Ayub Kalule – Uganda’s Greatest and Most Decorated Boxing Champion

Ayub Kalule – Uganda’s Greatest and Most Decorated Boxing Champion

Ayub (Ayubu) Kalule was born on January 6, 1954, in the Buganda region of Uganda. He was born to Juma Balinnya (a former boxer) of Kibuye. Kalule started studying at Kibuli Primary School at which he started boxing early, while only in the fifth grade. Balinnya did encourage his youngsters to be a boxers, although Kalule had never seen him box. Kalule began boxing nationally in 1971, through famed club Kampala City Bombers and through his his high school Modern Senior Secondary School. In terms of length of world professional ranking, together with skill and performance, Ayub Kalule has endured as Uganda’s top boxer. Kalule will also, for long, stand out as one of the most revered as well as one of the most debated of African world champions.

Of significance, Ayub Kalule, in 1972, fighting as a light-welterweight, became the under-19 Africa champion. In 1973, Kalule in the semi-finals of the lightweight division, lost and settled for bronze at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos. Thereafter, Ayub Kalule had recently turned 20 when he represented Uganda in what was his first major international test…the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand held in the last two weeks of January 1974. Throughout his career, Kalule was known for his unique right-handedness, in that he who would face his opponents as if he were a southpaw, or face them in what some boxing writers call a “square stance.” This was likely an advantage in his ascent to becoming world champion, insofar as he performed as an ambidextrous boxer who would continuously confuse and barrage his opponents with either hand. Because of his strong, solid, muscular body, Kalule a man of stamina was regarded as an iron man. His opponents would tire from attempting to pound on him and his advancing pressure of relentless arms and speed.

Ayub Kalule boxed as a lightweight at the Commonwealth games, and started in the preliminaries by outpointing 20 year-old William Lyimo of Tanzania. Six years later, by which time boxing professional Kalule had become WBA Junior Middleweight Champion, Lyimo would fight for Tanzania at the Olympic Games held in Moscow. Lyimo at 27 years of age would go past the second round, but would in the quarter-finals be knocked out in the third round by 20-year old Anthony Willis of Great Britain, and thus settle for 5th place in the welterweight division.

At the quarter finals of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Kalule out-punched and bloodily disfigured the face of 22-year old Irish “Sugar” Ray Heaney who was in the fight given two mandatory counts because of heavy punishment from the fast and hard-punching Ayub Kalule. Heaney would later become a professional, but would fast retire with an undistinguished boxing record. At the quarter finals, Kalule was pitted against 19 year-old New Zealander Robert Charles Colley. Colley would be outpointed (and settle for the bronze), allowing Kalule to move on to the final stage. After being eliminated by Russian Valery Limasov in the first round at the Olympic Games of 1976 held in Montreal (Canada), Colley would turn professional. Though Colley’s professional record is impressive, it is mediocre insofar as his fights were confined to New Zealand and Australia, and Colley retired quite early…in 1980. At the finals of these Commonwealth Games, Kalule would outpoint Kayin Amah of Nigeria and therefore win the gold. Kayin Amah, who had in the preliminaries lost to legendary Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the previous Commonwealth Games (1970), would this time be happier with taking home a silver.

Perhaps Ayub Kalule’s most prestigious amateur encounter, would be the World Amateur Boxing Championships that were held in Havana in Cuba in August 17-30 1974. Kalule starred for Uganda as a light-welterweight. Kalule’s first bout was encouraging, inasmuch as he disposed of Puerto Rican Amador Rosario by points. Next, Kalule similarly outpointed Marti Kalevi Marjamaa of Finland. Tall 5’11” Marjamaa did consecutively represent Finland at the forthcoming Olympics, but was eliminated early in the preliminaries at both the Olympics in Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980). At the quarter-finals of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule defeated Mark Harris of Guyana by points. Mark Harris was scheduled to box for Guyana in the forthcoming Olympics in Montreal, but Guyana became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. Harris thereafter turned professional, but his record was mediocre, including being knocked out during his attempt at the Commonwealth (British) welterweight title. Harris was knocked out by Colin Jones of the United Kingdom. Harris retired from professional boxing near the end of 1982.

