By Thomas Gerbasi
On the verge of becoming one of only a handful of Ugandan fighters to win a major world boxing title, Sharif Bogere isn’t worried about following the exploits of Cornelius Boza-Edwards, John Mugabi, Ayub Kalule, or Kassim Ouma. His vision is a lot more focused than that, and it all starts with the man in the mirror.
“This is Sharif, this is me, those guys were them,” said the 23-0 (15 KOs) Bogere, who fights Richard Abril for the WBA lightweight title this Saturday in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. “Boxing is part of me; God gave me this gift. I’m gonna go there, put my gift on the line, and be me. If God gives me this win, I’ll be in that line of the legends back home.”
Proud but not cocky, quick with a laugh but very serious at the same time, Bogere may only be 24 in actual years, but when you come from where he came from, you can probably add another ten years to that in wisdom and maturity. Boxers like Bogere are raised hard, and a look at the fights of any of the aforementioned Ugandan standouts will show you that athletes from the African nation come from tough stock.
So it was really no surprise that he left everything he knew behind at the age of 19 to chase a dream of a world title in the United States.
“When I first came I just turned 19 and I was still a little boy developing,” said Bogere. “I missed my family and my people, but I said ‘I’m a grown man and I have to take care of my family.’ I have a son, I have to take care of him and take care of a lot of people that helped me come up and be the way I am right now.”
Turning pro in April of 2008 with a 69 second knockout of Ed Lee Humes in Mayetta, Kansas, Bogere would eventually wind up in Las Vegas, where he quickly became a fan favorite for his power and fan friendly style. Yet while he was racking up wins and building his fight career, he was also growing up and getting acclimated to his new country.
“The first thing that matters is manners – how you treat people around you,” said Bogere. “As time goes by, human beings grow and the mind changes. I’ve seen a lot of different things in this life. A lot of people, a lot of loved ones have passed away and they’re gone. So you say what’s really the purpose of this life? You have to stay positive and be thankful and treat people the right way, the way they’re supposed to be treated, and everything will fall in line.”
By 2011, things had fallen into line for the lightweight prospect. Beginning with a first round knockout of former prospect Shamir Reyes, Bogere then won a grueling 10 rounder over Ray Beltran before knocking out previously unbeaten Francisco Contreras in the third round. Now armed with a world ranking and a promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions, Bogere scored two quick wins in 2012 before getting the call to fight Abril for the lightweight crown last November.
Then disaster struck as an Achilles tendon injury scrapped the bout.
“I was working real hard,” he said. “Sometimes they say hard work gets you hurt. (Laughs) But everything happens for a reason. I just stayed strong, I stayed focused, and if I was a weaker person I would have given up, but I stayed with it, and here we are.”
Here we are, indeed. But in the days remaining before the biggest fight of his life, Bogere was remarkably calm and almost philosophical about the whole process. There was the obvious excitement about getting a shot at a world title, but also the idea that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get the job done, even though he’s fighting in his hometown.
“First of all, I’m always thankful to God because this is a big chance and I don’t want to let it get away,” he said. “I’m excited, and I can’t wait to go and do what I have to do to get that title this weekend. I’m also excited for my fans to watch the fight, but at the end of the day, you have to put your hard work on the line.”
Like his peers from Uganda, hard work has never been an issue for Bogere, who showed that he is willing to put his hard hat on and clock in for a distance fight in his gritty scrap with Beltran. He’s likely to be in for another long night with Abril, whose three pro losses were all by split decision against unbeaten opponents (Brandon Rios, Hank Lundy, and Breidis Prescott). The decision in the Rios fight from April of last year was particularly egregious, and showed that Abril is going to be a tough out for anyone he faces, including Bogere. “The Lion” isn’t showing too much concern though, at least not outwardly.
“He’s just another fighter, there’s nothing so special about him,” said Bogere of the Cuban. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s talented and he’s got some skills, but I’ve got some too, and I’m gonna do what I have to do to come out victorious. That’s my main point and my main goal with my team as well.”
And though he hasn’t been back home since he left over five years ago, he has plenty of support back in Uganda, and not just from his mother and other relatives.
“Not only my family, but the nation,” he said. “Everybody’s excited and showing a lot of love. Now I just have to make everybody proud.”
You get the impression he already has.
“Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be on this big stage,” he mused. “I prayed about it, and if you stay positive God makes things happen. So I stayed positive and everything is just falling in line.”
But has he thought about Saturday night and getting his hands on a world championship belt?
“Mannnnnnnnn,” he laughs, “that’s like putting a candy on a kid’s mouth. What’s the kid gonna do? The kid’s gonna try to bite the candy. Words can’t explain now. But come Saturday night, you’re gonna see the lion.”