An engineers’ yard, a ballroom dance floor and a dusty, makeshift basketball court are all listed as venues on the professional record of unbeaten Nigerian boxer, Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab (19-0, 12 KOs).
His first six opponents hadn’t won a fight between them, but as various parts of the world emerge from the initial wave of the novel Coronavirus, Wahab has recently signed a significant management contract with London-based Streetwise Management.
The company, fronted by Michael Amoo-Bediako (the man who took Richard Commey from the streets of Accra to a lightweight world title), now expects further success at boxing’s top table.
Wahab, known to fans as ‘Seunzy’, is a product of Nigerian coastal town Badagry in Lagos State, infamous for its role as a middle ground during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Growing up in a troubled household, split as a result of his parents’ broken relationship, Wahab uses those experiences to drive him towards titles, telling Boxing Social his success is all down to one woman in particular.
“I was born and brought up in Lagos,” the 22-year-old explained. “I went to school in my early age, but things were not smooth for me as a child. I ended up staying with my grandma, and she made me the man I am today because, when I was growing up, I was a very stubborn kid.
“Living with my dad and my step-mom, it was a terrible experience for me, just seeing my parents separated. My grandma had to tell my mum to take me [to her home], so she could take care of me. My grandma is my hero and I believe I’ll become a world champion to make her proud. That’s why I’m working so hard at the gym every day.
“Ibereko, Badagry, where I grew up, it was a community that had a lot of strong youth [activities] and life was good to me. Once you’re from my area, you can’t be troubled by anybody. And we love fighting too much, but I thank god for my life now and for the decision to channel that stubbornness into boxing. Apart from fighting on the street, I can remember my first time punching someone and it was at the gym. I was so surprised; the coach just asked me to put on gloves and spar – that was my very first-time wearing boxing gloves.”
Wahab continued, reliving his sparring debut and first-ever visit to his local gym, “I was scared, they asked me and my friend to spar together, but he was my senior and he had been doing a lot of sparring even before I had started learning to box. At first, I was scared, but immediately there’s this confidence that just came over me and I wasn’t afraid anymore. When we entered the ring together, I beat him.”
There’s been no looking back ever since.
Although he has fought only once in the last 20 months. super-featherweight Wahab is ranked as Nigeria’s best fighter in the division (according to BoxRec statistics); despite beating opposition he has been expected to topple. It’s a learning process, from the streets to the stage.
Only now, with Amoo-Bediako and Streetwise Management by his side, can he truly begin to build his résumé overseas. Wahab previously missed out on a fight with Top Rank’s Abraham Nova after attempting to launch his career Stateside in 2019 (issues with former manager Greg Cohen saw the bout fall through).
Streetwise has since secured Wahab’s signature, but Boxing Social had initially heard of his potential a month earlier through a surprising source – Scottish trainer, Billy Nelson.
“It all started when I did an interview with ‘BBC’ [Boxing Blog Centre] and, in the interview, they could see how determined I was with my boxing career and they decided to help me,” said Wahab. “I told ‘BBC’ that in Africa, it is very hard to find a good management [team] who will build a boxer and make him world champion. They told me they would help me by getting me a team who could make me a world champion.”
‘Seunzy’ was keen to acknowledge the intervention of the small media company, essentially bringing him to the attention of his new team, “I want to use this opportunity to thank Mr. Raymond (the CEO of Boxing Blog Centre] who made everything possible by contacting coach Billy Nelson in the UK to tell him about me. Billy Nelson then contacted my new manager, Mr. Michael Amoo-Bediako and that is how god used Mr. Raymond to connect us all. I could really become a world champion some day.”
Amoo-Bediako told Boxing Social of sparring sessions he’d witnessed between Wahab and long-time charge, former IBF lightweight champion, Richard Commey.
“I travelled to Ghana to meet him and also set up some sparring. One thing, which is really important for me, is to know for myself a fighter’s character and what makes him tick,” said Amoo-Bediako. “I like to work with fighters who share the same ethics and enthusiasm for the sport, who understand what it takes to go the extra mile. Joshua listened intently and he took on board my advice and Richard’s advice like an avid student.”
Amoo-Bediako’s work with Commey has won Streetwise Management praise from the sport’s insiders, and there seems to be no intention to deviate from that blueprint. But he had to see it for himself; the young Nigerian’s talent locked away in the Seconds Out or the Napoleon Gymnasiums in Ghana, racking up multiple victories, was almost hidden from boxing’s radar.
The bigger fights will follow; Wahab won’t be walking through dusty, crumbling concrete paths, but instead striding down well-lit platforms, performing for a televised audience. That is the plan, anyway. The smiling dealmaker accompanied by the dangerous puncher – one has proven his craft while the other is itching to do so.
“I never think of getting nervous fighting overseas,” Wahab states, confidently. “That has been my dream – to fight outside of Africa and prove myself to the world. I always believe in myself and I don’t see any boxers in my weight class who can threaten me. I will be happy to fight in the United States or in the UK, to prove myself by beating the best. If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best. America is the Mecca of boxing. I’m not nervous, I’ve been getting ready for this moment.”
‘Seunzy’, who previously doubled as a professional dancer, tells Boxing Social he never tires. He is a machine. Again, he mentions world titles incessantly, almost talking them into existence.
Wahab is still only 22; he is undefeated and unchallenged. Fighters from his town don’t complain about ticket sales, percentages or which slot they’re asked to fight on a card – they are happy to earn everything. The hunger that drives them to succeed is often necessary. It’s not just a welcome attribute, but also a means of survival.