In the semi-final of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule was pitted against Ulrich Beyer of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Kalule outclassed the German, and won by points. Notably, in the previous Olympics (Munich, 1972), Beyer was eliminated by Sugar Ray Seales (eventual and only national gold medalist, during these Olympics) of the USA, in the first round. Later in 1978, as professionals, Ayub Kalule would beat Sugar Ray Seales in a 10-round decision. However, Ulrich Beyer would be eliminated by Sugar Ray Leonard of the USA in a memorable fight of the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal in Canada. The finals of these World Amateur Boxing Championships saw Ayub Kalule defeat Vladimir Kolev (silver medalist) of Bulgaria by a clear 5-0. At the forthcoming Olympic Games in Montreal, Uganda was not represented but Vladimir Kolev won a bronze medal.

Ayub Kalule’s next major outing came at the African Boxing Championships that were held in home territory, in Kampala in Uganda in November 1974. Kalule, a recent Commonwealth Games’ and World Amateur Boxing Champion, was expected to win. Kalule was not disappointing, winning the gold in the final against Kenyan Philip Mathenge, in the light-welterweight division, on points. Earlier, at the Commonwealth Games held in late January 1974, Mathenge had commendably won bronze in the light-welterweight division, falling to Anthony Martey of Ghana on points. Martey would go on to be defeated by legendary Obisia Nwakpa of Nigeria, in the finals, by points. Nwakpa is now a Nigeria national boxing coach.

Ayub Kalule moved to Denmark in 1975, under Morgas Parley Promotions. Kalule distinguished himself by winning against Delroy Parkes of England for the European Cup title in the light-welterweight division.

Ayub Kalule, rose quite rapidly in the world ranks, even in spite of his being based in Denmark rather than being situated the more championship-lucrative USA. Though Kalule turned professional in 1976, during 1977 he became the foremost contender for the WBA light-middleweight crown. Peter Heller in his book “Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story” (1995: 142) writes that Ayub Kalule already top junior middleweight contender for the WBA crown, was from 1977 to 1979 denied a shot at the title. Although a champion was required to defend his title at least once every six months, the WBA did almost everything to keep Kalule from fighting the champion who happened to be a mediocre Latin-American fighter named Eddie Garzo. The WBA did not want Garzo to risk losing the title to Kalule. It was long after Garzo had lost the title to Japanese Masashi Kudo, and after considerable pressure was mounted on the WBA, that Kalule was given the chance at the title. Kalule easily defeated Kudo, and thus became Uganda’s first ever professional world boxing champion. But in order to sanction the fight, the Latin-American WBA president had requested that the Japanese promoters furnish his team of officials a long list of amenities in Japan (including luxurious dinning and hotel accommodations and seven round-trip tickets to Tokyo). The WBA has a long history of being presided over by Latin Americans.

Kalule’s fight against Masashi Kudo took place at the City Gymnasium in Akita in Japan, Kalule won the 15 round fight by unanimous decision. The fight took place on October 24, 1979. The win was quite lopsided and the scores in favor of Kalule read as: Referee Robert Ferera 149-139, Judge Harold Lederman 146-139, Judge Tim Kelleher 149-145. At age 28 and at 5’10”, a relatively young and tall Kudo would retire from boxing after this and only loss, ending up with a record of 23 wins, 1 loss, with 50{6146c35448480150dd9eae763dbc2b693fee29074db8ae2568ac3ba41be86da4} of the bouts won by knockouts. Kudo had previously, successfully, defended the WBA light middleweight title three times, over the 14 months since he won the title from Eddie Gazo. In addition, Masashi Kudo had held the Japanese middleweight title for several years, so his fame and his only defeat at the hands Kalule has actually made Ayub Kalule’s name quite infinitely endure amongst Asian boxing circles. Kudo is not regarded as a technically efficient boxer. Kudo virtually never threw a hook or uppercut, and he relied solely on jabbing and throwing straight rights. That, to some extent made it easier for Kalule to defeat him. And in retrospect, Kudo had originally been a wrestler, and he turned to boxing after failing to make it on the Japanese wrestling team to the Olympics of Munich in 1972. Maybe Kudo was in professional boxing by default, but was not really that interested in it. Even in the bouts he won, most were won by a few points. Kudo’s power was punctuated by his enormous amounts of stamina and strength, which enabled him to retire without having ever been knocked down.

