top of page

Ayub Kalule - One Of Africa's Very Best

Ayub Kalule was born in Uganda on 06th January 1954, originally fighting professionally out of Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1974 he had a very good year in the amateurs, lifting gold at the Commonwealth Games as a lightweight in Christchurch, New Zealand and becoming light-welterweight champion at the World Amateur Championships in Havana, Cuba.

As an amateur, he travelled to Denmark with team Uganda in 1976 and decided to stay put. He turned professional the same year, beating Kurt Hombach. Over a two year period, he amassed an unbeaten record of 20-0 (12 KO's). In his next contest, he challenged Al Korovou, the Fiji born Australian, for his Commonwealth middleweight title.

The bout took place in Brondby, Denmark and after a fourteenth round technical knockout, Kalule was the new champion. He defended the crown once against Reggie Ford, knocking out his opponent in the fifth round.

In November 1978 he took on Sugar Ray Seales. Kalule took a five-round lead, but he had to settle for a majority decision as two judges scored the bout in his favour and the third judging it as even after ten rounds. A month later Kalule was in the ring with Britain's Kevin Finnegan.

Like Seales, Finnegan had been in with Marvin Hagler twice by the time Kalule had faced them. The unbeaten Denmark native extended his unbeaten run to 25-0 (15 KO's) after winning every round on all three judges cards.

The victories kept on coming for Kalule, who travelled outside his adoptive country for the very first time as a professional, going to Japan to challenge Masashi Kudo in his thirty-first contest. Kudo, who was also unbeaten in twenty-three fights, was making the fourth defence of his WBA light-middleweight championship.

Kudo won the belt back in August 1979 when he outpointed the Nicaraguan Eddie Gazo. The southpaw challenger out-punched Kudo and staggered him a few times over the fifteen round course to pick up the crown by scores of 149-139, 146-139 and 149-145. Kudo, who never ventured out of Japan in his professional career didn't box again and retired with a record of 23-1 (12 KO's).

Fighting Sugar Ray Leonard

The new champion returned to Denmark, making four successful defences, before travelling to Houston, Texas to accept the challenge of the legendary 'Sugar' Ray Leonard. Both Kalule and Leonard could have met in the Montreal Olympics, but the African teams boycotted the competition. Ironically, Kalule would have been the favourite to take the gold (which Leonard actually won), but now it was Leonard who was deemed to be the favourite in this matchup.

Though Leonard was tipped to become a two-weight champion, Bob Arum, the fight's promoter, was worried that the proposed September unification bout with WBA welterweight champion Thomas Hearns was in serious jeopardy. "I don't want to take the blame when Leonard loses this fight. The match wasn't my idea, believe me," said Arum. "They made me do it. (Mike) Trainer came to me and said get us Kalule, Ray wants another title." Arum explained his concerns: "When I asked (Mogens) Palle (Kalule's manager) how much Kalule had to have he said whatever you want to give us. So I made a joke, I said $150,000. They said let us put our sponsor on the trunks and the ring posts and we'll take it.

"Why do you think they'd take such a fight for just $150,000? Because they think it's an easy fight."

"I'm serious," Arum continued. "This isn't hype. Palle couldn't wait to take the match. (Mike) Trainer didn't know what he was doing when he asked for Kalule. He's no boxing expert, he wouldn't listen to anybody. He thinks he knows it all."

Mike Trainer hit back by pointing out that he's just Leonard's business manager. When it comes to boxing decisions "When they (Angelo Dundee and Janks Morton) make a decision on opponents, I don't even get a vote."

The original opponent team Leonard actually wanted was WBC light-middleweight champion Maurice Hope, but it was reported that the Brit had priced himself out of the fight, even though Leonard would be getting $2.5 million.

To drum up more publicity for Kalule vs Leonard, Top Rank's press agent, Irving Rudd, brought in a witch doctor to Houston named Mugimba. Kalule wanted nothing to do with him. "I'm embarrassed. Why do they treat me like a fool? I didn't just come out of the jungle. Take him away."

