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Power Mike statue, effigy of an old skool



WHILE on transit from Nnewi, the acclaimed Taiwan of Africa en route to Awka, the Anambra State capital, I passed through many towns like Nnobi, Nnokwa, Oraukwu, but, on getting to Neni, at the popular Okacha Junction, that leads to the headquarters of Anaocha Local Government Area, an effigy got my fancy.

 And that was the half-sized mounted statue of an old skool in the wrestling circle, a former heavyweight champion, the indefatigable late legend, Mike Okpala, (aka, Power Mike), a native of Neni, who had a “Final Pinfall” on March, 10, 2004, at the ripe age of 65.

  This supernatural human being apart from his enviable track records in wrestling was also a pillar of sports for he played active part in football and established sports centres at Onitsha and Abuja through which he used to promote sports in Nigeria.

  Since, “Power Mike” died in 2004, grief  has continued to envelope Nigeria in particular, and the entire universe for sports lovers all the world have continuously mourned his death, because, the late heavyweight champion was someone whose track records in wrestling and sports management remains unassailable.

  Mike Okpala, who was known for his rare display of strength, got his nickname “Power Mike”, during his apprentice days as a motor mechanic and tyreseller in Kano. In the workshop, it was easy for him to lift tyres and engines which six other apprentices merged together could not lift.

His co-apprentices, even their master and other people were so awed that they removed his surname, Okpala and added “power” to Mike, and that was how he earned the sobriquet “Power Mike”.

  At the workshop, they used to organise weight-lifting and muscle flexing competitions and Power Mike usually came tops. This made his colleagues and others to advise him to go into the “Superman” show business, because they believed he had supernatural powers.

  His colleagues in the workshop encouraged him to put up power shows and exhibitions in Kano and environs. His displays were unbelievable at those shows which made many to suspect that there was a mystical link to his strength.

  With these power shows, his fame spread and he started touring beyond Kano to other parts of Nigeria, Africa and Europe. In 1964, he sold his motorcycle to raise enough money to foot the bill for his trip to Ghana, which turned out to be very successful.

The Ghana shows motivated him to make more tours, for he virtually transversed the continent and his series of achievements earned him names such as “Champions of champions”, “Black Hercules” and “Samson of Africa”.

  In 1967, this “Samson of Africa” embarked on a tour of Europe where he performed in various cities like Palmas Barcelona, Madrid, Merseiles, London, Greece, Germany, Yugoslavia and Sweden.

  Fortunately, his tour of Greece provided another frontier for the “Black Hercules” as he jettisoned superman shows for wrestling in 1969.

It was while in Greece that a wrestling promoter amazed by his display of raw strength during a show suggested that he became a wrestler, to which he agreed. Because Mike Okpala lacked the initial training required of a wrestler, the promoter arranged for his tutelage and before long,

he was touring Greece, defeating great wrestlers in that country including the dreaded and renowned Kalpolus. To gain more popularity in the sport, he returned to Britain, but he was not allowed to fight the British champion because the promoters felt he needed more fights to measure up and qualify to fight the champion.

  In defiance, he relocated to Liverpool and ran over the regional champion, Blackfoot.

  In the famous Madison Square garden, USA, he clinched the Mr Universe title. This amazon of victory, in 1970, moved over to Gambia where he defeated Masambula to become the African heavyweight champion. He later toured East Africa.

In Zambia, he fought and defeated the likes of Josef Kovacs, Albert Rens and Fred Coates. His fight with Kovacs made him more popular. Kovacs, the European heavyweight champion weighed 250lbs against Power mike’s 185lbs. The match was so much celebrated with a lot of media hype and propaganda.

  In the pre-match press briefing held at Kitwe Hotel, Kovacs said, “I read press reports in overseas papers that Power Mike was making noise in Zambia and I have dropped in to shut him up once and for all.

I challenge him to meet me anywhere, anytime and under any condition. My intention is to remove “Power” from his name so that he will remain just Mike. Reacting, Power Mike said, ‘I feel that Kovacs is just making noise.

He may be European but let him not forget that Africa has its own champions. I want to show him that his European kingdom does not extend to Africa”. The referee Fred Coates disqualified Power Mike in the fifth round.

  From Zambia, Power Mike moved on to Uganda where he made more exploits in wrestling. His first fight was against Derek Withington whom he defeated in the fourth round before a 10,000 capacity crowd.

He also eliminated Greek hero, Assimaks. Then came the historic world heavyweight title fight against another wrestling legend, Ali Baba at the Nakivubo Stadium in 1973. Power Mike over-whelmed the Lebanese and left him lying helplessly on the canvas without beating the 10 count.

  The referee, Chaya stopped the fight and the Ugandan acting Minister of Culture and Community Development, Henry Kyemba decorated Power Mike with the golden belt. He thus became the new world heavyweight champion.

  Back home, Mike Okpala, fought the likes of Canadian john Tiger, Judd Harris, Lee Sharon of Britain, London based Jonny Kwango and Power Jack of New Zealand.

In his fight against London based Jonny Kwango, Power Mike punished the wrestler to the extent that he voluntarily called for the end of the bout; to the admiration of Power Mike’s fans, that even a musician of repute, also a legend in the music industry, “77”, eulogized him for his superlative performances against Jonny Kwango during the fight in one of his sibilating tracks.

  Then came the return match between him and Ali Baba on December 19, 1975. The fierce “battle” which was held before more than 10,000 spectators at the National Stadium, Surulele, Lagos, Nigeria, ended in a draw when both wrestlers collided, fell on the canvass and could not stand up before the count of 10.

Power Mike therefore retained his golden belt as the world heavyweight wrestling champion. He held this title till 1976 when he retired from wrestling after going through 125 fights without losing any.

  Upon his retirement from active and competitive wrestling, the late Mike Okpala did all within his reach to contribute his own quota in sports development. To this end, he established the Power Mike Sports Centres at Onitsha, his home state and at the Federal Capital, Abuja, through which he promoted sports in the country.

Some of his last known major engagements were his support for both the Enyimba Football Club of Aba, which eventually won the CAF championship cup in December 2003, and the national team, the Super Eagles during the nation’s cup tournament in Tunisia in January,

2004. And in politics, he was involved in seeing that peace returned to Anambra State when he waded into the crises as a neutral person and as a member of the National Peace Committee, a body made up of concerned non-partisan elders from the state.

  Though ill and was placed on regular medical checkups, the late Power Mike did not show sign of death. However, on March 10, 2004, the indefatigable legend and undisputed heavyweight wrestling champion, Chief Mike Okpala “aka, Power Mike” had his “Final Pinfall” and bowed to death at the National Hospital, Abuja, Nigeria.

  The positive imprints of the late Mike Okpala and the statue of his humble self conspicuously mounted reminds us that it is a truism that people are remembered by their deeds on earth while living when they must have kicked the bucket or turned the corner.

Come to think of it, the  late Okpala started his journey to fame in the early 60’s, died on March 10, 2004 and years after, he is still fresh in the minds of people, even those yet unborn will come to know the name, Chief Mike Okpala (aka Power Mike) and his myth.

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