Ayub Kalule’s defense of the WBA Junior-Middleweight against African-American Olympic gold medalist and superstar Ray Charles Leonard (“Sugar” Ray Leonard), is Kalule’s most internationally acclaimed fight. Undefeated Kalule had won all 36 of his previous professional fights. The fight took place at the Astrodome in Houston in Texas, amidst a capacity crowd, on June 25 1981. In the first and second round of the fight, Leonard was surprisingly the attacker of the solidly built Kalule. Leonard was certainly, faster and more agile of the two, this enabling him to penetrate Kalule as the champion worked to figure Leonard out. Leonard’s compact jab convincingly worked through Kalule’s defenses. The third round was different. It was revealed later that a left hook to Kalule’s head had resulted in the bruising of Leonard’s middle finger, a handicap that became permanent. The injury was cumbersome, but Leonard courageous attacked Kalule in the fourth round, even dazzling him a couple of times. Finishing Kalule off was the hard part, for Leonard seemed to ran into a brick wall each time he tried to finish Kalule off. The tough spirited exchange between Ayub Kalule and “Sugar” Ray Leonard demonstrated just how sturdy and unyielding Kalule was.

Into the fifth round, Kalule registered control, much with his right hand, and in the seventh round registered a right to Leonard’s head, knocking the challenger off-balance. Leonard recovered, but Kalule’s confidence blossomed. Kalule displayed more toughness in the eighth round, Leonard tiring with Kalule gaining the upper hand. Round 9 is interesting. The two boxers looked exhausted but determined, such that the non-stop and no-holding exchange that had continued right from the beginning of the fight showed no signs of abating.

The formidable Kalule continued to absorb Leonard’s faster and more accurate punches in exchange for Kalule’s bruising and ambidextrous, unpredictable punches. But Leonard did seem to sense that with the formidability of Kalule, the best thing for him to do would be to take the risk of throwing in a flurry of combinations that would disable Kalule. Ray Leonard apparently sensed that strong Kalule was also tiring and slowing down. Near the end of the round, Leonard unleashed a series of hard combinations that seemed to confuse Kalule. A flash right hand landed Kalule to the ground into a sitting position, an indication that he was not unduly hurt. At the count of six, Kalule got up, and backed up to the ropes of the neutral corner to further recuperate. The Panamanian referee who did not communicate in English, surprisingly, stopped the fight. Kalule appeared stunned by the stoppage, shrugging his shoulders and arms in questioning stance. There are claims of miscommunication between Kalule and the referee. It is said that the referee was not convinced that Kalule was willing or able to continue, based on facial gestures, but not on exchange of words between the referee and Kalule! It was deemed by Kalule’s team, that their champion had been unfairly dispossessed of his world title. An unsuccessful formal protest followed. But again, Ray Leonard was regarded as a small version of Muhammad Ali, maybe his successor in skill, speed and antics. This was American territory and Americans wanted famous and handsome golden Olympian Ray Leonard to win. Ray Leonard displayed the antics of Muhammad Ali, and was widely regarded as the heir apparent of, “The Greatest.”

Ayub Kalule had been scheduled to represent Uganda at those Olympics in Montreal in 1976 where “Sugar” Ray Leonard won gold, but Uganda became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. The “Sports Illustrated” cover of July 6, 1981 reveals Ray Leonard in the process of landing a left jab to the chin of Ayub Kalule. It turned out that at the stoppage of the Kalule-Leonard bout, at 3 minutes and 6 seconds of the 9th round, the bout had unanimously been scored in Leonard’s favor: 76-78 by Panamanian referee Carlos Berrocal, 76-78 by judge Harmodio Cedeno, and 75-78 by judge Ismael W. Fernandez. Hence, even relative to the scoring, the differences in scores were too small for the fight to be easily and prematurely stopped. But let credit due be given to Leonard. He was the faster and more flexible of the two fighters, he landed more combinations, and he had moved up in weight to fight Kalule. This loss confirmed that Kalule had reigned as WBA Junior Middleweight champion for 20 months.

