Charles Mabika Special Correspondent
WHEN Muhammad Ali knocked out then defending world heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston, in February 1964, in boxing’s greatest upset in Florida, he immediately proclaimed to the whole world he was “The Greatest”.
And undoubtedly, after that sensational triumph and many that followed “The Louisville Lip” proved that he was, indeed, the greatest boxer the world has ever seen.
When Zimbabwe’s lightweight champion, Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago tailored an identical shocker over Nigeria’s then defending Commonwealth king, Hogan Jimoh in Lagos in May 1981, the Shurugwi-born pugilist – in stark contrast to Ali’s rabble-rousing antics – quietly acknowledged the accolades that rung loud around the local boxing fraternity.
He never proclaimed that he was Zimbabwe’s “Greatest”.
But even well before that electric night in Lagos a lot of Zimbabweans already knew that Tinago would become the greatest boxer ever produced in the country. This followed many devastating exploits that he conjured in a career spannimg almost four decades both as a fighter and trainer.
And when the man, who called himself “Gazi” (Karanga slang for “blood”), passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning at Gweru Provincial Hospital, the vein that had pumped countless litres of blood into local boxing’s heartbeat had twitched its last contraction.
For Schoolboy was a sportsman who personified brute force, artistry and craft inside the ring and immediately whittled into a humble and shy midget off it.
A holder of three Commonwealth titles and dual local crowns during his illustrious career, Tinago was also crowned Zimbabwe’s Sportsperson of the Year in 1981.
Some of his most fierce rivals in the ring were John Fighter, Tedius Fisher, Joao Mapepa and the crafty Cranos “Dancing Master” Zuma.
Schoolboy seldom lost to most of his rivals and always paid homage to all by describing them as “anaGazi vangu ava tinenge tichingorisvipa asi havaneti” (“these boxing rivals of mine never know when to quit this bloodsport”).
Former Herald Sports Editor, Jahoor Omar, now resident in England, and who covered many of Tinago’s bouts said: “Tinago was one of the best if not the best pound-for-pound boxer I ever witnessed in Zimbabwe.
“He was the Muhammad Ali of Zimbabwe as he possessed perfect feet balance and always led with his left jab.
‘‘He may not have been a knock-out specialist but he was class personified.’’
Another veteran journalist, Funny “SB” Mushava, who was a long-time admirer of Tinago and Zuma, also paid tribute to Schoolboy.
“If Kilimanjaro was the most devastating boxer ever in Zimbabwe, then there is definitely no-one who can argue with the fact that Gazi was the most stylish, artistic and most exciting pugilist to come out of this land.”
Former boxing promoter, the late Paul Murinye, once described Tinago as “the best lightweight or featherweight boxer in the world” and even tried unsuccessfully to arrange a catchweight match between Schoolboy and then Ghanaian world champion, Azumah Nelson, in 1986.
Yet, once again, our local society demonstrated its cruel and heartless treatment to a man who had fallen on hard times just before the turn of the century by ignoring his plight.
Infact, Tinago was in a long queue of our local sports heroes who have been discarded to the dust bin after their heyday.
As if he had foreseen his death, Tinago had revealed to The Herald in an interview in April this year about his disappointment and frustration in his later years.
In a no-holds-barred tirade, he lashed out: “I know Zimbabweans are fond of passing eulogies when someone dies yet they would have never bothered to check on him or her during the days when the person needed them the most.”
Right now we still have many legendary sportsmen and women who could do with a little help – morally and financially.
We still have some of the following legendary sportspersons still living in our midst – George Shaya, Ernest Kamba, Barry Daka, Artwell Mandaza, Innocent Choga, the Hockey Golden Girls, to name but a few – who could do with recognition.