Kent: The Kenyan who fought and fell Ali

Mohammed Ali Kent in his Baba Dogo home in Nairobi. PHOTO/Jacob Icia
Mohammed Ali Kent in his Baba Dogo home in Nairobi. PHOTO/Jacob Icia

At Nairobi’s backwater Baba Dogo Estate, not far from the Safaricom Stadium, inside a shabby single room, lives a man who qualifies to be called the Kenyan Muhammad Ali.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon on June 5, Mohammed Abdalla Kent walked down the meandering dusty road about 500m from his single room, to receive the Citizen team that called on him.

About six feet tall, well built and still energetic the aging former heavyweight boxer had mixed emotions on his boxing journey and poignantly the encounter with namesake Ali, the fallen American boxing legend.

It was Friday, February 6, 1980 at the Starehe Boys Centre when Kent met his idol before trading blows with the former three-time world heavyweight champion in a sparring contest for the benefit of the students.

“I had come from Germany for the 1980 Olympics not knowing I would meet him. When I learnt he was around, I joined the rest who had gone to Starehe to see him one on one with no idea I would go to the ring with him.

“Marsden Madoka, the then chairman of the Amateur Boxing Association who was a manager at Kenya Breweries saw me and came over. He told me tafadhali (please), we want you to do a sparring contest with Muhammad Ali. I told him no, ‘the likes of James Omodi are here’.

“Omondi was the heavy weight champion then. Madoka insisted I fight Ali, saying the rest had refused. I quickly rethought my decision, reckoning he was our boss at Breweries where I had a contract.

“I accepted telling myself it got worse I would lift my arm to surrender because I knew in boxing, there is no mock fight. Athuman Ali, a middleweight boxer gave me boxing attire. He was huge too, he used to put shoe number 11,” narrated Kent.

On the ring, the historical encounter was done in four rounds and Kent put Ali down for the count before ‘The Greatest’ rose to floor him for the knockout.

“I started aiming at his stomach, because I didn’t want to aim above the chest which would have exposed me to his lethal punches. He was telling me, ‘I am fit, my belly is fit’.

“It was during the second round break that Madoka urged me to hit him all over. When we came back in for the third I got him on the jawand knocked him down.”

Kent was waiting to savour his moment of glory but soon, it all disappeared in a flash.

“It was counted until seven before he rose. He hit back, finding my neck on the left and knocked me down. I shouted to him Muhammad you are hurting me, and answered back ‘guard yourself’.”

-Fast and powerful-

Mohammed Ali Kent spurs with Muhammad Ali in February 1980. PHOTO/Jacob Icia
Mohammed Ali Kent spurs with Muhammad Ali in February 1980. PHOTO/Jacob Icia

He reminisces the late great as fast and a powerful puncher who would dance all round the ring without getting fatigued.

“He threw six quick consecutive left hand punches, it was like fun. After the bout he told me I was good to box in America, I will never forget it.”

Born as Simon Kent on 20th September 1953, he would later change his name after converting to Islam like his hero who was born Cassius Clay.

“I went to America, read a translated Quran and I was convinced to convert after understanding the faith. Kent was from my mom, Abdalla from the Muslim who guided me in the process of converting and Mohammed from the legend, who really inspired me.”

Her mother had barred him from joining boxing, before she finally accepted in 1966, after sitting for his Kenya Primary Examination (KPE) at Jericho.

“She thought football was good, but my temper was bad. I would beat referees who ruled unfairly. I invited her to watch Muhammad fighting a certain German, and saw how he was enjoying fighting.

“The Ali! Ali! Ali! cheers by fans and the laughter convinced her it was a good sport. She accepted, and told dad to allow me to box.”

He recalls, her mother would urge him to do it like Ali  with good footwork and speed but avoid his brash character.

Kent could not hold back his tears, telling how he learnt of Ali’s demise and he is yet to come to terms with the loss.

“I was sat here (motioning to where he was); one of my relatives who knew my history with Ali called me and broke the news.

“I cried. I have never cried for any other person save for my mother when she died in 1994. I had to switch on my radio to confirm through BBC radio that he was no more,” he told, staring at one of the photos he had with the legend on the ring.

His phone rang off the hook on Saturday with every media house and person who knew of his connection with the fallen icon calling to inquire.

He now wants the Government to send him to the US to witness the writing of the last bit of his idol’s story, when he will be laid to rest on Friday.

This, he says, would be respect for the all time boxing great whose photos hang all over his single room, and, one fixed in his passport.

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Story By Jacob Icia
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