Former Namibian boxing head honcho Kelly Nghixulifwa was strangely not exactly known for his exploits in the boxing ring as a budding young middleweight champion, but rather made headlines as the most successful Commander-in-Chief of both the National Amateur Boxing Federation and Namibian Professional Boxing and Wrestling Control Board, portfolios he held simultaneously and occupied with distinction.
Bro Kelly would go on to shepherd several august boxing bouts on home soil, and was instrumental in the unavoidable birth of professional boxing in Namibia. New Era Sport, caught up with the much-adored, soft-spoken calculated boxing guru as he takes us down memory lane about his untold journey in the business of leather trading.
proud product of the revered Ongwediva High School holed up in the vastly populated Oshana region, Kelly started his flawless boxing career in 1976 whilst in high school as a noted light middleweight boxer.
During that time, he rubbed shoulders with established leather traders, spearheaded by old-timers John Nendongo, Abiatar Nghihepa, Isaak ‘Automatic’ Elishi and many other promising young boxers. The enthusiastic boys used to compete fiercely in the popular inter-schools competitions in boxing, netball, football and volleyball.
The boxing discipline was always the cherry on top of the cake of those high-profile schools’ sports gatherings that captured the imagination of many in the previously neglected areas. Regular competitors at these august sporting bonanzas were Ongwediva Secondary School, Okakarara Secondary School, Cornelius Goreseb High School (Khorixas), Augustineum High School (Windhoek) and Petrus Ganeb Secondary School (Uis).
Prominent boxers who spring to mind were Tjeripo Hijarunguru, Ben Owoseb, Abraham Muyende, Festus Lameck, Innus Louw, George Mbaha, Mike Ochurub, Gotthardt Tjivaro Kandanga, Gideon Gurirab and the hard-hitting Abiud Kanambunga as well as many other highly gifted young leather traders.
In hindsight, young Kelly looked like somebody who could hardly harm a fly, but boy, the brother was a real monster in the boxing ring. Blessed with a vicious right hook, many of his opponents always found themselves on the short end of the stick, failing to sustain his traditional merciless knuckles.
In only his first year in the dog-eat-dog business of leather trading, Kelly was crowned the undisputed national middleweight champion while still a pupil, even though he never had the opportunity to take his skills to the next level in the much-sought-after South West Africa (SWA/South Africa (SA) Inter-Provincial boxing bouts for Springbok colours.
Upon completing his secondary education (Standard 10) in 1978, Kelly found employment with TCL Copper Mine in Tsumeb. But much to his chagrin, there was no boxing club to advance his boxing aspirations.
After four solid years with TCL, the soft-spoken boxer quit his job and hit the long rail journey to Durban, South Africa, to further his academic aspirations in the laid-back city on the Indian Ocean and to worsen matters, he was still unable to trade leather in the absence of credible boxing stables in or near the campus.
Bro Kelly eventually graduated in South Africa, thanks to a handsome scholarship from Namdeb. It was payback time, as he found himself in the coastal mining town of Oranjemund.
While at CDM, he hooked up with two of the country’s most decorated professional boxers in the shape of former undisputed world champion Harry ‘The Terminator’ Simon and internationally acclaimed boxing promoter Nestor ‘Sunshine’ Tobias. He also mingled with Erastus David, Sackey Shivute and many prominent names in boxing circles.
Having been inactive for a long period, stretching to almost a decade, Kelly was hopelessly too rusty to re-enter the boxing ring and resolved to turn his hand to administration, joining the management team of the mine’s boxing stable.
In no time, Bro Kelly was elevated to the portfolio of vice-chairman of the Oranjemund Boxing Club, deputising Zorro Muhongo, before he succeeded Muhongo as the substantive chairman of the club after the latter left Oranjemund.
In 1993, Kelly was voted president of the Namibia Amateur Boxing Federation alongside fellow former boxers Joe Kaperu, Kobus van Zyl, Hiskia Shigwedha and the recently departed Isaak Kahundju ‘Fish’ Kahatjipara, a position he held for almost two solid decades before stepping down in 2015.
“We managed to take boxing to another level, participating in various international tourneys whilst hosting a few major international boxing bouts in Namibia. Some of those tourneys were Zone 6, FESCAABA, African Continental Boxing Championships, All-Africa Games, Commonwealth Multi-Sport Games, Olympic qualifying tourneys and preparation for Olympic Games,” recalls Kelly.
Professional Boxing Career
In 1996, Kelly was among the first quartet of appointees on the newly-formed Namibia Professional Boxing and Wrestling Control Board as board members. The quartet of Nghixulifwa (vice-chairman), Dr Fanuel Tjingaete (chairman), Johnny Akwenye and Ellison Hijarunguru were tasked to set up professional boxing in the country.
“It was not an easy assignment. We consulted and engaged various boxing commissions in the region and abroad as we were obliged to set up our office, draw up rules and regulations. We held the first professional boxing tourney in 2000 at the old SKW Hall in Windhoek. The inaugural tourney was promoted by the control board itself to entice public interest and would-be promoters to join the fray.”
Three years down the line, there was a new sheriff in town, as Kelly took over the reins as chairman after the departure of Tjingaete. He was deputised by Hijarunguru, with the trident of Lucius ‘Slow’ Murorua, Dr Bernard Haufiku and Ambrosius Kandjii also roped in as board members. Kelly held the plum position until October 2015.
“During this time, we helped many local promoters in promoting high-profile boxing bouts, whilst assisting them to get off the ground. We also encouraged them to register a significant number of pro boxers/fighters to compete in the paid ranks.”
Namibia hosted various tournaments, including high- profile world title bouts that attracted large crowds. Kelly would go on to attend various world boxing conventions which included the WBO, WBA, IBF and Commonwealth Boxing.
Some of the fighters of note who fought during his time in charge were the great Harry Simon, Paulus ‘The Hitman’ Moses, Paulus Ambunda, Tyson Uushona, Ali Nuumbembe, Kanime Kanime, Daniel Kashela, Dingaan Thobela, Siegfried Kaperu and many others.
A significant chunk of local boxers fought against formidable opponents at home and abroad, which culminated in the astonishing collection of a few world titles, courtesy of Moses and Ambunda.
Under his watch, Namibia also set up her own pool of referees’ commissions, arranged training, qualifying of referees and unearthed very good referees such as the recently departed Herman Garus-oab, Hiskia Shigwedha, Joe Kaperu, Ricky Tshabalala, Timo Haikonda, Eino Kaimbi, Laizy Nainda and a few others.