Room G147 is the welfare office at Ham Shopping Mall. It is always busy. People come with different needs. The occupant is popular. Not because he was once Uganda’s most promising boxer, but because he is a humble, diligent leader.
Badru ‘Mr Crush’ Lusambya listens to everyone. He calls his colleague Raymond Ssentongo, also a former boxer, to open Room F63 after the tenant sorted matters with the office. Another tenant returns complaining that after being cleared, his shop is still closed.
Amid our interview, a beautiful young lady comes in crestfallen after being fooled in a fake gold deal.
Lusambya must check on CCTV whether the conman can be tracked. Some have been arrested before and taken to police.
When we secretly asked the tenants on another day, their feeling was unanimous: “Lusambya has no problem when you follow the rules.”
Frustration in the ring, on the pitch
Lusambya claims an enviable 49-1 KO amateur record, Robert Musaazi the only one to have defeated him after nose bleed. But Lusambya did not represent the national team. He was not into medals. “I wanted money to support my family,” recalls the man who by then had just begotten his first child. “They gave us plastic basins and buckets. They meant nothing to me.”
He quit amateur boxing for some time hoping for a change. But there was none.
Meanwhile, he faced similar frustrations on the pitch. A versatile defender, comfortable in central defense and left-back, Lusambya played for Jubilee Park FC, Amazon FC, and Katwe United, which he helped promote to the first division. From 10am to 1pm, he was training football; 5pm to 1pm at KBC training boxing.
“But whenever we helped clubs promoted, they got new players they deemed better for the new divisions,” Lusambya regrets. “This was unfair.” He quit.
After about a two-year sabbatical, Lusambya returned to the ring in 2002, knitting a professional record of 16 KOs—the closest to John ‘the beast’ Mugabi’s 26 by a Ugandan—winning the African Boxing Union Super Welterweight Title on three occasions.
All these fights were in Ugandan arenas, and falling out with Big Strikers Promotions coincided with his new deal with Dan Lutaaya, that ushered him into famous arenas like York Hall, in London, Scottish Exhibition Centre, Thistle Hotel in Glasgow, among others.
On the Sebyala fight
In shop F66, Lusambya sells kettles, flasks, cups, etc. But nowadays his first task is rigorous roadwork through Kampala suburbs, every morning.
In the evening, he trains at KBC gym. He must be in shape by Boxing Day, even when he threatens to crash Muhammad Sebyala, aka Kabona for the vacant national middleweight title at L’Aponye Mall, in downtown Kampala.
Sebyala won the East & Central African super middleweight title January 16, 2016, in Nakivubo, two weeks before Lusambya lost his biggest fight, against Azerbaijan’s Fariz Mammadov for the vacant WBF World Super Welterweight Title in Baku.
But Lusambya, a four-time African champion, insists that Sebyala defeating him, or even standing the distance, will read like the bizarre news of “a cyclist knocking down a train.”
“He must work harder, eat more to gain some energy and pray even harder that he goes past the sixth round,” Lusambya bragged.
“In the last press conference I will ask my fans to choose in which round I should stop him and that will be it.”
He says Sebyala has failed to improve on his game, and “this is time to teach him boxing.”
On idols and legacy
“I’m in this office not because I’m educated or that my father is a minister close to Ham [Hamis Kiggundu, his employer] but because of my talent and good conduct,” the primary seven dropout says. “People should appreciate sport as another path to success.”
Lusambya is serious about legacies and role models. He says while the money that bought the naming rights of KCCA FC’s stadium is important, a Phillip Omondi statue would not be bad to remind young generations of the club’s legends.
“That would make the young players work harder to emulate or supersede his record.
More so, “That’s how children in Europe grow into ardent fans because they are nurtured into loving and supporting their clubs.”
Lusambya is on Facebook, WhatsApp, and watches some of his old videos on Youtube but he did not conceive these ideas on social media. Rather from firsthand experience.
In 2009, when he was the big name, primed the “next Kassim Ouma,” Lusambya visited the Buckingham Palace and Emirates Stadium, home of his favourite club Arsenal.
“That was a gift from my bosses for defeating UK’s Chas Symonds.”
The southpaw stopped Symonds in just the third round of the nontitle welterweight six-rounder inside York Hall.
This was a huge morale booster, after Lusambya lost to Gary McMillan, on points. He scored three more TKOs that year, clinching the fourth African title, after beating Tanzanian journeyman Idd Kigula on October 18 at Little Flowers, Kampala.
He does not recall the exact date of his Emirates visit but remembers it was after the Symonds battle, before Michael Jackson died, ahead of his This Is It concert, which never happened on August 19, 2009 in London.
Lusambya saw statues of super striker Thierry Henry, captain Tony Adams and former manager Herbert Chapman two years before they were unveiled at Arsenal’s 125th anniversary. He also saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s at Old Trafford.
“I felt emotional,” he recalls. “I wondered why our government can’t honour our sports legends this way! Why we don’t have statues of our heroes at Namboole!”
Shopping in the same malls as the filthy rich Premier League superstars was equally flattering for a boy born and bred in the shanty Katwe slums.
“My bosses told me that I was becoming a star, I can no longer shop from ‘Owino’.” He remembers the Arsenal-branded gloves he bought at £50 and the luxurious £3500 pair of shoes his bosses bought him. “Whenever I put it on in Kampala, those who knew fashion marveled at me.”
Unfortunately, his return to the UK in April 2010, was blighted by a second round TKO to UK’s Craig Watson at Robin Park Centre, Wigan. His first loss by stoppage cost him the vacant Commonwealth (British Empire) Super Welterweight Title.
And that was the end of his relationship with Left Jab Promotions’ Miranda Carter, legendary matchmaker Roy Hilder and manager Dan
August 2018, Lusambya lost the WBO Africa Super Welterweight Title challenge to Ghana’s Patrick Allotey in Accra. But he says finishing the 12 rounds was a victory because “I had not trained.”
Such are the impromptu fights African Boxing Union president Houicine Houichi thinks derailed Lusambya’s progress and denied Africa a potential world champion.
But Lusambya says he was sabotaged by many who severed his connections abroad.
Meddie Sserunjogi, Lusambya’s first professional victim, often chipped in. I asked him: how did Badru defeat you? He answered: “Kanziba,” meaning “he cheated me.” I prodded: cheated you twice? He shyly smiled, his wobbly voice and stature hinting Parkinson’s: “But I’m on his side, we must beat those wannabes.”