Ayub Kalule would unsuccessfully contest the decision that favored Leonard. In the September 19, 2009 issue of the Uganda national newspaper “New Vision,” Moses Mugalu reports on a recent interview (“Face to Face with Kalule”) with a 55 year-old Kalule. Kalule remarks, regarding the knockout at the hands of Ray Leonard: “I was shocked when the ref stopped the fight because I had beaten the count before the bell rang. I went to my corner for a break and was ready to continue fighting.” In much of the rest of the interview, Kalule laments his business investments in Kenya (neighboring his native Uganda which was not regarded as comparatively stable for investments) following, his retiring in 1986. The investments were disastrous and involved swindling. Kalule had invested with his buddy, former sparring partner, fellow countryman, and former highly ranked boxer Mustapha Wasajja who was a light-heavyweight. In the interview, Kalule mentions that he has children in Denmark, Kenya, and in his native country where he now resides and trains boxers. He was reconsidering moving back to Denmark for promotional contracts which he had turned down over the years. Kalule also lamented the sorry state of affairs of the sport of boxing in Uganda which he says involves corruption and bribery. Kalule says of Uganda boxing: “Real boxing stopped with our generation, the current crop of boxers have had a bad foundation.” About why his face looks remarkably smooth for a boxer, a face not bearing the swells and marks noticeable on many long-time boxers, Kalule tells Moses Mugalu, “I had a long reach. I used it properly to keep my opponents at a distance and I guarded well that’s why my face is smooth.”

Only three months after his historical battle with Ray Leonard, Kalule was back in the ring. On October 9, 1981 in Copenhagen, Kalule beat Spaniard Andoni Amana on points. Amana notably had an impressive record of 42 wins and only 2 losses, reigned as Spanish middleweight champion, and had unsuccessfully failed to capture the European Boxing Union title in just the previous fight against Tony Sibson of the United Kingdom. This was apparently the beginning of Amana facing quite formidable opponents, and Amana’s losses would continue to accrue.

A month later, Kalule challenged O’Dell Leonard of the USA in Randers in Denmark. Leonard’s record was mediocre (16 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw), the fight was scheduled for only eight rounds, Kalule won by points. Next, on February 26, 1982, Kalule would be pitted against France-based Jacques Chinon of Martinique. With a record of 20 wins, 20 losses, and 5 draws, Chinon’s record was not impressive. But he managed to fight Kalule the whole 10 rounds, Kalule winning by points, in Copenhagen.

On April 30, 1982, Kalule challenged American Oscar Albarado, the encounter again taking place in Copenhagen. Though apparently declining, the veteran Albarado had an impressive record of 58 wins, 12 losses, and 1 draw. “Shotgun” Albarado even reigned as world WBC and WBA light-middleweight champion for six months, from June 1974 to January 1975. He was moving into his mid-thirties, and he had boxed professionally since the 1960’s. Sadly, Albarado had lost his previous two fights by knockout. Kalule’s knockout of Albarado in the second round would officially be the end of Albarado’s professional career. Apparently, Kalule had remained very active, notwithstanding his loss to Ray Leonard. In his next professional outing, Kalule would once again challenge for the WBA World light-middleweight title.

Ayub Kalule was set to challenge young, upcoming and undefeated (10 wins, no losses) Davey “Bronx” Moore of the USA, in Atlantic City in New Jersey on July 17, 1982. Moore had won the WBA title in February 1982, wresting it from Japanese Tadashi Mihara by knockout in the bout that took place in Tokyo. At the time of the knockout (10th round of a scheduled 15 rounds), the judges each had Kalule trailing by a couple of points. 24-year old Davey Moore lost the WBA title to legendary Panamanian Roberto Duran, by knockout; after one title defense in which Moore had knocked our Gary Guiden. In 1986, in France, Moore was knocked out by American Buster Drayton who defended his IBF world light-middleweight title. There followed 5 more non-title bouts with heavily ranked and talented boxers such as Edwin Rosario, Lupe Aquino, and John David Jackson. The results were mixed. Davey Moore’s last official fight was with Gary Coates, in New York. Moore won by a knockout. on April 30, 1988. On June 2, 1988, Moore was apparently killed in his own garage, when he stepped out of his car to open the garage door. The car was running and was geared in reverse instead of neutral, the car abruptly rolled backward and pressed him against the garage door, killing Moore on the scene.

