At five-foot, nine, Ayub Kalule still has the look of a fit sportsman, demonstrating his skill by throwing strong jabs and uppercuts with good guarding and footwork.
The 63-year-old retired southpaw fighter is Uganda’s most decorated world boxing champion, with an impressive career record of 46 wins, four losses and zero draws.
He became the country’s first world boxing title holder after claiming the World Boxing Association World Light Middleweight belt in 1979.
While he has been out of the ring as a professional boxer for more than three decades, Kalule remains a master craftsman.
So how has he managed to keep fit when many retired sports stars in Uganda struggle with weight gain long after their days of sporting glory?
“I watch my diet and train regularly in the gym. I do not take alcohol or drugs,” says Kalule.
His illustrious career as a professional boxer dates back to the mid 1970s when he left for Denmark under Team Palle, and quickly established himself as a skilful fighter.
He would leave Europe in 1993 and settle in Kenya where he suffered loss when his business investments collapsed. He is, however, reluctant to discuss the matter.
Today, Kalule, who keeps his personal life private, lives in Kampala with his family where he regularly trains young boxers.
He blames the country’s current poor showing to unskilled coaches, lack of adherence to the foundations of the game, wrangles in sports administration and poor government funding.
“The government knows why it does not support sports and yet sports helps to promote a country. The good thing is that some of our legendary coaches are still alive and the government can consult them on why Uganda was successful in the past,” says Kalule.
“The greed for money has also led to infighting. For us, we put the game first because it made us famous. The money followed later.”
Kalule has in the past censured “unskilled” boxing coaches who pass on poor techniques to young Ugandans, and the lack of refresher courses for the trainers.
The boxing legend also takes issue with the youth over their preference for learning boxing on the Internet, “forgetting that those on the Internet trained for the sport.”
“The youth must get off the Internet and return to the foundations of the sport if Uganda is to regain its boxing glory,” says Kalule.
According to Kalule, while we may adopt modern technology, there is a need to pay attention to the foundations.
“A young boxer will want to train today and become a champion tomorrow, which is wrong. If you love boxing, then you will benefit from the sport.
But you must train hard; go to the gym and follow the rules of the game and the instructions of coaches,” he says.
“Unless we show our upcoming boxers how a foundation for boxing is built we shall not have another world champion any time soon.”
After years of stardom, many Ugandan sportsmen often live a life of squalor either because of bad business investment decisions or their careers were not lucrative enough.
While the government pledged to support successful retired sportsmen with a monthly pension, it has failed to honour its promise.
“The government has never fulfilled its promise and I don’t know why. The sportsmen have nothing to do and yet they brought fame to this country,” Kalule laments.
Ultimately, Kalule is a fulfilled man.
He does not regret his decision to follow his boxing dream.
“I picked boxing because I wanted to defend myself so that other people wouldn’t tease me. When I learnt the sport however, I did not find it necessary to fight unless somebody really provoked me.
I recall my peers beating up their wives after a minor disagreement. When you learn boxing it should be for sports purposes and not to injure other people,” he says.
“And when asked what he would have done different in his illustrious boxing career, his answer is unfaltering and direct.
“What I did was to the best of my ability. I would not have done any better. I am satisfied with both my amateur and professional boxing career because I achieved what I wanted. I am now striving to do the same in my coaching career,” he says.
Ayub Kalule was born on January 6, 1954 in Uganda.
He attended Nsambya Police Primary School and Modern Senior Secondary School in Kampala.
He began boxing in 1968 while at Nsambya Police Primary School.
He started off as an amateur boxer in 1972 when he joined the Kampala Boxing Club. He was picked for the Uganda national team in 1973 and won several international medals.
Kalule’s professional boxing career began in Denmark in 1976.
His biggest boxing achievement came at age 25, when he became Uganda’s first world boxing title holder after claiming the World Boxing Association World Light Middleweight belt with a unanimous points decision over the defending champion — 28-year-old Masashi Kudo of Japan, on October 24, 1979.
“I was 130 per cent prepared because Kudo had kept our fight waiting for two years. I was contender number one. He punished me, for I had to train for a long time for the fight. I showed him who I was,” Kalule recalls.
Kalule successfully defended the WBA World Light Middleweight Champion four times before losing it to the legendary American Sugar Ray Leonard on June 25, 1981.
“I was ready for Sugar Ray. Although he knocked me out, he admitted at a press conference that he had never fought a tough fighter like me. We had respect for each other,” says Kalule.
Kalule’s professional boxing career ended on February 5, 1986 when he lost the European Middleweight Championship to Herol Graham of Britain by a tenth-round technical knockout in Sheffield, UK.
He signed out with an impressive record by winning 46 fights (23 knockouts), losing four (all by knockout), and drawing none in his professional career that involved 387 rounds in total.
In January 2013, Kalule received the 2012 Legendary Award from the Uganda Sports Press Association for his outstanding achievements.