Tukamuhebwa: The making of a ring punisher

Joshua Tukamuhebwa has been boxing since he was a little boy at East Coast Boxing Club in Naguru. 

What you need to know:

  • King in the making.  Joshua Tukamuhebwa has been boxing since he was a little boy at East Coast Boxing Club in Naguru. Now 22, Tukamuhebwa is arguably the best in amateur boxing, hardened by fighting boxers bigger than him before the age-cluster system was introduced in amateurs boxing in 2014.

By Primary Four Joshua Tukamuhebwa, now the national boxing captain, was playing football and hockey. One day, returning from school, his friend Jaffar Onen took him to East Coast Boxing Club in Naguru.

“I tried to punch amidst the other trainees at the gym and I enjoyed it. But the instructors ordered me to go home and remove my uniform,” Tukamuhebwa, who boasts as The Punisher.

“Back home I nearly skipped cleaning the dishes because I wanted to rush back to the gym.” But by the time he finished the dishes   Soon, he caught up with Bashir Nassir, who raised him as a little brother in boxing and life, generally.

Tukamuhebwa’s first fight came in 2010 when he was only 10 years old. He lost it to Moses Kabuuka in the friendly between East Coast and Police in Naguru.

The two would meet again at the National Novices final in 2012 at Centenary Park and once more, Kabuuka won, as Tukamuhebwa settled for silver.

By then, his mother could not tell why his son was losing weight. He even skipped dinner on the eve of the tournament just to stay within the light flyweight limits.

“But when I returned home with a certificate and silver medal was when mum learnt that I was a boxer.

Unlike most parents, he says, his mother did not oppose the idea until Tukamuhebwa’s obsession with the sweet science affected his academic grades.

“My underperformance in the first term of P7 annoyed her. I vowed to improve immediately, and I managed 11 Aggregate—a first grade—in PLE.”

At the 2013 National Intermediates, he won two fights but he was then barred from playing the final because he was deemed too young to fight Umar Mutebi, a much senior opponent.

“I didn’t like it because I wanted to beat the best.”

By then Fazil Juma Kaggwa, who would win bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, was East Coast’s top light flyweight, with Tukamuhebwa in African Sport, the reserve club. The youngster was relegated to the juniors.

At the 2015 National Open, he contested in the juniors flyweight and alongside Geoffrey Kimbugwe and Frank Kaweesa (both of Namungoona) was in line for national duty if an opportunity surfaced. Two years later Tukamuhebwa emerged as the best youth boxer.

But four years ago he missed the first chance to represent the Bombers when he lost to Joshua Nyanzi for the inaugural East African Games in Burundi in the 2018.

First international call-up

2019 was rich in opportunity: the African Games in Morocco; the World Championships in Russia and the national Olympic trials.

With two wins: a decision and KO in the just seconds, at the National Open in 2019, in the final Tukamuhebwa met Isaac Ssebuufu, a boxer as determined as his big brother David Ssemuju. Tukamuhebwa eventually edged the brawl 3-2, despite his opponent suffering a deep cut in the first round.

“It was a real war; I wanted him to give up but the guy has a tough jaw…he’s good,” Tukamuhebwa recalls.

Months later, he defeated nemesis Yasin Adinan to book a ticket to Rabat for the African Games—his first international event.

In the draws Tukamuhebwa got a bye into the quarterfinals.

But he lost his only fight to Louis Richarno Colin 5-0. No surprise, considering the Mauritian’s immense experience of 40 international fights. He had won bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and at the 2015 African Championships in Casablanca; gold at the 2011 All-Africa Games [later named Africa Games] in Maputo, all in. the light welterweight division

At 32, he had been at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics.

“He scored more quality punches. But if we meet again in Birmingham I assure you he won’t survive.”

Whether that rematch will happen—Colin made 35 this month—remains to be seen.

Missing Olympics

One of the judges in Rabat told Tukamuhebwa that if he worked harder, his future would be bright. But he lost the national trials to his arch-rival Adinan and missed the African Olympic Qualifiers early 2020 in Dakar, Senegal.

“This fight was for me than the first one, and I’m happy for this victory,”

Adinan said it was an easier fight than his loss to Tukamuhebwa in the National Open. But a disappointed Tukamuhebwa didn’t want to talk about it. However, two years later he spoke from an objective viewpoint.

“I somehow blame myself,” Tukamuhebwa admits. “I struggled with weight all-day, then when I had just reached home that afternoon they called me back for the fight.”

He says his punches lacked the power to hurt the opponent.

In the training camp at Luzira Prisons, Tukamuhebwa says he knocked down Adinan in sparring but it was too late to make the team to Dakar. He lost his job at a bakery.

Bombers captain Tukamuhebwa (in blue, center and red -far left) says winning gold in Birmingham is their prime target after defeating local opponents .  PHOTOS / ISMAIL KEZAALA & John BATANUDDE

Since then, he says he does strength training twice every week. And the results are three ferocious knockouts in the Champions League, which earned him the ticket to the Commonwealth Games.


