Before we heard of a man called Moses Golola, the sport kickboxing was being practised in the country, way back in the 90s. According to the president of the Uganda Kickboxing Federation, Hassan Sekirime, kickboxing in Uganda took root in 1993. Madmike Mpyanga was the president of the federation at the time and the game was at the amateur level. Some of the first men to play the sport at a national level were Burunana Ssemwogerere, John Mukunde, Ronald Mugula, Shaban Andama, Richard Ddamulira, Abu Kikenwa, Erick Onen, Titus Tugume and Golola. It should be noted that Kickboxing just turned to the professional level in 2008 according to Sekirime. And until Golola came onto the screen with a bang, not much was known about the sport.
How it started
Golola had tried many sports and he kept excelling in each of them. He tried body building where he won the Mr Ntinda 2001 title. Previously, in boxing, he had left as a Ugandan champion in the Light Middle Weight Division Challenge organised by Uganda Amateur Boxing Federation in the late 90s. And although, his first defeat in kickboxing was in Zanzibar to Japhate Kaseba, the East African champion at the time and later World Champion, a year later, he went on to be crowned the Kickboxing champion of East and Central Africa and subsequently, Africa’s Muay Thai Kickboxing Champion. He earned the African crown after knocking out Southern Sudan’s Abdul Qadir Rahim at Hotel Africana on July 1, 2011. With the exception of Uganda Cranes matches, no game has ever attracted such a huge crowd. And that is where it started.
A December 2011 article in the CEO magazine, described Golola as that man who had demonstrated the power of personal branding. It was his loud, verbose, extremely hilarious baloney that saw him kick his ways and kickboxing into the hearts of many.
Growing the game of kickboxing
Truth be told, kickboxing was another of those games Ugandans only got to hear of in passing. It was something a few saw only in movies starring Jean Claude van Damme such as Kickboxer. For others with children in international schools, their children had a chance to play the game. Overall, kickboxing was unknown to many. But that changed and now, it would not be wrong to say the father of kickboxing in Uganda was Golola. Otherwise, who cared to know about a Titus Tugume, a Malik Kaliisa or a Ronald Mugula before Golola happened?
For one, Mugula first heard of Golola in 2000 when he [Mugula] started kickboxing and was on the national team with him. “I saw him in 2000 in Kampala Boxing Club when he was doing sparring with Abu Kikenwa but he was so nice with his kicks,” says Mugula who acknowledges the fact that Golola brought fame to the game. “The whole Uganda knows me, because of him.” Sekirime does not differ from Mugula. “Generally, I give Golola the credit. He did a lot to market the sport,” he says. “I also can’t forget the promoters and sponsors that played the background role, most especially, Golola’s first Ugandan promoter, Patrick Kanyomozi.”
Golola attributes the growth of the game to the passion and love he had for it. “Right from when I was an amateur, I loved kickboxing. I used to feel sad because the game had no sponsors,” he says. To him, it was the fight he had in Zanzibar that made him popular. “My fight with Kaseba was televised on EATV, people were surprised I had managed to knock him down.” Tanzanians began idolising him because unlike the rest, Kaseba had failed to win him with a knockout. “Jonah Kagimba, a Ugandan student in Malaysia uploaded my clips on Youtube and another guy went ahead and created a Facebook page for me.” For Golola, it was all about social media and the fan base built over there. “My fans on Facebook knew me as the strongest man and they spread the gospel,” he comments. However, he makes no mention of Kanyomozi. When pestered to talk about individuals who helped him, he mentions his coaches, Hotel Africana and Abdul Nasser, a man who used to wake him up every morning and stirred the passion in him for the game.
Kanyomozi , the marketer
When Kanyomozi saw Golola’s clip on NTV, he was forced to invite him for a sports talk show on KFM. “The show was meant to last for an hour but we extended it to two, he had that appeal,” says Kanyomozi.
“I realised he could use his funny side to promote his sporty side.” Kanyomozi then asked him about organising a fight in Uganda. A date for a fighter with the South Sudanese, Abdul Qadir Rahim, was set. Together, they built on the quotes and engaged the media. “We used the media as much as possible. Golola was marketable, and to bring people to the show, we made sure he was everywhere, on the internet and in real-life,” Kanyomozi explains.
And as expected, the crowds turned up, massively. Golola did not disappoint. After the fight became a hit, it was time to move from the African championship to the Intercontinental competition.
The fall after the ‘disco-location’
After the financial dispute in the aftermath of Golola’s loss to Andras Nagy on December 9, 2011, Golola broke ties with Kanyomozi. Evans Mayambala, brother to Golola became the new force behind the kickboxer. Like many, he was now enjoying an already baked product.
When he lost to Mate Zsamboki at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds, many realised Golola was human afterall. The ridicule followed, the once praised man was now being trashed.
But the game had managed to grow. And now the sport in the recent past has got much more attention than games that have been around much longer such as tennis and cricket. Where previously, kickboxing fights were held at YMCA, they are now held in bigger arenas, such as Kyadondo Rugby Club, Kati Kati, MTN Arena at Lugogo and Hotel Africana. Ticket charges were between Shs5,000 and Shs10,000 after 2007 and Shs2,000 to Shs3,000 before that. Now, the charge for the tickets to these games ranges from Shs20,000 to Shs50,000 with a corporate table going for Shs100,000.
Nowadays men such as Golola, Mugula and Tugume are celebrities and as such, interviews with the kickboxers, their profiles and news of the fights are given a lot of space and airtime by most media houses. Some of the matches are even covered live. At some matches, there is even entertainment from popular artistes before the start of the fight. The game has indeed grown.
As Golola prepares for a non-title fight on April 19 with Hungarian, Betyar Istavan at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds, he has a new sponsor and manager, Benon Kasenene, the director at Bk-afro Beat Inc. The reason he has chosen to take on Golola even after many have lost hope is because of his potential. “Golola has a special talent even in marketing, he is a funny guy, he’s naturally attractive, people fall for him so easily,” he explains. “He is the face of the game in Uganda, if he dies away, the sport would roll away,” he says.
Golola now assures the public that “he’s pregnant with skills” and come Friday, he will “produce twins”. He has been training with Mugula. “I called Mugula to come and help sharpen the skills, he’s an international fighter,” Golola remarked. Mugula is also confident Golola will win this time. And so at the end of the day, even though Golola is no longer as cherished as he was months back, there is no doubt the he put the love of kickboxing into many Ugandans’ hearts.