with right hand

1955-01-31      Percy Lewis

1954-11-29      Aime Devisch

1954-09-03      Luis Romero

Romero announced retirement after this fight, but came back in 1956

1954-04-29      Jean Sneyers

1953-12-08      Billy Spider Kelly

1949-06-06      Dick Turpin

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