In his days Jerry Okorodu (with or without the Jerry curl) was considered one of the best and talented boxers of the golden era of amateur boxing in Nigeria.
This was when he and the likes of Peter Konyegwachie grew to become national and continental forces in boxing.
Although he narrowly missed out on winning a medal at the 1984 Olympics where his compatriot, Konyegwachie went one up on the record of Nojeem Maiyegun with a silver medal showing, Okorodudu showed the world what he was capable of.
Konyegwachie settled for the silver after a close loss to Medrick Taylor.
From that Olympic, Jerry boy knew he had a career in boxing and he made sure he made a profession out of it at the professional level where he fought in the middleweight category.
He was liked and feared.
He knew it and made it work for him during his career.
Then, like a bolt out of the blues came a customs officer called Joe Lasisi, who was not afraid of Jerry Okorodudu.
Jerry thought to make light work of the taller, more muscular, rugged and classless custom man in their Middleweight fight.
Most boxing pundits thought so too but it turned to be Jerry’s undoing.
His overconfidence worked against him as he was battered and forced to retire in the middle rounds. He would emerge a day after the fight heavily swathed in POP (Plaster of Paris).
Shocked and humiliated by the defeat, Jerry boy tried to save face by introducing something novel to Nigeria professional boxing. The role of black magic “juju” in deciding the fate of a fighter during a bout.
Although many disagreed with him to date, Jerry insisted that he saw two Joe Lasisis in the ring during the fight and he was at his wits end discerning who was the real or phantom Joe.
That was in 26 July 1985. 36 years down the line, Jerry Okorodudu emerged again. After a long spell as the National Boxing Coach, Jerry, now a grandfather walked into the RovingNaija office for the first time.
You would recognise him at the first instance if you loved boxing but the swag was gone, the lustre of youth diminished.
His well-toned athletic and ramrod body of the days of yore, now slightly bent.
He walked slowly, bobbed and weaved slowly at an imaginary opponent, before he sat down so slowly.
He was now older and carried some heavy burden clearly visible on his wizened visage.
Then he started talking…
“I regret fighting for Nigeria!” he kicked off without any prompting…
“I served this country for many year with nothing to show for it,” he continued, “I also regret not representing Ghana as against Nigeria because I would not have ended up the way I did with Nigeria,” he said and paused.
Then, he regained his composure, shook his head like a fighter would to shake off the effect of a left hook and said:
Let me tell you my story…
“After representing Nigeria for many years as a boxer both at amateur and professional levels, I also served as the national boxing coach for many years.
“I was managing to get on with life when I suddenly came down with a strange ailment…I suspect that it must be a spiritual arrow shot at me.
“I could not walk or urinate without support. In fact, one of my sons used to ask me, ‘Daddy, why are you walking like a woman?'”
“You see, I was admitted at Dan Hospital, Mile 12 in Ajegunle for three months, a development that drained me of my scarce resources.
“I was afflicted by big boils which made mobility and feeding difficult and i could not just cope on my own,” he said.
“But guess what,” he continued, “during this difficult time the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, gave me N50,000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) after Mary Onyali (the African athletics champion and Olympic medalist) pressured him to help me.
“Some of my former ‘boys’ such as Sunkanmi Ogunbiyi gave me N200,000 while others made contributions of not less than N50,000 each.
“Through their donations, I got about N600,000 which I used for the procurement of drugs.
“I will not forget the effort of some journalists such as Raymond Akporiere who fought a great battle for me and I will never forget the support of Mr. Larry Izamoje of Brilla FM,” he said.
Although he expected some level of support and understanding from his employers, the Ministry of Sports over his medical predicament, Mr. Okorodudu could not hide his disappointment.
“The Ministry of Sports only paid me four months salary, saying that was all they owed me. And they later paid me salary for one year,” he added.
Worried that his case may be very pathetic and he must be neck deep in debts by now, the Jerry man explained that he is barely able to keep head above water.
“I stay at Irawo, Mile12, before Ikorodu and it costs me N1,200 to train my young boxing team in Surulere everyday. So far I have depended on my children but for how long? Now I am a grand father because last three weeks my daughter in the United States gave birth to a a baby girl but we lost her (the mother) to arthritis,” he revealed to RovingNaija.
He also revealed the reason for some of the deep disaffection he has with sport management in Nigeria generally.
“It is sad to note that five years ago the United States paid me a pension of $4,600 for boxing in the state of California for a short spell while my country, where I boxed for many years, does not have such a package for boxers.
“This is why I say that I regret doing sport for Nigeria, if I had boxed for Ghana, when I had the opportunity, I would not be suffering like this. You know, I used to live in Ghana and I chose Nigeria over Ghana when the time came for me to chose between the two countries. That’s why, sadly, I tell my children not to go into sport for Nigeria.
“Disappointing as it is, I have tried to put all of this behind me and move on but life is too tough for me because I have crossed the 60 years mark. I am not as young as I used to be.
“Boxing is the only thing I know how to do so I am pleading with the Ministry of Sports to renew my coaching contract. This is my desire but I have not been able to make much headway with this because the Minister of Sport is too busy, I have not been able to see him.
“He is based in Abuja, which is too far for me to see him and I have to travel by road and I am afraid of kidnappers.
“Other attempts to meet sports administrators has fallen flat on the face. Any time I knock at any door they tell me that Oga is not available, but most times this Ogas are available but they don’t want to see me…Nigeria, we no dey try at all,” he said with resignation uncommon to a priced fighter of his calibre.