Joshua Male is his real name. Arthur Josh is his Facebook name. But Drunken Master is his boxing name, derived from his drunken style of fighting. His sluggish movements, the way he wiggles his neck or throws his body forward, backwards or sideways to feint the opponent, can tempt you into thinking he is unserious.
But the speed and power in his stinging hooks or uppercuts, especially under attack, is a combination of venom and flair. He hasn’t just started this style. I saw it in his first fight at Lugogo in 2014 and he has perfected it over five years.
The secret: While relaxing or warming up for a fight, Male wears big headphones. Not showing off. He is listening to Eminem, Tupac or Roy Jones Jr lyrics to shed off stress, without losing focus.
And in his free time, he watches Roy Jones Jr, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, some of the greats whose style he tries to exemplify.
“I love them for their style because I believe in playing boxing not fighting,” the middleweight-cum-light heavyweight says.
And when he enters the ring, “I tell myself: ‘it’s now or never. I have to suffer the consequences to live as the rest of my life as a champ.”
That ruthless approach is what has kept him on course amid challenges in and outside the ring. Male attributes his success to a dedicated coaching staff: Isaac Lubega, Byekwaso, Mujib Tebazaalwa, among others. But he reserves special tribute to one man who taught him how to throw his first jab. The man who made him believe that he can rise from the Zana ghettos (along Entebbe Road) to the world’s recognition. That man is Nasser Bukenya, now building a professional career in the Netherlands.
Bukenya retells that coincidental encounter in March 2014 even better: “I met Joshua just across the streets, where he used to sit with his friends staring at people passing around. I wanted to buy chips but it wasn’t available. He approached me and offered: ‘I know where I can get it for you.’ “I gave him the money even though I didn’t know who he was.”
Within no time Male was back with the chips but his courier services weren’t free. He begged: “Can I come you teach me boxing?” Bukenya wondered: “Why do you want to do boxing? Do you want to fight on streets?” The humble lad answered: “I want to be like you.” Bukenya, who had made himself a name as a gifted amateur boxer who was also sharing the skills to younger slumdogs.
He probed the teenager: “What do you know about me?” Male answered: “I know you train kids boxing.” That was enough to win Bukenya’s heart. But he warned the lad: “I’ll teach you but make sure you don’t rob or fight people on the streets.”
It was a Thursday night, Bukenya remembers, and the following morning Male was at the training ground, an open space, with a makeshift ring behind Bukenya’s parents’ house. I gave him some skills and the next Saturday there was boxing. Male was told to report at 6:00pm.
“I wanted to see if he has the heart and I told myself ‘if this kid comes back I’m gonna give him all my time.” Male reported at 1:00pm, five hours earlier.
In the evening he was in action, fighting a boxer who had trained for two months. He finished three rounds and won, even though it was a “bull.... fight”. Bukenya wanted to gauge his will. He passed the test.
“The fans were booing but I told them ‘give us only three months, you’ll see a different version of this boy.”
Meanwhile, Bukenya was pursuing his dream of boxing at big events like the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, and obviously the Olympics. He failed in all. Except, he was at the 2015 African Championship in Casablanca.
But he gave Male ample time training him, not only in boxing but also guiding him to separate wrong from right “because a lot of bad things happened on the streets—shooting of some tough boxers, etc.”
Male heeded and three months later he returned to the same place for an Eid Day boxing event. He knocked out a fighter who had trained for eight months. “The same people who booed him last time were now praising him and I told them ‘watch him, it’s just the beginning.”
The big stage
Indeed it was a beginning of a journey that has made Male one of the most entertaining boxers of this generation, never mind his delayed national debut.
“He started training around March 2014,” Bukenya recalls, “And after a few months of hard work and dedication he was ready for the big competitions.”
According to our records, the 2014 National Cadets’ Boxing Championships was Male’s first tournament at Lugogo, though he confuses it with 2015.
But he aptly recalls his first victim. “In my first fight I beat Shafik Kiwanuka, aka the Killing Machine. We were both beginners but I’m proud that my first opponent has now become a champion.”
Kiwanuka represented Uganda at the Africa Boxing Championship in 2017 but when he missed the 2018 Commonwealth Games, he turned pro last year. In just his third fight, he won the World Boxing Foundation-Africa heavyweight title.
Representing Ice Mark Boxing Club, Male lost the final to UPDF’s John Owino. “Joshua was taking a lot of punishment but the man in his corner couldn’t stop the fight,” Bukenya recalls. “I jumped from the crowd and threw a towel in the ring to save his future in boxing.”
In 2015 Male won the Intermediates’ title against Farouk Mpagi but losing to another UPDF fighter Batista Tabu denied him a chance on the national team and again, “still hurts.”
Bukenya thinks Male’s first international assignment is long overdue, but he should credit his student for never throwing his gloves down, instead getting better with time. Of the 30 boxers and more who reached the 2014 Cadets finals, he is the most popular, most successful. Others, like his club mate Allan Sserwanga, and many younger than him, are almost forgotten.
That resilience is what helped him defeat Owino at the 2019 National Open, avenging the 2014 beating. That victory put him on the path to his first Bombers assignment, ruthlessly stopping tough opponents during the trials for the African Games. But one opponent proved too stubborn to beat—destiny. Male did not travel to Rabat because he couldn’t secure a passport for he lacked a National ID.
Bukenya has won three and lost one of his four pro fights since his debut in September 2018. Male has heard his mentor tell him like he has told every kid he has trained: “No one can create your future, it’s only you to know what you want.”
And Bukenya believes: “God willing Joshua is in the right place now. He just needs a good guidance. He has the strength to do what he wants to do, he’s still young and ambitious with lots of energy to make it to the world level. Inshallah, if he stays humble and respectful he can achieve his dream of being the next UG-American star.”
Punching beyond weight
Naturally, Male is a middleweight but how has he managed to dominate a weight class above him? “Most people believe that in big weights you need sheer power to knockout someone. But you can do it if you have speed. Like Roy Jones Jr, who moved to heavier weights and knocked out opponents.”
“My coaches always task me to have a speed of lower divisions because it gives me an edge over huge and powerful sluggers. So you hit me once, I hit you thrice. And move away from danger.”
“The will must be stronger than the skill. No matter how much a baby falls he will get up and do twice what made him fall , he won’t stay down to crawl and that defines a champ no matter how many times he is knocked down the issue will be how many times will he get up? Gladiators from Rome had a saying ‘A gladiator has to die in the arena that gives his death honour.” hmm I think days are coming soon the legacy has just begun I’m comin’ home let’s see some sweet science.” Arthur Josh posted on Facebook December 13, 2019.
Next, he stopped two more opponents to book his ticket to the African Olympic Qualifiers in Dakar, Senegal.
There’s no better person to tell us of Male’s weakness than the mentor himself. “He has yet know his purpose…but the moment he knows what he wants, four years from now he’s gonna be the next world champion. My word.”
Born: January 5, 2000
Club: Zana Boxing Club
Debut: National Cadets 2015
Best moment: winning 2019 National Open title
Strongest weapon: My amazing style
Expectations: the best from Dakar