In April 2021, Tukamuhebwa’s mother was returning from work at the city abattoir on Portbell Road when a speeding taxi hit her. Eight hours later she was announced dead at Mulago Hospital.

“It was a big blow to me and the entire family,” he says in a low pitch, engulfed in emotion.

He would spend Shs4m to give her a decent burial.

“I never fulfilled my dream of building her a decent house. A decent grave is all I could give her.”

His mother died at only 40, her youngest child only two years old. Now her first born had to carry the burden of fending for the bereaved family.

Fortunately a month later, he got a job as a technician at Zembo Electric Motorcycles. That’s how he manages to pay tuition for her sister who studies journalism. Of the five months he is away until for the Birmingham assignment, he has been paid for at least two months.

What’s more, whenever he destroys opponents in the league his employers and colleagues are chanting his name in the stands of the Lugogo Arena.

“That gives me extra energy.”

Club traitors?

Last December, most of Tukamuhebwa’s club mates rejected the four-year contracts for the inaugural Boxing Champions League, which they deemed exploitative.

Some turned professional. But amid the dilemma, Tukamuhebwa received a flurry of calls coercing him to sign. “Dad told me ‘the next time we talk on phone I want you to tell me you signed’.”

From Australia, his mentor Nassir told him the same thing. Tukamuhebwa and his childhood buddy, Onen signed the contracts.

But that pitted them against East Coast, the only club they knew their entire life. Tukamuhebwa also instantly ruined his chances of joining KCCA, as had many East Coast colleagues like Musa Shadir, Juma Miiro and Nassir himself.

“Me and Onen were seen as traitors,” he remembers. And some suggested they should be banned. They allowed them into the gym but Hussein and Hassan Khalil, the head coaches, would neither train them nor second them during their league engagements.

Only Erick Nyeko stuck by them. The boxers could only train with them outside the gym.

“At some point, it felt boring and we decided to train in the football field except when we needed to punch the bag. Times were tense.”

But despite the castigation, Tukamuhebwa does not regret defying his club to choose the only way to Commonwealth Games.

“I think those who led the defiance against the contracts thought about themselves. And many boxers were left in limbo.”

Nassir and more heroes

Tukamuhebwa attributes his success to Nassir, the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games boxer. Besides embracing him like a little brother, he ensured he trained as hard and regularly.

“Sometimes during sparring he could hit me hard and everyone in the gym got concerned. Sometimes I could start laughing alone and people thought I had lost my mind.”

Despite the contract crisis, he equally lauds the Khalil twins. “They mentored me into the fighter I’m.”

When his club treated him as a villain, in the contract saga, “Coach Nyeko stood by me. I can’t thank him enough.”

The late Zebra Ssenyange was another motivator. “He strongly believed in me and always told me I would be a champion.”

Even when he defeated boxers from his clubs, he always told him, “Kid, you’ve beaten my boy but let’s train for next time,” Tukamuhebwa remembers the former national team manager, who was killed by security operatives in late 2020.

“It’s unfortunate he won’t see us at the Commonwealth Games but victory is the only way we can honour him.”

He also reserves credit for his regular sparring partners like Onen, Shadir, JB Katongole, Emmanuel Aloy, and Michael Kagere of KCCA who shaped him into a dynamic and fearless fighter.

Diversionary opponents

At first, Tukamuhebwa thought his league opponents genuinely feared. “They could call me ahead of bouts pleading for mercy.”

But he now calls them diversionary, pretentious. “They plead for mercy but in the ring they want to finish you off,” he says of Pius Siriro, his third KO victim, who knocked him down in the very first round, before Tukamuhebwa revenged with a venomous right hook that nearly killed Siriro in the fourth round.

“My coach was warning me against being lenient with an opponent whose mission was to knock me out. So he told me to time one tough punch and boom…he was gone.

“Since then we never talk on the phone. I keep diversionary opponents at a distance.”

 Toughest opponents

Of all the opponents Tukamuhebwa has faced, he admits Ssebuufu and Adinan are the toughest.

But on who is better, he says it’s a tough call. “Adinan is a bully; very powerful and if you’re not careful he can easily knock you out. Meanwhile, Isaac is very skilful with admirable endurance. I was eager to face him again in the league but it didn’t happen.”

Next week Ssebuufu will have his second pro fight.


Last month, Tukamuhebwa won four fights including a KO in the final to clinch gold in the Kilimanjaro Boxing Open in Tanzania. Two other Bombers won gold, the other two got silver and one got bronze.

In Birmingham, the captain talks of gold as the Bombers’ prime goal. “We want to win the finals. If not, let it be silver.”

He adds: “Winning a medal would be the best pride for my country and silencing those who doubt us.”

If he succeeds in Birmingham, he also looks forward to joining Probellum, a global boxing company that launched in late 2021, and reportedly signed a deal with Uganda Boxing Federation, details which are still undisclosed.

Due to competing needs, Tukamuhebwa sacrificed his education for that of her younger sisters.

But having finished O’ Level at City High School he has the ambition to study bakery and catering.

“Next time I work in a bakery I want it to be mine and a very big one,” he says.