Monday, October 26, 2020

Luza: Botswana’s boxing icon

Three major tournaments catapulted and separated one of the most successful local boxers, Lechedzani ‘Master’ Luza, from the rest of other boxers in the country. The tournaments made him a household name and he still cherishes that today.

The tournaments that Luza would not forget are the 2003 and 2005 Commonwealth Championships and the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Luza won gold at the Commonwealth Championships and silver at the Commonwealth Games. With such an incredible record and at only 28, Luza shocked the boxing fraternity towards the end of last year when he announced his retirement. Many people could not believe it and hoped that he would reconsider his decision. But he stuck to his decision.

Luza has undoubtedly left a void that is going to take ages to fill. Here at home, he made the 51 kg division his personal property because he was rarely defeated. The only boxer who thought he would be the heir apparent to Luza’s throne was Eanya Dicheleketo. He defeated Luza twice, but Luza made fun of him in his last tournament when he defeated him by a technical knockout.

“There is always a time to make tough decisions in life, and quitting competitive boxing was one of them. Sometimes one needs to move on and face other challenges of life. Nevertheless, I would not be lost to boxing because I am already training some youngsters that I believe would emulate me in years to come. It is better to equip them with basic skills while they are still young,” he said.

Luza’s rise to stardom had its ups and downs. But he proved beyond reasonable doubt, that he was the country’s top sportsperson.

The incident that comes to the minds of many people is one before the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. His inclusion in the national team was heavily critisised in some quarters of the boxing fraternity. He was seen as young and inexperienced to represent Botswana.

There were calls to retain the veteran, Eliot Mmila, who was then the dominant figure in the 51 kg division. A war of words even erupted between the Botswana Amateur Boxing Association and Thebe Phatswa, Mmila’s club.

The then 23-year-old Luza ticked when the least was expected of him and brought home a silver medal, the best ever boxing achievement at the games by Botswana.

“I think I was included in the team because the technical team recognised something in me that Mmila did not have. After being selected, I was under tremendous pressure to prove that I had been chosen on merit. It was really tough at the games, but I stood my ground to prove my critics wrong. What made me work even harder was that most of our boxers were knocked out in the early stages of the games,” he said.

Luza said that people who had critisised his inclusion in the squad ended up giving him all the necessary support.

In 2005, when Luza headed for the Commonwealth Championships, he decried the lack of adequate training and predicted less success for the team. He ended up surprising many people by going all the way to the finals where he clinched a gold medal.

Luza won most of the medals when he was still a student at the University of Botswana. One wonders how he juggled between competitions and schoolwork bearing in mind that he was studying for a degree in science.

“Honestly speaking, it was not easy. My life revolved around boxing and schoolwork. Some times I finished classes very late but I always made sure that before I slept I had to do a little bit of work at the gym. I also carried my books with me to every tournament I participated in. I used every chance I had to study.”

To the surprise of many other students, Luza ended up doing very well in his academic studies.

It now remains to be seen how Luza’s gap in the 51 kg division will be filled. Currently, his division does not have a boxer in the national team and Luza said this worried him a great deal, especially since the 51 kg division is Botswana’s strongest in international tournaments.

It looks like it is going to take time before finding a boxer of Luza’s caliber.

Luza is in possession of both the Level One and Level Two coaching certificates.

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