Thursday November 1, 2012
Hamid wins first professional boxing bout in Afghanistan
KABUL: Afghan-German boxer Hamid Rahimi beat his Tanzanian opponent in Kabul on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s first professional bout, prompting jubilation among thousands of home fans.
Ecstatic supporters mobbed the ring in the capital’s Loya Jirga (grand assembly) tent as the referee declared Rahimi, 29, winner after Said Mbelwa withdrew with an injury in the seventh round.
It may not have been the “Thriller in Manila”, but the bout billed as the “Fight 4 Peace” marks another sporting landmark for the war-torn nation after the resounding success of the Afghan Premier League football tournament.
Amid tight security, around 2,000 fans including dignitaries such as the head of the intelligence service packed the Loya Jirga, and hundreds of thousands were expected to watch live television coverage.
The crowd cheered every blow as Rahimi, who grew up in Germany, dominated the early exchanges, while his 23-year-old opponent looked to frustrate the home favourite by dancing round the ring before a shoulder injury got the better of him 17 seconds into the seventh.
“I thank you all for coming – you gave me power, this belt belongs to Afghanistan. It is yours,” Rahimi told the crowd after receiving the WBO intercontinental middleweight belt.
After more than three decades of war, Afghans are no strangers to fighting, but Tuesday’s bout was their first taste of top international boxing and the clash began with the sport’s usual theatre and razzmatazz, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd, many of them waving the national flag.
“I’m very happy to be here, I’ve waited for a month to come and see this match. I’ve never been to a live boxing match before,” said fan Abdul Maqsood, who paid 5,000 Afghanis (US$95) for his ticket – around a month’s salary for an average government employee.
“Rahimi is my favourite boxer, he is our pride.”
Despite their penchant for floggings and public executions, the Taliban declared boxing to be “against human dignity” during their hardline rule and banned it, along with most other forms of entertainment.
Since the Islamists were toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001, combat sports have grown in popularity in Afghanistan and taekwondo star Rohullah Nikpah won bronze at both the Beijing and London Olympics.
Earlier this month Afghanistan held its first professional football championship, which proved wildly popular, drawing large television audiences and sellout crowds to virtually every match.
Football was one of the rare activities that escaped a ban by the Taliban during their 1996 to 2001 regime as they took advantage of the sport’s popularity and the large numbers of spectators it drew to carry out punishments, using the half-time interval to chop off the hands of thieves on the pitch. — AFP