Next Kalule would face undefeated and future WBA champion, Jamaican Mike McCallum in a non-title but significant bout. On November 13, 1982, again in Atlantic City in New Jersey, Kalule would face a skillful McCallum who many notable boxers such as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran had apparently avoided challenging. But while McCallum’s amateur career is not as spectacular as Ayub Kalule’s, McCallum got better and better with time. McCallum represented Jamaica at the inaugural World Boxing Championships in Havana held in 1974. He boxed as a welterweight, and he was eliminated early in the rounds by Clint Jackson of the United States. Notably, Ayub Kalule as a light-welterweight became the first African to win gold in this tournament.

Kalule would also win the British Commonwealth Games’ gold medal, and the All-Africa Boxing Championships’ gold medal in the same year of 1974. Mike (Michael) McKenzie McCallum would later win gold at the British Commonwealth Games, held in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada in 1978, representing Jamaica. Earlier on in 1977, McCallum became USA Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) welterweight champion. In the same year, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ Welterweight champion. Again in 1979, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ welterweight champion. In 1979 at the Pan-American Games held in San Juan in Puerto Rico McCallum was knocked out in the second round in the finals by Andres Aldama of Cuba; so, McCallum had to settle for silver medal. The last major amateur encounter for McCallum involved him in losing to New York Puerto Rican Alex “the Bronx Bomber” Ramos, for the New York Golden Gloves’ Championships.

The Kalule vs. McCallum fight was not a title bout, it was scheduled to last 10 rounds. McCallum overwhelmingly dominated Kalule. McCallum was slimmer and 2 inches taller than the stockier Kalule, McCallum was visibly faster and more agile and accurate in jabbing, and his continuous blows hit the head and anywhere above the waistline. McCallum took advantage of his long reach and speed, leaving a strong and valiant Kalule unable to reach him. Kalule also suffered an upper-cut knockdown during the preliminary rounds. Kalule kept being punched by “The Body Snatcher” McCallum, and in the 7th round was on the verge of being knocked down. The decision in Kalule’s corner was that he would not continue. McCallum had won by technical knockout by Kalule retiring! McCallum would in 1984 become WBA world light-middleweight champion, a title he would lose to Sumbu Kalambay (a Zairean resident of Italy) whom Kalule had defeated. McCallum notably became the first Jamaican world boxing champion. McCallum would later regain the WBA title by defeating Herol Graham who was the opponent in Kalule’s last professional fight. McCallum even became WBC world light-heavyweight champion, was later defeated, and later retired in 1997, aged 40, after an illustrious and excellent career of 49 wins, 5 losses, and 1 draw. Both McCallum and Kalule are ranked as among the greatest of world light-middleweight boxers of all time.

It was after an unusually long spell of nearly 18 months that Kalule was entered for a professional fight. On April 25, 1984, Kalule knocked out highly regarded and undefeated Jimmy Price of the United Kingdom, knocking him out in the first round in London. Kalule went on to knock out Canadian Wayne Caplette, in the third round in Randers in Denmark, in October 1984. On November 9, 1984, Kalule outpointed Lindell Holmes from the United States. Lindell Holmes would, after several spirited attempts become IBF super-middleweight world champion in 1990 with a win by majority decision over legendary American boxer Frank Tate.

The next significant bout for Kalule would be that against France’s highly regarded champion Pierre Jolly on June 20, 1985, in Copenhagen. This was a contest for the vacant EBU (European Boxing Union) middleweight title. Jolly lost, by a TKO in round 8, in a fight scheduled for 12 rounds.

