The undefeated Nigerian heavyweight prospect wants you to get used to hearing his name because he’ll be the talk of the town after he makes his US debut versus Rodney Hernandez Saturday night on FS1.
Onoriode Ehwarieme. Try saying it slowly. It’s okay, take your time.
“I’ll pronounce his first name for you, but I’m not even gonna try the last name,” his trainer Herman Caicedo cracks over the phone from his gym, The Caicedo Sports Training Center, in Miami.
Caicedo’s center is a boxing boot camp for a slew of mostly Latin-American fighters. His best-known fighter is heavyweight contender, and longstanding division boogeyman, Luis Ortiz. Former Colombian bantamweight titleholder Juan Carlos Payano is another client. So is Yuniel Dorticos, the former cruiserweight champion from Cuba.
Caicedo’s focus these days, however, is on his newest understudy, a heavyweight from Nigeria.
“Oh-no-ri-oh-day,” Caicedo says slowly.
The man behind the difficult name sports a flawless 17-0 record, with 16 of his wins by knockout. He built his record fighting in nearby Ghana and in obscure club shows in Argentina. A few of his fights were contested in his homeland, though one questions their legitimacy; one of his wins came against a career light-heavyweight half his height.
But Caicedo wants you to forget the padded record for a second. His physical credentials are the bonafides. Ehwarieme fits the profile of a modern-day heavyweight: 6-foot-7, 241 pounds, lean, with a sledgehammer right hand — supposedly. Hard to vouch for it when you’ve never seen it hurled.
“It makes (WBC heavyweight champion Deontay) Wilder’s right hand look like a baby,” Caicedo assured.
“I’m serious,” Caicedo insisted. “It’s not as fast and it doesn’t come the same way (as Wilder) but whatever you put up, a wall, whatever, his right hand is gonna blast through it.”
Caicedo thinks everyone in the boxing world, sooner than later, will have to start pronouncing his charge’s name. He gropes for another comparison. “It’s a Lennox Lewis kind of right hand.”
“Hey, I’ve worked with some world class heavyweights,” Caicedo continued. “Trust me, this guy is something else.”
Speaking of Nigerian heavyweights, the Houston-based heavyweight Efe Ajagba also throws a pretty mean right hand. It turns out he’s a friend from their days on the Nigerian Olympic team, not that that would deter Ehwarieme from fighting him.
“Absolutely I would fight him,” Ehwarieme said. “It’s a business.
“I’ll fight anyone. I’d punch my mom if she gets in the ring.”
Whatever the deal may be with this Ehwarieme, viewers can judge his right hand for themselves this Saturday, when he makes his American debut against Rodney Hernandez in San Jacinto, California. The bout will be televised on the undercard of the Devon Alexander-Ivan Redkach bout, live on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
Despite his enthusiasm for his latest protégé, Caicedo admits that Ehwarieme is very much a raw product. Sure, he’s got the old college one-two down pat, but his toolbox thins out after that.
“He works behind a great jab, and walks a guy down and the first time they get hit with the right hand, it’s over,” Caicedo explained. “That’s primarily what he’s been used to. That won’t work in a title fight. You need to learn how to manage and slowly manipulate your opponent for 12 rounds.
“It takes time and he’s not there yet. There’s no rush.”
And yet, there is no time to lose either. Ehwarieme is 31 years old. He might’ve been further along with his development if, like so many boxers, he hadn’t got caught up with the wrong crowd when he initially moved to the US a little over a year ago.
Loosely translated, Ehwarieme’s first name, Onoriode, means “no one knows tomorrow.” It is as apt as any phrase to describe his career thus far.
Ehwarieme’s handlers had a few fighters they were working on with Don King and, for reasons of convenience, paired him up with the octogenarian promoter, thinking that their charge could carve out a true career stateside.
Weeks passed by, as Ehwarieme toiled in the gym. Weeks became months, until more than three quarters of a year had passed, and Ehwarieme still had not gloved up for a single fight. Instead, he was languishing under King’s shadow, drying out like an orange peel on Miami beach. Only in America.
“He was continuously being promised that a fight was coming,” Caicedo explained. “And in the meantime King’s running up a bill in typical King fashion. (Ehwarieme’s) getting advances since he’s gotta survive. He wasn’t happy, extremely frustrated. It wasn’t what was promised.”
It got to the point where a sullen Ehwarieme “contemplated just not fighting anymore.”
That was when his manager, Nelson Aiyelabowo of LPMG, brought him to Caicedo. If King wasn’t going give his guy a fight, at least he could change up his training routine and perhaps spark some inspiration.
Eventually, Caicedo got in touch with Jay Jimenez, who promotes Luis Ortiz, to gauge his interest. Jimenez was intrigued: a hard-hitting, 6-foot-7 heavyweight carries a lot of currency these days. In due time, Ehwarieme was able to obtain a release from King and linked up with Jimenez.
“I’m very happy about it,” said Ehwarieme of his recent fortune. “I’m so relieved. (My career) was going nowhere. Nothing against King. That’s all in the past. Now with the correct management I’m looking forward to actually fighting. I see a unity here and everybody communicating and trying to move me forward.”
Ehwarieme has since landed in the healthiest working environment of his career. He trains alongside the skilled southpaw Ortiz, still perhaps the best heavyweight after Wilder, Anthony Joshua, and Tyson Fury. This is one way to make up for lost time. At some point, though, Ehwarieme will want his turn against the kingpins of the division.
But to get to that point means grinding away in the gym day in and day out. To help him achieve this, Caicedo has furnished Ehwarieme with a room of his own room—room 7—Inside his gym. It was one of Caicedo’s few requirements.
“I’ve produced champions that way,” Caicedo said. “From Ortiz, Payano, Dorticos. Once (Ehwarieme) starts making some money and proves himself, maybe he can move and find his own place. But it’s a 1000% commitment. That was my stipulation and he and his manager agreed to it and now that’s where we’re at: Caicedo Sports Training Center, room seven.”
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