Boxing’s ‘golden era’ was arguably the 1950′s. In the USA, Sugar Ray Robinson was famous for his swarve manner in and out of the ring, while fighters like Jake La Motta and Carmen Basilio represented the raw side of boxing. As Libya was getting into it’s economic stride under the new Kingdom, popularity for the sweet science of boxing coincided.
Jugrum, a striking specimen from Benghazi was a national champion in the 1950′s. He dominated in the ring leaving a trail of demolition, tallying victories along the way. Unfortunately, boxing is a sport that often leads to tragedy. Alcohol took a hold of Jugrum, dragging him onto the wrong side of the law. Stints in jail combined with drug and alcohol abuse took the Libyan boxer down a path that many had once crossed, and many more followed.
Jugrum’s fall did not mark the end of Libyan boxing, although it was relatively short lived. In 1974, the most high profile boxing fight of all time took place in Zaire – ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’. Muhammad Ali took on the champion, George Foreman for the Heavyweight Championship.
Succeeding his historic knockout victory, Ali visited Libya where his presence alone brought the country to a standstill. One onlooker described his head as “taking up the whole of his car’s back window” when he left Benghazi in the back of a Peugeot 404. A local Benghazi boxing legend from the 70′s, Ahmed al-Barnawi, took place in an exhibition match with Ali during his visit.
Perhaps Libya’s most prominent boxer of the time was Giubran Zugdani. Victorious around the world, and taking part in the 1976 Montreal Olympics made him a respected fighter in an extremely competitive era. Unfortunately, boxing was banned under Gaddafi as he viewed it as a “savage sport”.
Many would argue, boxing is more than a sport; an art or a science. Amateurs and professionals alike display a mutual respect for each other based on the bravery it takes to step into the ring. Boxing is well known for deterring people from a violent, wrong doing life. Fighters such as Mike Tyson and Bernard Hopkins saw boxing as an outlet for their anger and frustration, yet taught them discipline and technique.
Boxing’s popularity is back on the rise in Libya. Since the 2011 revolution, boxing rings have cropped up on the streets of Benghazi allowing sparring sessions to take place in front of a lively crowd. Clubs are also on the rise, giving young people an activity that allows one’s physical and mental abilities to be exceeded.
Organised by Tripoli’s Technical Committee for Boxing, nine local clubs will hold a tournament at the Gargaresh Sports Club this Thursday. Bouts will take place in a range of weight categories, promising an exciting display of boxing.
Once a popular sport in Libya, boxing’s spirit of the past has reappeared and shows every intention of staying put this time around.