Whilst training in Phoenix, Leonard sent out one of his aides to the local library to research what Ugandan witch doctors fear the most. The report back was that they fear the colour black and snakes, as they're too quick to cast a spell on. This is the reason why Leonard wore black trunks with a yellow cobra emblazoned on his left leg.

Both men came to the ring weighing 153 pounds. The estimated twenty-five to thirty-thousand crowd watched as the southpaw champion was looking to work behind his long rangy jab, but Leonard had planted his feet and looked to land some big punches. He stayed on the outside and neglected his jab to land his solid hooks to head and body. With less than 10 seconds of the round left, a solid left hook crashed on Kalule's jaw, but he took it well as the bell sounded.

Leonard was happy to fight going backwards, unleashing some heavy shots, as Kalule worked behind his jab and blocked most of what the challenger had to offer. Leonard did manage to land a right-left just before the bell rang to end round two.

The fourth was a clear round for Leonard. He wasn't giving Kalule much movement, but he visibly hurt him with a right to the body midway. As the round drew to a close Leonard backed up his man with some stinging punches, as he hurt the champion to head and body. Leonard tapped Kalule on the shoulder in a mark of respect as the bell tolled, then raised his hands aloft as he returned to his corner for the minute respite.

The challenger, showing no respect for the champion's punch power, came forward with his hands low. Kalule did manage to snap Leonard's head back with his right lead, but it wasn't enough to keep his man at bay, as Leonard usually slipped the jab and banged in some hurtful rights. A good jab from the champion, probably his best shot of the contest had no effect as the two had a good exchange before the bell.

Finally, in the seventh round Kalule, two years the older man at twenty-seven, came alive. He was coming forward landing the cleaner punches again. A good right uppercut connected and Leonard seemed on the back-foot. Still, he was having success with his left and was able to slip the blindingly fast hooks that Leonard had to offer, landing with his own, not as powerful punches.

The eighth round was pretty even. Leonard was way off target as he attempted a wild left hook, but he landed some good body punches in there, as Kalule probably landed with the cleaner, more accurate shots.

Round nine was another even round, not the chess match cagey affair, this was an all guns blazing tear-up. Leonard possessed the power, but Kalule fired back in kind. As the round was coming to a close, a hard clubbing right hurt the champion. Then, a string of blistering punches put Kalule down. He made it to his feet at the three-minute mark, the referee taking a close look at him, then decided to wave it off.

Leonard, attempting a 360° flip in celebration as he became a two-weight world champion and also paving the way for a big-money unification bout with WBA welterweight champion Thomas Hearns. Kalule, who dropped to 36-1, admitted: "I told the referee to stop it."

Returning To Denmark & Return To World Level

Four months later Kalule was back in his adoptive country, winning his first fight back on points. He then won his next three, all by decision, as he travelled back to the United States in an attempt to regain his old belt. Davey Moore, who was only 10-0 (7 KO's) was making the second defence of his WBA light-middleweight championship, stopped Kalule with only 2 seconds remaining of the tenth round.

He stayed in the US and faced another unbeaten boxer in the guise of Mike McCallum. The Jamaican was 16-0, with only the American Kevin Perry hearing the final bell. After getting knocked down in the opening round, Kalule retired after seven rounds.

Closing Stages

The former world champion didn't box at all through 1983, but in the following year ended the undefeated record of Liverpool's Jimmy Price, knocking him out in the first round in London. He continued to win, beating future IBF super-middleweight champion Lindell Holmes via a points decision.

In June 1985, he lifted the vacant European middleweight title, stopping Frenchman Pierre Joly in the eighth round and earned a split decision in his first defence over future WBA middleweight boss Sumbu Kalambay in Italy, at a time where you needed to knock out your opponent to earn a draw.

On 05th February 1986, he put his title on the line against the undefeated British middleweight champion Herol Graham, in Sheffield. With a record of 34-0, seventeen via KO, Graham's home-city supporters watched their man win the battle of the southpaws in the tenth round. It turned out to be Kalule's final contest, bowing out of the game as a former WBA light-middleweight champion with a respectable resume of 46-4 (23 KO's).

All the best fight fans

Books by me:


bottom of page