Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika set to hang her gloves
- Fatuma Zarika is one of the few Kenyan female boxers who have managed to remain relevant despite the sport’s dwindling standards in the past few years
- The 33-year-old successfully defended her World Boxing Council super bantamweight title last September in Nairobi and is now contemplating hanging her gloves in 2019 after almost two decades in the ring
Fatuma Zarika is one of the few Kenyan female boxers who have managed to remain relevant despite the sport’s dwindling standards in the past few years.
The 33-year-old successfully defended her World Boxing Council (WBC) super bantamweight title last September in Nairobi and is now contemplating hanging her gloves in 2019 after almost two decades in the ring.
Zarika’s journey to the boxing ring began 18 years ago, her difficult childhood living in Nairobi’s Satellite and then later in South B living with her mother and younger brother playing a significant role in shaping her career as a pugilist.
“My real name is Zarika Njeri Kangethe. Fatuma is the street name they gave me at South B. When I look back at how far I’ve come I feel proud of myself and the things I’ve achieved; to be able to give my kids a good education and afford a decent life,” Zarika told Citizen TV.
Zarika’s mother was skeptical about her eldest daughter being associated with the sport when she discovered that she was seen training at a local gym as a teenager.
“She said she wouldn’t let me because she believed it was not a safe sport but I convinced her it was a discipline just like another and that some people have met their deaths on the football field. I told all I needed was her prayers for me to succeed.”
Zarika had put her studies on hold then, she was rowdy, and life had seemingly given her a knockout. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control.
“There were really tough times when you never knew when you’d have your next meal. Waking up to no breakfast and with no direction. I could see how my mother struggled to get the money to pay rent and buy food,” she added.
She took odd jobs trying to help her mother make ends meet and one day she heard about boxing and it struck a chord the moment she put on the boxing gloves for the first time in 2000.
“A neighbor of mine introduced to me to a friend who helped me secure a meeting with Conjestina Achieng’ and a footballer. I tried my feet with football but it just didn’t work out for so I decided I would be a boxer.”
‘against all odds’
She soon realized that the sport had its own unique challenges; lack of facilities, poor pay, minimal support from the government and corruption. But despite the obvious setbacks she was still eager to make her mark in the ring.
She rose steadily inspired by the exploits of her good friend and fellow female boxer Conjestina Achieng.
“We inspired each other and helped lift one another’s spirits when we were down. We took each setback as a challenge and vowed to rise against all odds,” Zarika said.
As Zarika’s profile expanded she attracted attention from rogue promoters who made her realize the importance of securing watertight contracts before stepping into the ring.
“Promoters can really just decide to exploit your talent; you go do all the work and the sweating in the ring and then receive no pay for it. You need to agree how much is in it for you prior to entering any fight,” she warned.
In the past year, zarika penned a lucrative deal with a betting company and her life has changed significantly. She can now afford a better lifestyle for herself and her two daughters.
She defended the bantamweight title recently edging Mexican Yamileth Mercado in a sold-out bout in Nairobi.
The win notched her win ratio to 31 that includes 17 knockouts 12 losses and 2 draws, a total of 45 bouts in her career. Despite such an impressive cv, she admits that age is finally catching up.
“To be honest I feel I’ve done my time and made my myself and my fans proud while at it. I will retire in August next year and take up something different like coaching,” she said.
For now, Zarika is still training hard. Boxing has been her way of life for almost 2 decades. She believes she might still have some reserve strength to fight competitively before she hangs her gloves for good.
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