Six months later, this time in Marche in Italy, Kalule was pitted against Zairean born Sumbu Kalambay, right in Kalambay’s adopted hometown. The bout which took place on December 19, 1985 involved two fine boxers. Kalule was knocked down in round 5 and in round 11. Kalambay was knocked down in the final 12th round. The referee Mike Jacobs awarded Kalambay the win by 113-114, the two judges sided with Kalule: 118-115, and 117-114. Kalule had retained the EBU title by majority decision! As for Kalambay, he would in 1987 win the EBU middleweight title by beating Herol Graham, would even beat legendary American Iran Barkley for the vacant WBA world middleweight title, by unanimous decision; he would in 1988 defend against Mike McCallum for the same title, beat Americans Robbie Simms by unanimous decision and knock out American Doug Dewitt for the same title. Kalambay’s biggest humiliation of his career came with his getting knocked down by Michael Nunn in the first round of the IBF world championship match-up. “Ring Magazine” dubbed this, the “1989 Knockout of the Year.” To add insult to injury, the WBA had already stripped Kalambay of his WBA middleweight crown!

In the next year of 1990, Kalambay’s wins, in non-title bouts, would mostly come by knockouts. On Aril Fool’s Day of 1991, he again was pitted against his nemesis Mike McCallum for the WBA world middleweight title, in Mote Carlo in Monaco. The bout went the full 12 rounds. Judge Fernando Viso had Kalambay lose by 114-116, Judge Orlando Sam had Kalambay win by 115-114, and Judge Justo Vasquez had Kalambay lose 115-116. In their revenge re-match bout, McCallum had won narrowly. Kalambay’s next several wins included the defense of his EBU title against Steve “The Celtic Warrior” Collins of Ireland, the bout taking place in Italy. May 19, 1993 would officially mark Kalambay’s last official professional appearance as a boxer. He was beaten by British Chris Pyatt in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom, by unanimous decision, and thus failed to capture the vacant WBO (World Boxing Organization) world middleweight title. With 57 wins, 6 losses, and 1 draw, a man who challenged many boxing greats, Sumbu Kalambay will remain an African and Italian legend.

On February 5, 1986, Kalule was scheduled to defend his title in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom against Herol “Bomber” Graham of the United Kingdom. Graham stopped Kalule in round 10, of a scheduled 12 rounds. The loss of Kalule’s EBU title to Herol Graham officially spelled Kalule’s hanging up his gloves from the professional scene. It is of interest that Herol Graham, as an amateur beat another famous Ugandan boxer–John Mugabi in the finals of the Junior World Championships held in 1976. The loss to Graham spelled Kalule’s 46th and final fight.

In the issue of the Uganda newspaper “Bukedde” in the article “Kalule Ayomba” by Silvano Kibuuka (November 9, 2009), Kalule recounts that he had intended to retire after 50 fights, and that one of the biggest things he was proud of was that he never got beaten in the ring by a white boxer. Kalule left Denmark in 1993 and settled in Kenya where his business ventures failed. He went back to his his native Uganda, after several years in Kenya.

Later, in 1987, Graham lost the EBU title to Sumbu Kalambay (whom Kalule had defeated). Graham would also lose to Mike McCallum (by split decision) in 1989, in London, for the vacant WBA world middleweight title. After some victories, Graham would be knocked out in round 4 by Julian Jackson, in the bid for the vacant WBC world middleweight title, the bout taking place in Andalucia in Spain.

In 1992, Graham again lost to Kalambay in his attempt at the EBU middleweight title, in Marche in Italy. After some impressive wins and one loss to Frank Grant, Graham faced Charles Brewer of the USA for IBF world super-middleweight championship in New Jersey in 1998. Though Graham had built an early lead and even knocked down Brewer twice, Graham was eventually knocked out in round 10. That was the end of Graham’s boxing career.

As for Ayub Kalule, given his excellent amateur wins in his native Uganda country, in the east and central African regional championships, in the all-Africa boxing championships, at the amateur world championships, at the European championships, and the world championships, Kalule will for decades remain Uganda’s most accomplished and most decorated boxer. Kalule boxed during his country’s golden age of boxing and sports (the 1960’s and 1970’s), all the professional boxers (only four) who managed to defeat legendary Ayub Kalule are themselves legends. Ayub Kalule was occasionally denied opportunities for the world crown, by the WBA. Kalule’s willingness to fight any contender, above all, illustrates himself as a very dedicated and determined competitor who loved and respected his game of boxing. During his professional tenure of boxing while resident in Denmark, Kalule there and then became the most renowned migrant.