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The mind games of winners

By Achola Rosario

Moses Golola has lost a few famous matches; so why does his coach insist you can defeat him but you cannot beat him?

He does not drink. His knuckles are calloused. He has become a household name although he only started kickboxing professionally four years ago. Speaking to Moses Golola, once the defensive veneer of loud-mouth hype is removed, is like talking to your 13 year old cousin’s best buddy from the next block when you were 15.

Moses Golola becomes almost misty eyed and as excited as a one-year old German Shepard when he talks of the first time he entered the gym.

“I was 16 in Kawempe Mbogo looking for someone professional to teach me because street-fighting is just rough fighting- no skill,” he recalls, “There I met Haji Ssendi who, even though old even then, would leave you far behind when doing road-work and would do a backflip at the end of the run. The day I ran with him and finished at the same time as him was the proudest moment of my life- I knew then that I could do it”.

Moses Sunani Kiwanuka remembers those days. He used to stay in Kawempe-Mbogo when Golola was growing up there and has followed his career. He says he watched him fight the now famous Efuz Kaka in 2007 at a bar in Kamwokya called Kisementi- this was a kickboxing Super-middleweight fight before Golola turned pro, while Kaka was already a professional. It ended in a K.O in Golola’s favour.

“Moses then went fully pro in 2009,” Kiwanuka recalls, “that is when he went to Tanzania and fought Kanda Kabongo, then went to Nairobi to fight Japhet Kaseba. He lost to Kaseba on a two point technicality; I don’t know who won the Kanda fight in Nairobi- I was not there.”

“You can defeat Golola but you can’t beat him- because he is hard, he does not go down easily. Golola has never `kissed the canvas’- and no I do not think this last fight (against Istvan Betyar) was rigged,” says Sunani Kiwanuka.

Into `the zone’

Ivan Kalanzi, the Akaboozi radio sports journalists, recalls those days too; before anybody had caught a glimpse of Golola’s famously perpetually arched eyebrow. Gololo used to call Kalanzi to update him on his first pro fights in Tanzania and Nairobi. He hoped his friend would throw in a word or two about the fight on the airwaves.

“He was a humble man,” Kalanzi says of Golola back then, “very quiet, would not talk much, wouldn’t really `shoot the breeze’ with the rest of the guys but you could tell it was not out of spite or pride or anything like that.”

Kalanzi says Golola appeared most comfortable in the company of women.

“Not like that,” he adds quickly, “he was brought up by his grandmother, so I guess he was just used to being around women- you know how it is in a household of mothers’. What happened to his parents, I ask Ivan?

“Dunno,” comes the reply.

When I ask Golola what he thinks about when he steps into the ring, everything changes.

“I get into The Zone,” he says, “usually during the second round.”

“My ears are focused behind on the words of my seconds in my corner, and my eyes are focused in front on my opponent. The first round I use to size up my opponent- his speed, his stance, and his reactions to provocation; that is why I usually like them to throw the first punch” he says.

Golola is an orthodox stance fighter. He has just stated one of the main martial arts mental toughness techniques.

Coach Suleiman “Fit”, the Shaolin Master who spent three years training in China and Thailand, and is a legend in Uganda’s boxing coaching circles is training Golola.

“I am teaching Moses how to meditate too. I want him to learn that the best training is in the mind. Look at me; everyone knows I am 200 years old! (Make sure you put that in- he told me). Moses used to use too much energy aimlessly and we had to teach him how to relax and focus.

Being in the ring is like sex: you don’t just get in there and hammer, you relax, focus your technique and it (the orgasm) will come on its own” says coach Fit, much to everyone’s hilarity.

This technique is sometimes called `being calm in the centre of the storm’.  It means that while there is chaos, turmoil and frenetic energy flying in all directions at a fight, backstage and walking through the crowd, Golola has trained himself to stay calm.

One writer on the subject calls it “the calm centre of that tornado.”

The technique involves the fight “grounding and centering himself” and finding poise and confidence, no matter what is happening.

Some fighters say there is a moment, when you are bouncing from foot to foot, feeling the hydraulic swing of your hips and shoulders in alternate unison with the ball of your foot landing on the canvas. You have your opponent in complete embossed focus, the rest of the ring a faded blur of anxious noise you have rejected into a magnetic ring outside your field of vision.

Then you spot it, the point where your opponent’s stance is weak, a knee that is too stiffly held, an elbow held too high or a head held too cockily unprotected and you unleash a whip of limb, arm or leg that curls in the direction of the point of weakness and cracks the offending article into place. You look into your opponent’s stunned face and smile into his eye.

Losing and winning

Another technique that Golola has had to learn is the ability to come to terms with losing.

According to an online martial arts instruction manual, “This does not mean you give up, or give in.

“It means you realise that you no longer accept the fear of losing, or the fear of failure, to hold any power over you. To do this, you must realise that the possibility of losing always exists, and that if it happens, you will still be able to come back another day and fight again. Life will go on. The mental game of mixed martial arts tells you to realise that there is life beyond your sport.”

Golola’s official record says he won his first pro fight in 2011 against Sudanese Abdul Quadir Rahim. This was when the country was introduced to the man who could impregnate with just a stare. After being thumped by Hungarians Zsamboki Mate and Andras Nagy, Golola became the butt of national jokes.

On Apr 19, after a much-hyped comeback campaign that Rocky would have been jealous of, Moses Golola beat Istvan Betyar by nine points.

Even then, critics like sports analyst Michael Kigozi, insist the fight was fixed.

“Those of us beside the ring saw very clearly that nothing was connecting, they were just dancing; story is even the judges were fixed, giving exactly the same score as each other.”

Asked if he thought Moses Golola was involved in the fix, Michael Kigozi replies, “No, this is the work of the promoters who told Istvan to go down, they were trying to create hype around a Golola/Tugume challenge fight they are trying to put together- its all about the money, from ticket sales and sports betting.”

But Golola’s current coach, Quresh Walusimbi dismisses the rigging stories.

“Winning or losing the fight is not the only thing- it is the training, it is a matter of having a game plan. We took Golola to Nairobi after the Zamboki fight, to train under Andre Johnson (who Golola admitted gave him constant hell over his sloppy guarding and his over-reliance on his boxer’s right hook)- he came back and he showed the crowd something different and yet they are still complaining.

The judges’ marks were 46:49, 50:47, and 49:46 in Golola’s favour. Those who say it was rigged are simply bitter because they bet against him and lost”.

Kick-boxing is a martial art whose modern version is a combination of many ancient martial arts disciplines of complete physical, mental and spiritual mastery. It works on the premise that the energy that permeates the world is also exactly what we, our bodies and our souls, are made of. Gololo will need that for his next fight.

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