The Nigerian's serendipitous path to boxing could lead him all the way to the heavyweight crown.
Efe Ajagba just wanted an apology. Nothing more. Ajagba, then a lanky 17-year-old, was walking home with friends one afternoon in Ughelli, Nigeria, when he felt water splash on him, followed by a woman laughing. She thought it was funny. Ajagba didn’t. The woman was accompanied by a bodybuilder, who let it be known that if Ajagba stepped any closer, trouble would ensue.
It came, alright.
Ajagba fired a telephone pole-length right at the older, well-sculpted bodyguard, who collapsed in a heap. Screams pierced the air. Ajagba was scared. Witnesses thought he’d killed the man. Ajagba, believing he had, saw his life flash before his eyes.
Ajagba tried picking the man up, splashing water in his face from the same bottle that started the fracas. Later, Ajagba found out, the man was admitted to a hospital, his left eye swollen and bloody.
“That’s what did it. You can say that’s what launched my boxing career,” said Ajagba in discernable broken English. “I never met that man again. From there, that made me switch from soccer to boxing in 2011. I went to the local boxing stadium and asked to speak to the local boxing coach, and I remember him looking at me from eye-to-toe. He didn’t think I was serious.
“He asked me to come back the next day and I did.”
A splash of water on a young Ajagba is all it took to alter the future of the heavyweight landscape. The lanky Nigerian now stands a well-sculpted 6-foot 6, 240 pounds, with an 88-inch reach that seems to stretch across the ring.
Ajagba began his pro career under the management of Shelly Finkel and tutelage of one of the best trainers in the game, Ronnie Shields. Today, he’s 7-0, with six knockouts. That includes the fastest KO in boxing history; last August, when Curtis Harper walked out on their scheduled six-rounder at the Minneapolis Armory immediately after the bell sounded.
“(Harper) knew what was going to happen to him, that’s why he left,” said Ajagba, a super heavyweight quarterfinalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where he represented Nigeria. “He said it was the pay. It wasn’t the pay, he was afraid of me. But I’ve moved on from that.”
Ajagba, who made the move from Nigeria to Houston, Texas, in June 2017, is indeed moving forward, evoking fear everywhere he treads. He has yet to find an opponent for a scheduled six-round bout on the PBC on FOX card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) for next Saturday, December 22 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Six were asked and all said no.
Nicknamed "The One And Only,” Ajagba is quick to remind everyone that he’s still only 24—and willing to be patient as he hones his craft.
“I have plenty of time,” Ajagba stressed. “When I’m ready, that will be up to my manager and my promoter. My time is not now. My time is ahead and I’ll continue to box hard. I don’t like to talk about other boxers, because I have to focus on improving and becoming better.”
Shields, who also works with Jermall Charlo and Erislandy Lara, feels Ajagba checks all the boxes. According to the old-school coach, he’s dedicated, athletic, strong and, above all else, willing to listen and be coached.
“Efe talks the part, looks the part, fights like the part, and he is the part,” Shields said. “This kid is everything that you see, and I rarely say that about any fighter just by looking at them. When Shelly first called me about him, I went on YouTube and saw that Efe had the basics down. That told me Efe was a natural athlete.
“I told Shelly, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll work with him.’ My first impression of him was to look up (laughs), because he’s a legitimate 6-foot-6 with power. All I have to do is polish him up. He has a powerful right hand, but his left hand is just as lethal as his right. Efe has the build of an NBA power forward, a Karl Malone type, because he’s that athletic. He doesn’t even have all his man strength yet, since he’s just 24. He reminds me of George Foreman in a power sense—again, in the power sense. We’re going to take our time with him and make this a process. This will probably be his last six-round fight next week and we’ll move to eight-rounders next year.
“We’re grooming this kid to be champion of the world for a very long time. I was told he was a really good soccer player, but he got into boxing because he got into a fight.”
Indeed. From a splash of water to making waves.
For a closer look at “The One And Only,” check out Efe Ajagba's fighter page.
- Efe Ajagba